New Renault Megane RS 2018 review

We get to grips with the new 276bhp Renault Megane RS in the UK to see if it's a serious hot hatch contender

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We're eager to try the new Renault Megane RS back-to-back with the Honda Civic Type R, but this initial UK drive suggests that it will put up a good fight against our current hot hatch champ. It’s not perfect, but performance is strong, and if conditions are right then the Megane RS handles beautifully. It looks brilliant, too, and represents decent value on list price alone.

It's been a long wait, but the latest RenaultSport Megane has finally arrived in the UK. Its predecessor was among the finest handling cars in its class – so this eagerly-awaited new model is a hugely important car for hot hatch fans across the globe.

But since production of the previous model ceased, the market has been filled with a crop of incredibly talented cars. Hyundai wowed us with the i30 N, while the four-wheel drive Ford Focus RS raised the bar with its relentless grip and punchy powertrain. The superb Honda Civic Type R is our current hot hatch champion, however, and while we’ll find out if the Megane RS can beat it in our group test very soon, this first drive on UK roads has proved the Japanese giant will have quite a fight on its hands.

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Available with a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes, our Megane RS was fitted with the former. RenaultSport’s current Clio RS has come under heavy criticism for being auto-only, but the French firm has seen sense with the latest Megane – offering both a manual and a DCT from launch. Our car also featured the £1,500 ‘Cup’ pack, which adds a limited-slip differential and a stiffer, more focused chassis set-up. The car also had a set of £950 19-inch alloy wheels and a striking £1,300 Volcanic Orange paint job.

Looks aside, the Megane initially feels a bit lacking; the control weights are a bit off-kilter, with a heavy clutch contrasting with a relatively light gearshift, for example. But take the car onto some faster roads and the Renault starts to come alive. 

With some speed behind you, the steering really starts to impress. That’s partly down to the four-wheel steering system, which is fitted as standard on all Megane RS models. Below 37mph (or 62mph in Race mode), the set-up turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts, allowing the nose to dive in quicker than you first expect. Above those speeds, the rear wheels steer the same way as the fronts, boosting stability in fast corners. 

It feels strange at first, but it means that the Megane is very agile. Then, as you come onto the power out of corners, the limited-slip differential works to tighten the car’s line. It works well and means you’ll come to relish any sharp turns in the road. The system can be inconsistent, however, sometimes feeling awkward and unnecessary. 

Like the handling, the RS’s ride takes some getting used to. It initially feels quite poor, but the faster you’re going, the more comfortable it gets. The Megane’s large 19-inch wheels bounce in and out of potholes and the low-speed ride is a little rough. Powering out of a corner in second gear often requires multiple steering inputs to control the front wheels as they follow ruts in the tarmac.

But once you’re at speed the car really does settle down. Here, bumps that would have upset the Renault around town seem to melt into the background. Hydraulic bump stops on the shock absorbers help explain that impressive composure at high speed – softening the edge by ensuring the suspension doesn’t reach the end of its travel quite as abruptly. This is a road car, though, and it’s a shame to discover the Megane only comes alive when you’re nearing the national speed limit; the Civic Type R’s wonderfully-weighted controls are delightfully responsive at all times.

The new 1.8-litre engine in the RenaultSport Megane is smaller in capacity than the previous car’s 2.0-litre unit, but it’s more powerful: with 276bhp and 390Nm of torque. Although the old car’s turbocharged petrol unit didn’t burble or howl, it had a unique and characterful roar that encouraged you to push it hard. This new engine has joined the scores of modern hot hatchbacks with an artificially-enhanced soundtrack that includes fake-sounding pops from the exhaust on the overrun. Peak power comes in at 6,000rpm, but it doesn’t relish being revved particularly hard.

The six-speed manual adds a crucial extra level of involvement, however. It’s not the sweetest shift, with a slightly imprecise gate and a lumpy shift action, but you wouldn’t feel short changed by choosing this over the automatic version. It’s put to shame by slick gearshifts in rival cars, but the well-placed pedals and good brake feel mean it’s easy to blip the throttle as you change down coming into a corner.

It gets the hot part of hot hatch right, but the RS would falter if it couldn’t manage the hatchback part. Although the sports seats mean there’s less rear legroom than in the standard Megane, it’s otherwise just as spacious inside. The 384-litre boot is par for the course, though the unusually spacious Civic trumps it here, too.

The Megane RS is reasonably economical, as well - Renault’s quoted 39.2mpg puts it roughly in line with rivals, while CO2 emissions aren’t all that high, either. Another factor that will keep running costs down is a low list price. Add a few extras to match the Civic on spec and the difference is a lot smaller, mind.

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