Renault’s third-generation “Exocet” pocket rocket is powerful and flavourful, with its warhead aimed at VW’s Golf GTI guided missile.
RENAULT MEGANE RS
220 HP RATING OF THE FIRST HOT HATCH HE EVER DROVE
It was the mid-1990s Escort RS Cosworth, a turbocharged 2-litre 4-cylinder 5-speed fast Ford with a soaring rear wing.
"FOR ALL ITS TUNING BY RENAULT SPORT, THE MEGANE RS IS STILL A PRACTICAL FIVE-DOOR HATCHBACK."
The styling shouts “Renault rocket for road and track!”, especially in Tonic Orange (as seen here) or Sirius Yellow.
IF you think the 1.6-litre Megane GT is a little mild-mannered for a performance hatchback, fret not. The real McCoy, the Megane RS (Renault Sport), will return to Singapore by the middle of this year.
Based on the current Megane, the third-generation RS version gets a downsized 1.8-litre turbocharged engine instead of the previous 2-litre turbo unit. Why so? Apparently, to comply with more stringent exhaust emissions and fuel efficiency standards.
This is the same Nissan- Renault Alliance 1.8-litre motor in the mid-engine rear-drive Alpine A110 halo sports car, but boosted in the front-wheel-drive Megane RS to produce 280hp (up by 28hp) and 390Nm (up by 70Nm). That’s a lot of power and torque, even more than on the previous-generation 2-litre Megane RS265, which produces 265hp and 360Nm.
That’s enough for the latest RS to outsprint the VW Golf GTI to 100km/h by 0.6 of a second, clocking 5.8 seconds in a rush.
And for the first time in a Megane RS, there’s an optional dual-clutch transmission to widen the market appeal of the newcomer. It’s a Getrag 6-speeder called EDC. Previous Megane RSs were only available with a manual gearbox.
Greater power also requires greater control. For that, the Renault Sport team has fitted the Megane RS with fourwheel- steering (the Megane GT gets it, too), which is typically featured in far fancier performance cars such as AMGs, Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
Renault’s system, called 4Control, enables the rear wheels to turn in the opposite direction to the front wheels, by up to 2.7 degrees. This effectively “reduces” the car’s wheelbase and makes for smaller turns in tight spaces, along with better agility in fast bends.
In fact, the car’s nearly neutral turn-in with the mildest of understeer is quite uncanny for a front-drive hot hatch. And this handling characteristic may take getting used to.
Inversely, at speeds above 60km/h (or 100km/h in Race mode), the rear wheels turn ever so subtly, up to a onedegree angle, in the same direction as the front wheels, for improved high-speed stability.
With the standard Sport chassis, the front axle gets electronic torque-vectoring, further limiting understeer and improving traction while exiting corners. The Brembo brakes are bigger now, with the front discs upsized by 15mm to 355mm for surer stopping power. But I’m not sure about the squeaky sound made by the brakes when light pressure is applied to the pedal.
In the cockpit, there is the now familiar Renault 8.7- inch R-Link 2 touchscreen infotainment tablet loaded with selectable drive modes, along with a customisable 7-inch TFT LED instrument cluster.
The Multi-Sense system offers five drive modes – Comfort, Neutral, Sport, Race and Perso.
I wouldn’t select Comfort mode, because its eco-oriented gait is too relaxed for the Megane on a hot-hatch mission. Neutral is ideal for daily commuting because the steering feels a little light in this mode, but the rack remains accurate and quick, with 2.2 turns lock-to-lock.
Sporty “R.S.” touches are combined with useful features and supportive front seats to make this a practical Parisian pocket-rocket.
Six-speed dual-clutch gearbox has the paddle shifters, gearchange quickness and launchcontrol facility to entertain the lazy, crazy driver.
Sport mode clearly quickens the Megane’s response, firms up the steering and amps up the burbling soundtrack, complete with pops and crackles from the exhaust pipes, as though they’re “powered” by a bigger engine.
Race puts the Megane RS into hyper-pace, with an even louder soundtrack, but this is best left for track days as all electronic nannies are off in this mode, save for the ABS.
Perso lets you personalise the vehicle’s drive settings and driving aids.
Regardless of drive mode, the damping remains unchanged. Even without electronically controlled dampers, and riding on seemingly rudimentary front struts and rear beam axle, the Megane can offer Renault Sport chassis magic in the form of bump-stop hydraulic compression shock absorbers.
This rallying-inspired technology is described by the automaker as “a shock absorber within the shock absorber”.
The double-dampers effectively cushion the Megane RS over speed bumps, potholes, rough roads, and even when clipping over trackside chicanes.
Amazingly, the RS’s ride quality is touring-comfy, even on optional 19-inch wheels shod with ultra-low-profile 245/35 R19 tyres (standard fitment size is 235/40 R18). Achieving a brilliant balance between comfort and composure is still a French forte.
Not so brilliant is the dashboard’s R-Link touchscreen. Accessing the various features is not entirely intuitive, and it’s a learning experience to peel through the several layers of submenus. The GPS navigation system is also slow to respond.
Much easier to use is the “R.S. Drive” hot key that provides a quick shortcut to the Sport mode (short press) and Race mode (press and hold).
In both modes, the left paddle can be held for rapid multi-gear change-downs by the dualclutch gearbox. If you’re in a naughty mood and in Race mode, just a single touch of the R.S. Monitor would have the Launch Control primed and ready for a jackrabbit start, accompanied by squirmy steering on take-off.
