Test Drives

Renault Megane RS 2019 review: Friction Addiction



The new Megane RS shows why Renault is the master of hot hatchery

 

SINGAPORE

What is it that petrolheads find so irresistible about driving fast on a deserted, winding road? I have a theory – being in control is a fundamental part of the human psyche, as is the desire to overcome challenges.

As far as challenges go, mastering the interaction between tyre and tarmac at the limits of physics is a big one, and so there is an innate satisfaction to surmounting it. There’s also an element of danger that makes balancing between grip and slip addictively thrilling. Get it right and the adrenaline rush is like no other; get it wrong and, well… Loud noises, great pain, etc etc.

The new Renault Megane RS allows drivers to reach that grip/slip threshold more easily than any new car today, and as such it’s hands-down the most entertaining car I’ve driven in my short time at this job. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

First, the facts. This is the third generation of Megane to bear the hallowed RS badge, and has been designed to appeal to a wider audience than before by being easier to live with. As such, it’s the first strictly five-door Megane RS, and the first to be available with a two-pedal setup.

Under the bonnet sits an engine that’s smaller than rivals in displacement but not on power: a 1.8-litre turbo’d four-pot that makes 280hp and 390Nm of torque and is hooked up to a 6-speed dual clutch transmission. With launch control engaged, it’ll theoretically do 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds (quicker than the Type R’s 5.9), before sailing to a 255km/h top speed. A traditional manual ‘box is available overseas, but not in Singapore – for now at least.

Where most of the work has been concentrated though, is in the chassis. The headlining feature is a four-wheel steering system called 4Control, the first such feature ever on a hot hatch. At low speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts, and in the same direction at higher speeds. In most of the five switchable driving modes, that switchover speed is 60km/h, but in Race mode, that’s raised to 100km/h.

The other major innovation are the shock absorbers, which feature hydraulic bump stops within them – think of the bump stops as extra dampers within the dampers, and they negate the need for adaptive dampers.

Overall, the above mean the RS is now distinctly two cars in one. The term “Jekyll and Hyde” is bandied about rather loosely by most, but here it’s genuinely apt, and the divide between its soft and hard sides is wider than any other car out there.

On a daily basis, it’s a truly liveable car. There’s room for five, the gearbox self-shifts competently (albeit lumpily at crawling speeds), the turning circle is narrower than the compact Honda Jazz, and the ride is even pretty good, especially for a car with passive dampers and 35-profile tyres.

But don’t think for a second that any of the comfort has come at the expense of dynamics. Though the RS is a pussycat in the urban grind, it’ll readily turn into a cheetah at a moment’s notice; not because of how quick it goes in a straight line, but because of how quick and willing it is to go in a curvy line.

Never have I driven a car that changes direction with such vigour and alacrity. All you need do is think, and the RS instantly starts sniffing out apexes like a bloodhound sniffs out smuggled drugs. And yet, for such a pointy device, the 4Control imbues the RS with confidence-inspiring stability.

But that’s not even the best part. Put the chassis settings into Race mode, and the Megane RS takes a flamethrower to your rulebook on how a car should handle. This is an entirely new dimension of vehicle dynamics, and for me, it was a transcendental experience.

Now, with the 4Control pointing the rear wheels in the opposite direction, the Megane is setup like a Eurofighter Typhoon – inherently unstable. To the uninitiated, this could end with disastrous consequences, but to those who can tame it, the RS becomes an absolute weapon.

The first bend you tackle like this, you’ll be spooked at how much the nose darts into the corner, and how much the rear feels like it’s stepping out. So you unwind the lock, only to find that the car is straightening too much, and have to quickly turn back in again; be too ham-fisted in this and you’ll find yourself fishtailing toward the barriers.

No, what you need is to un-learn what you already know about cornering. Instead, brake late and turn in late. Trust that the nose won’t go inside the apex, and trust that the rear will stay in check. You will realize the car adopts an extremely neutral stance, and will maintain it all throughout the corner, aligning you toward the exit and allowing you to power out that much sooner. It’s a curious sensation almost akin to oversteering except you don’t need to apply opposite lock if you get it right, although if you want to get drifty, the RS will certainly oblige.

There is undoubtedly a learning curve to mastering the rear-wheel steering, but take time to do so, and it rewards with agility that nothing short of an actual cheetah can match. You get a real sense that the people who made this car understand that driving dynamics isn’t just about how fast you can go round a corner, but also how much fun you can have around it, and how much satisfaction one can derive from taming a challenge.

For all the magic in the handling though, there are still plenty of niggles to the Megane RS:,The Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel has the fuzzy stuff located in areas you wouldn’t normally place your hands; the column-mounted shift paddles are often out of reach when you’re in a corner; the thickly-bolstered semi-bucket seats rob rear passengers of legroom, and the central exhausts do a better job of heating up the boot than my toaster oven at home.

And yet, to drivers of a hardcore disposition, the Megane RS is still an irresistible package, especially with its price tag of $163,999 (with Certificate of Entitlement). It’s not an easy beast to tame, like an aggressive dog breed. When you first meet it and reach out to pet it, it will bark, snap, and if you’re unlucky, might even bite. But work with it, gain its trust, and eventually you’ll form a bond. It’ll never not be on edge and chomping at the bit, but like a trained guard dog, unclip it’s leash, give it the command and it will hunt down and devour any road you choose to sicc it on.

A performance car is best measured not in terms of how fast it goes, but how fast it makes you want to go. And in this car, that’s flat-out, all day, every day. Obsessiveness isn’t normally a desirable thing, but the Megane RS will turn anyone into the best kind of control freak there is.

Renault Megane RS

Engine 1,798cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 280hp at 6000rpm
Torque 390Nm at 1500rpm
Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch
0-100km/h 5.8 seconds
Top Speed 255km/h
Fuel Efficiency 7.0 L/100km
VES Band / CO2 B  / TBCg/km (est.)
Agent Wearnes Automotive
Price $163,999 with COE
Availability Now

 

about the author

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Jon Lim
CarBuyer's latest addition is its fourth historical Jonathan. Old-fashioned in all but body, he thinks car design peaked in the '90s. He also strongly believes any car can be a race car if you have a sufficient lack of self-preservation, which explains why he nearly flipped a Chinese van while racing it.