Tuesday 19 June 2018

Some like it even hotter

The Renault Megane RS is popular with hatchback fans, but can the new model exceed expectations, asks Geraldine Herbert

MUSCULAR: The RS makes no attempt to hide its motorsport pedigreefamiliar
MUSCULAR: The RS makes no attempt to hide its motorsport pedigreefamiliar

Sitting lower to the ground than the regular Megane, the RS 280, the latest hot hatch to be unleashed by the French marque, is low, orange and racetrack-ready. Its predecessor was revered by hot hatchback aficionados, so much is expected of it.

Despite being painted an outrageous orange, the overall look is fairly muted, but there is no fear you will be mistaken for a regular Megane driver.

Look closely and there are a few clues: Renault sport logos, the centrally mounted exhaust and an oversized grille.

Behind the wheel, the finish is simple and will be deeply familiar to Renault loyalists. The sports seats wrap around you and the controls are intuitively located so there is no need to resort to the instruction manual just to change the radio station.

Hot hatches are that delicate balance between solid but practical family transport or flick of a switch sports car, and the RS is no exception. Adults will happily fit in the back, though larger ones may be slightly cramped.

The boot is a shopping-friendly 384 litres ­- but storage is in short supply throughout the cabin.

Under the bonnet is the world's most powerful 1.8 engine with 280hp and 390Nm of torque, 0-100 is achieved in 5.8 seconds and the RS comes in two flavours, "Sport" and "Cup".

It is on the Jerez De La Frontera race track in the south west of Spain where we uncover its gutsy flamenco soul. Here, the horsepower makes sense and you quickly surrender to the charms of the RS. From the moment you reach the first apex it is a treat. The steering is beautifully weighted and rewarding.

Our more hardcore track version Cup car gets a slightly firmer suspension and comes with a Torsen limited-slip differential. Life is too short to explain limited-slip differential, but it allows you to corner faster and generally makes you feel like a much better driver. But the RS will reward any driver with stability and genuinely impressive road holding and handling. Reassuringly, it also comes with some serious stopping power.

We also drove the Sport chassis off the track. The suspension is low and hard but not harsh. That said, we drove it on smooth Spanish roads - the backroads of Kildare may not be as forgiving.

As you would expect from Renault, the RS has a host of safety features including the adaptive cruise control, active emergency braking system, safe distance warning and hands-free parking.

Renault has yet to announce prices, but we don't expect it to be a budget car.

Prices are likely to be around €45,000 for the Sport version when it arrives in Ireland this summer. For some, spending €45,000 on a hatchback simply cannot be justified; for others the sheer driving pleasure is enough to counteract the emissions and the price.

The RS is an antidote to those waiting for driverless cars and carbon-free motoring and in Volcanic orange it is flamboyant and outrageously fun.

Trying to be a family car and a sports car may have clipped its wings, but for hardcore purists the 300bhp Trophy edition due later this year will be the one to opt for.

The hottest Megane, while a very alluring blend of talents, pushes above some rivals in terms of price, so to an extent it may be pitched a little too high.

But believe me, it's the most fun I had, on track and off, in a long time - what more could you ask for?

Sunday Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Also in Life