If Renault Sport was a restaurant, it’s attracted a horde of return customers with its signature dish: the hot hatch. With a flavour and spice unlike anything else in town, this was one joint where you took your mates – and then later saw them bringing their own.
So imagine your horror if suddenly the food started tasting... different. And not good different. Perhaps it’s here we can introduce the MkIV Clio RS, a car whose broadened appeal meant presumably more sales but a shift away from the core values of the enthusiasts to whom it owed its cred.
Never mind, we had the Megane RS, one of the most involving hot hatches ever made. Eventually, though, there was going to be a new one, and we were all secretly worried it’d be a bit like just a bigger MkIV Clio RS.
Well, that’s kind of what’s happened – the Megane RS is no longer the hot hatch benchmark. In fact, and it pains us to say this, it’s far from it. And this is reflected as much in its lowly 10th place finish, not really acceptable when a hot hatch – the Honda Civic Type R – managed to nab top honours at this very heated competition just last year.
It’s not from a lack of pace – the Megane RS280, in more focused Cup guise as tested here, and six-speed manual, is a fair weapon on track, a whole second quicker than the i30 N – itself not a slow car. The Megane RS is also stable and loves the high speed stuff, and begs you to drive harder and harder into its chassis where huge grip abounds. It’s just that it’s all become a little... functional, rather than fun.
Personally, I desperately wanted to love the Megane RS, but struggled. I drove it repeatedly, and in as many different ways as I knew, trying to find the old magic. I glimpsed some fleeting remnants, but never tapped any vein. And neither really did the other judges.
That’s not to say the Megane RS is a bad car, it just doesn’t have the fizz of the old one. The engine is a bit flat and the handling a bit serious. The seating position is hard to like. The manual gearchange and clutch feel make you curious about the EDC, and the ride is a bit old school stiff.
There are redeeming virtues. Is this currently the best looking hot hatch on sale? It’d run it close, with those pumped guards, flush wheels and rear diffuser with a bit of inspo straight from Danny Ric’s F1 racer. But sexy as it is, it’s a bit of a new thing to buy a Megane RS just to look at. Yet, you don’t really itch to drive this one. And isn’t that what made the Megane RS so great to begin with
Finding the best driver's car on Performance Car of the Year 2019
2019 RENAULT MEGANE RS280 CUP SPECS:
Engine: 1798cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 205kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 390Nm @ 2400-4800rpm
0-400m: 14.22sec @ 166.02km/h
The Bend lap time: 1min 36.3sec
Dylan Campbell - 11th
"I was scared they’d do a MkIV Clio RS. They did a MkIV Clio RS."
Louis Cordony - 9th
"Accomplished. Yet I want to like it so much more than I do."
David Morley - 9th
"Outshone by the Hyundai with change for beer and pies."
Scott Newman - 11th
"Good, but not great. Engine feels flat, average brakes and chassis lacks cohesion"
Rick Kelly - 9th
"Friendly, predictable, but needs more performance to match its looks."
PCOTY 2019 Scoring