High-back Alcantara sports seats, similar to those in the Megane GT, offer excellent lateral support, with RS-spec contrast red stitching in place of the GT’s blue stitching, plus a sprinkling of mock carbon fibre, which is a little contrived in my book.
The three-spoke steering wheel is trimmed in leather and Alcantara, with a big red “R.S.” logo at the 6 o’clock position and a red “directional” stripe at the 12 o’clock position to accentuate the wheel’s sportiness.
As in the Megane GT, the paddle shifters are a pair of longish blades mounted on the steering column. They stick out awkwardly from behind the steering wheel – presumably so you don’t accidentally flub the retro audio-control fob just below the paddle on the right during fast cornering.
TYPE Inline-4, 16-valves, turbocharged
BORE X STROKE 79.7mm x 90.1mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 9:1
MAX POWER 280hp at 6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 390Nm at 2400-4800rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 195.8hp per tonne
GEARBOX 6-speed dual-clutch with manual select
DRIVEN WHEELS Front
0-100KM/H 5.8 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h
CONSUMPTION 14.5km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 155g/km
FRONT Pseudo-MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
REAR Semi-rigid axle, coil springs, anti-roll bar
FRONT / REAR Ventilated discs / Discs
TYPE Bridgestone Potenza S001
SIZE 235/40 R18
TRACTION AIDS ABS, ESP
KERB WEIGHT 1430kg
TURNING CIRCLE 10.3m
PRICE INCL. COE To be announced
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km
+ GTI-BEATING DYNAMICS, EXEMPLARY HOT-HATCH HANDLING, POCKET-ROCKET GOOD LOOKS
- QUIRKY PADDLES, FUSSY INFOTAINMENT CONTROLS, SMALLISH 294-LITRE BOOT
For all its tuning by Renault Sport, the Megane RS is still a practical five-door hatchback. There’s enough cabin space for five adults and the cargo capacity can be expanded by the 60:40 split-folding rear seats.
It is not clear which niceties will be in Singapore’s new Megane RS, but the driving aids and safety gadgets include adaptive cruise control, active emergency braking, safety distance warning, blind-spot warning and even speedcamera warning. The car can be equipped with a colour head-up display, hands-free automated parking and a rear view camera.
The speed-cam forewarning system is especially relevant, as this Renault is capable of cruising at alarmingly fast speeds with absolute composure and impressive refinement. Only wind noise above 120km/h intrudes into the otherwise quiet cabin on Spanish highway stretches – aside from the burbling engine chorus, of course.
The RS can be easily distinguished from its lesser GT sibling. Apart from the “R.S.” and “Renault Sport” badges, the RS gets flared fenders incorporating air ducts, an F1-style front under-bumper blade foil and a prominent rear diffuser with an oversized central exhaust outlet.
The headlamps are full LED, as is the “chequered-flag pattern” multi-reflector lighting system called R.S. Vision which is integrated with the front bumper, either side of the gunmetalgrey, F1-style front blade. The system combines four lighting functions into each block of nine LEDs – side lights, cornering lights, fog lights and long-range (460m) high-beam lights.
In short, the Megane RS is easily seen in the dark and looks speedy even when stationary!
If the winged wonder that is the Honda Civic Type R is a little too over-the-top for your liking and you find the Volkswagen Golf GTI too understated and trailing on performance in today’s hot-hatch fray, then Renault’s latest RS rocket is the charismatic contender occupying the middle ground.
Renault’s newly launched “Exocet” pocket rocket may have a couple of quirks, but it’s still a droolworthy Gallic charmer with sporty looks and genuinely athletic prowess. The five-door format and dual-clutch option boost the car’s market appeal beyond track-attack aficionados.
Renault is already preparing a go-faster Trophy version with 300hp, 400Nm, bi-material brake discs (which reduce each wheel’s weight by 1.8kg) and the Cup chassis.
CUP OF GALLIC GARLIC
During the international media event in Spain, I was let loose for a couple of laps around the Jerez circuit in the Megane RS Cup. This version gets a lowered (by 5mm) chassis, 10% stiffer dampers, a mechanical limited-slip differential (in place of the torque-vector) and lighter mixed-alloy Brembo brakes.
I did one better by requesting a joyride with Laurent Hurgon, Renault Sport driver and Nürburgring multi-record holder for the previous Megane RS. We hopped into a 6-speed manual RS Cup, complete with a “pull” handbrake instead of the auto variant’s electronic parking brake.
It was a good opportunity to experience the new RS at the limit, as Hurgon deftly carved each Jerez turn with surgical precision and nonchalant ease. Braking hard, the hazards flashed rapidly (cannot be turned off due to European safety regulations) before each twisty, followed by the mildest of understeer when entering the turn and the prompt correction of an oversteery slide when exiting each sharp corner, before blasting ahead on the next scorching straight.
It was all good fun, with the driver skillfully demonstrating the RS’s controllable and entertaining manners at the racetrack.
Megane RS’s nearly neutral turn-in with the mildest of understeer is quite uncanny for a front-drive hot hatch.
"RENAULT’S NEWLY LAUNCHED “EXOCET” POCKET ROCKET HAS A COUPLE OF QUIRKS, BUT IT’S STILL A DROOLWORTHY GALLIC CHARMER."
STORY LIONEL SEAH LOCATION JEREZ, SPAIN