Viva la Hot Hatch

When you step into the Renault Megane R.S. 280 you’re greeted by the roar of a big cat and the sound of a heart beat pumping through the BOSE sound system which builds the expectation of what is to come. And that is everything we love about cars and driving, leaving you asking yourself “Do you really need anything more than a great hot hatch?”

I would argue that the answer to this question is “No” because there is so much to love about this Tonic Orange coloured, feisty, French pocket rocket. The Megane R.S. has a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine with maximum power of 205kW @ 6,000rpm and 390Nm of torque at 2,400rpm. This propels to R.S. from 0-100km/h in just 5.8 seconds and a maximum of speed of 255km/h.

All the engine you’ll ever need?

More to the point is it feels quick with the engine very eager to rev to the 7,000rpm red line, and just before you get there at 6,300rpm there is a beep to tell you to select the next gear.

Yes, that’s right like all true hot hatches before it the Megane R.S. has a manual gear box for you to enjoy with that revvy engine. The 6-speed manual offers short, sharp gear shifts and the clutch is not heavy meaning that even in traffic, multiple gear changes are not taxing on your leg. A cool feature I discovered was the Megane is also fitted with anti-stall type technology, so if you do stall the car you just have to depress the clutch and the car refires automatically.

Another point I would strongly argue about hot hatches is that they are better suited to women than men. Particularly the Megane R.S. which has lovely snug fitting R.S. cloth covered seats. My friend got into the car and commented how you wouldn’t want to be too wide as you just wouldn’t fit in the seats comfortably. The seats have manual three way adjustment, but they are heated, and the steering wheel only has manual height adjustment, but I was still able to easily find my ideal driving position.

Manual gearbox, manual seats and a manual handbrake makes the Megane R.S. sound like it’s a car with no technology to offer the modern driver. This assumption is far from the truth as the R.S. is brimming with tech that heightens your driving experience.

Accessed via the seven inch portrait touchscreen is the R-LINK multimedia system is the satellite navigation system with live traffic, audio settings, air quality sensor and the two best features – Multi-sense, where you can select and configure your drive mode, and R.S. monitor where all the trick features can be found.

There are five drive modes to choose from under the Multi-sense system being Neutral (normal), Comfort, Sport, Race, and Perso (custom). For each of the drives modes, except Perso, you get default settings, with a small amount of
configurability, for the Dynamic Driving System, ESC, Powertrain, Throttle, Exhaust Sound, Climate, Engine Sound and Ambient Lighting.

When you select Perso all the settings are configurable to your personal preference so you can work out your ideal driving combination. Essentially for each of the variables listed above you can select between a neutral, sport or race option. In race mode the exhaust is louder and there is plenty of burble on the overrun and the throttle response is at its most aggressive. I spent most of my time in Sport mode and this is quickly accessed by pressing R.S. Drive button below the touchscreen.

When you’re in Sport or Race mode you are going to want the touchscreen set to R.S. Monitor as this is where you get real-time data on the Megane’s performance measured by 40 sensors from around the vehicle.

There are multiple pages of data to scroll through in true Formula 1 style including lap time, acceleration either 0-50km/h, 0-100km/h, 0-400 metres or 0-1,000metres. But so that you can get the best out of system you really need a passenger in the car to press the start button for you as I found there was a good one second delay if you selected start yourself and then started your run.

The next graphic shows your steering angle of the 4-CONTROL four wheel steering system, followed by your torque and power curve with readout of engine RPM and percentage throttle used. You’ll have so much data to pore over and tell your mates about while having a drink with them at the end of the day.    

What does all this technology mean for the driving experience in the Megane R.S. 280? It means you have an immensely capable vehicle that feels planted to the road and is really fun to drive hard. I didn’t have any track time in the R.S., but I hope I do get to experience this plucky hatch on a track at some point, I think it would be a lot of fun!

The racing pedigree of the R.S. is evident with features such as the four hydraulic bump stops in the Cup chassis tuned suspension that has firmer springs, shock absorbers and stiffer anti-roll bar and the mechanical limited slip differential (the Cup Chassis Pack is a $1,490 option). All this stiffness doesn’t mean the Megane R.S. will rattle your teeth fillings out; I didn’t find the ride too harsh.

Exterior design features that give the R.S. a sharper look over the Megane GT include wider front and rear wings, R.S. Vision LED headlight design and a R.S. front grill and air inlet with F1 blade integrated into the front bumper. Then you have the 19” black Interlagos alloy wheels, which have a lovely design, but are a pain to clean and they were also let down by the steel wheel nuts that had surface rust on the Megane I drove.

That’s right I also review the family friendliness of cars as well! I forgot about that as I was having so much fun telling you about the driving experience of the Megane R.S. Well the news is good here too, there are two ISOFIX points/three rear tether child restraint points in the back seat and the boot will fit the weekly shop and a pram if you use some clever packing. There is no spare tyre in the boot only a puncture repair glue kit and components of the optional BOSE sound system ($500).

The rear seats have enough head and leg room for two tall adults to fit in comfortably. Rear passengers get air conditioning with speed control only and one 12V power outlet. There is a central fold down arm rest with an interesting cup holder design that has two smaller drink holders and a third larger drink holder in the centre of the plastic moulding.

Active safety features on the Megane R.S. include lane departure warning, distance warning and active emergency braking, blind spot warning and adaptive cruise control. Parking assistance is done via parking sensors, rear view camera and easy park assist. Passive safety includes driver and passenger adaptive front airbags, pelvis/thorax side airbags for driver and front-seat passenger and front and rear curtain airbags. The current Megane doesn’t have an ANCAP rating, but it does have a five star rating under the Euro NCAP safety rating system.

There are a few of quirky design features on the Megane R.S. For example on the sporty leather wrapped steering wheel, where you would expect to find the cruise control stalk behind the wheel is actually the audio controls and to turn on the cruise control you have to first push the on button near the gear stick and then set the speed using the controls on the left hand side of the steering wheel.

The other two being how you access the climate control, you simply press the bottom of the infotainment screen in the centre and then the climate control information system is displayed. And you don’t get a key for your Megane R.S. but rather a keycard, which is exactly what it sounds like a credit card looking key that gives you keyless entry, exit (you just walk away from the car and it locks automatically), and start.

The design of the Megane R.S. is not as extreme as the Honda Civic Type R, but you certainly still stand out with the bright orange metallic paint ($1,000 option) and F1 inspired exterior elements. There are many similarities between the two; Brembo brakes, FWD and pricing with the Megane R.S. starting at $44,990 plus on-road costs and as tested it was $47,980.

The combined fuel consumption of the Megane R.S. is 7.4l/100km using 95RON petrol and for the week I drove the R.S. I achieved 12.4l/100km. I drove the Megane R.S. in the manner I assumed that its owners would, flat out all of the time. This fuel consumption was 2.6l/100km more than the similar powered Honda Civic Type R.

The Megane R.S. comes with a three year unlimited kilometre warranty, a 12 month/20,000km service interval with the first three services capped at $399 (some additional service items are charged above this rate) and up to four years road side assistance. Visit your preferred Renault dealer to arrange a test drive for yourself.

With the popularity of SUVs continuing at an unrelenting pace and car manufacturers dicing that segment into ever more niche-filling fragments there is a danger we will lose the hot hatch forever. I for one hope this never happens because the hot hatch is an immensely capable car shape even for those of us with families; long live the hot hatch!

Pros Cons
Excellent BOSE sound system Poor fuel efficiency
Multiple, configurable drive modes Hard to clean wheels
Enjoyable driving dynamics  

Photographs by Driven Women Magazine.

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