The hot hatch market is more crowded than my mouth used to be with teeth (very). Off the top of my head, we have the Golf GTi, the Leon Cupra, Audi’s S3 and RS3, the Civic Type R, BMW M140i, Focus RS and Megane RS. And new to the game is Hyundai with its awesome i30N.
Unlike a mouth full of teeth, however, you can’t pull a few cars out of the segment to give others breathing space. That’s why these cars need to stand out. The Focus does it with AWD and Drift Mode, the Civic achieves it with a massive wing and a Nurburgring lap record, and the i30N gets people’s attention because it’s…well, it’s a Hyundai.
So what’s special about the new Megane RS? Glance at the spec sheet and the answer is: ‘not a lot’. It’s got 280hp and 288lb ft, which is less than many and a lot less than the Focus and Civic. And under the bonnet there’s only a 1.8, four-cylinder engine. So what gives?
Well, it’s got four-wheel steering, which means that although it’s by no means the fastest in the class, it’s one of, if not the most agile hot hatch currently on the market. This is a car that you could lose on the straights, but see in your rear-view mirror when the road gets twisty and technical.
So what’s the moderately powerful, four-wheel steering RS like to drive? On the road (and equipped with the non-Cup chassis with Renault’s six-speed EDC automatic ‘box) it’s pretty impressive. The auto changes gear quickly, the exhaust farts on aggressive upshifts, and you have launch control to play with.
The more exciting thing to talk about is the four-wheel steering. At low speeds (under 60kph or 37mph), the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the front wheels by up to 2.7 degrees, which doesn’t sound like much, but it really is noticeable. Turn in is quicker and sharper than I’ve been used to in a car, meaning that on occasion I had to unwind steering lock through corners.
Above that 60kph mark, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels by up to one degree for added stability. In reality, though, I didn’t notice any effect on the road.
For that, you need to hit the track. So let’s jump straight in…
Let’s jump into the very car that you and I would 100 per cent buy: a Megane RS with the Cup chassis and the all-important six-speed manual gearbox.
Let’s talk about the gearbox first, shall we? It’s strong, feels like it could take a battering and is awesome to use. It’s the same manual gearbox you’d find on the old RS, and it works, so the Renault Sport guys chose not to mess with it.
In really hard track driving, the Cup chassis’ 10 per cent stiffer dampers and mechanical LSD are incredible. The reduced roll and extra pull out of corners thanks to the diff lets you explore all of the engine’s power (none gets wasted), while the four-wheel steering gets you into a flow that feels awesome. It’s on track, then, where the new RS really makes sense and where you suddenly realise that power really can be overcome by agility.
The brake pedal feel is really positive too, and when you lift off the gas a little too much mid-corner, the rear-end playfully kicks out, resulting in lift-off oversteer that most people with moderate skill would be able to control (yep, even me).
So there you have it…the Megane RS favours agility over power, and despite this being a risky move on paper, I’m happy to say that the RS team have created a car that will easily dance and tip-toe its way to the front of the pack.
We’ll have a full video out later today, so make sure you’re subscribed to the channel to see the new 2018 Megane RS in action on the road and track!