Introduction: Two to tango
Last year we had the opportunity to drive the Renault Megane RS280 back-to-back with our incumbent hot-hatch champ, the Hyundai i30 N.
“Drive the Megane at absolute ten-tenths and it probably has a veneer of talent beyond even the i30 N,” I wrote. “A hot hatch that goes straight into the top drawer of current contenders,” I also opined. I even said: “One really good suspension setting always trumps a selection of so-so calibrations, and the Renault’s is a gem.” So it’s fair to say we liked it.
That car was the manual model, so Renault decided I needed to try the dual-clutch EDC version. We welcomed AVO006 into the Wheels garage last month with 9491km on the clock – and they’ve been some heavy kilometres.
This car has been used as a circuit hack at the Melbourne GP and has been through countless comparison tests by other motoring outlets. The rims are a bit chewed, there’s a 10-cent-sized dint in the bonnet and the gear shifter feels as if somebody’s smashed it into Drive with a post maul.
I don’t mind a bit. After treating the McLaren 570GT with absolute kid gloves, it’s great to jump into a car that demands to be given a pasting.
To the list price of $47,490, this car adds Liquid Yellow paint at $1000, Bose audio for $500 and R.S. Alcantara and leather upholstery that tacks on another $1190. Not that I have long to get used to all that. Next month I’ll be back in a manual version of the RS 280 Cup, so for the time being I’m savouring the EDC ’box’s smooth shift on the more choked parts of my commute.
It’s a great installation. Some have complained that the paddle shifters are too small, but the transmission calibrations through the Comfort, Neutral, Sport, Race and Perso modes offer something to suit most moods, so I’ve rarely had recourse to bother flapping at one of the metal lugs.
I won’t go back over too much of the car’s dynamic repertoire right now, because you probably know much of that already. What’s been refreshing is how easy the Megane is to live with. The seats are supportive and the seat heaters warm up quickly in the cold weather. The air-conditioning is exemplary, with a rapid demist and big, easily accessible dials.
The dehumidifying effects of the air-con were put to the test this month due to a curious quirk of this particular car. On several occasions, either one or both of the front doors has failed to close properly. This has resulted in my returning to the vehicle to find it unlocked, which can be a worry.
After a typically wet Melbourne evening, I parked my fundament into a driver’s seat that felt like a sphagnum bog due to the chubby door rubbers doing their thing again. After much hilarity in the office, which included being exposed to some fascinating retail opportunities for geriatric diapers, I’ve started to slam the doors like a character from GTA Vice City.
The Megane RS280 is so much fun that after a while, you just won’t care that strangers will think you’ve lost control of your bladder function. Instead you’ll look for opportunities to drive it on the twistiest roads you can find.
So far this month, it’s been to the top of Lake Mountain twice, Mount Baw Baw once and deep into the forests north of Noojee on another occasion. Reefton Spur, the Black Spur, Split Rock Road – I’ve been unable to resist the lure of some seriously tortuous tarmac.
That’s exactly what a great hot hatch should do. It should render you freewayphobic, instead longing for that weighting up of the wheel, the feel of the front end keying into the bitumen and the sound of exhaust crackle on the overrun. The Megane delivers that in spades, and for that it’s forgiven any petty peccadilloes. As AVO006 heads off after a month in its absolute element, I’m keen to see whether three pedals and a stick will prove quite so immersive. Check back next month.
IT TOOK ALL of 10 seconds to have me doubting. The yellow twin-clutch Megane RS280 you saw here last month had gone back to Renault and in its place had arrived this tangerine-hued RS280 with a manual gearbox and the firmer Cup chassis, neither of which had created a positive first impression. The gearchange travel is long and the action noisy and clunky, while the ride can best be described as terse. It felt like I’d been downgraded.
Since then I’ve gradually warmed to the Cup. I still don’t rate the shift action, but there’s a certain agricultural pleasure to clogging in a big boot of heel and toe in order to get round the awkward pedal positioning. The Torsen limited-slip differential that’s part of the Cup package also brings the steering to life when you’re really on it, tugging the car into a bend and adding to the excitement. On an allied note, I’ve also realised that there’s a certain cadence where the suspension starts to glide rather than jostle, but I’m not about to mention what it is in print.
In order to house the gearshifter and manual handbrake, the entire centre console of the car has been redesigned. The centre cubby with the sliding lid featured in the EDC-equipped RS280 Sport is replaced by a pair of open cupholders that look undersized but do a fairly decent job with most things. You can’t quite stand a smartphone up in them though, which, admittedly, isn’t their primary design criterion.
I’ve noticed a theme with the long-termers I’ve run thus far. The better the fuel economy versus manufacturer figures, the less I’ve enjoyed the cars. In other words, it means that I’ve been driving them sedately on highways rather than seeking out the twisty back roads and giving it some jandal. It’s seen 13.5L/100km on one tank against a published figure of 7.5L/100km, so the Renault has enjoyed some exercise.
This might also be one of the highest kilometre readings for a ‘month one’ car, at 3280 klicks, so rest assured that the Megane isn’t one of those cars that ends up resigned to the office car park over a weekend. I’m still not convinced that this represents the sweet spot in the RS280 range, but it’ll be fun establishing that one way or another.
Or what not to do with keyless start
- Price as tested: $50,180
- This month: 1566km @ 8.8L/100km
THE WHEELS car park is a busy place. Cars are parked two deep and tend to require constant jockeying throughout the day. A colleague of mine had borrowed the Megane, curious to see whether the ride was quite as firm as had been reported, and had left the key for me in our locked key box. That proved to be a bit of a problem because the box was within the monitoring range for the keyless unlock function of the Renault.
Realising that the car had spontaneously unlocked itself and switched the parking lights on, my enterprising colleague walked out of range, locked the car using the fob and then rushed it into the box. It seemed to work. The Meg stayed locked.
Next morning, having performed electronic handshakes with the fob all night, the car’s battery was not reporting for duty, requiring a bit of jump lead action.
This all got me pondering the merits of keyless go. In fairness to Renault, it was on us this time, and the keyless system does otherwise work brilliantly, but there are caveats. I once swapped cars with another work colleague somewhere in Belgium, and drove into France while he headed south into Germany. It was only when he stopped to refuel that he realised he was stranded as I had his key and vice versa. Sometimes technology creates more problems than it solves. It could be the case that just when a manufacturer comes up with an idiot-proof system, life finds a way to create superior idiots.
I’d been slightly concerned that the RS280’s front boots were nearing the end of their useful life. Melbourne’s frankly horrible winter weather has resulted in them slithering around a bit both when cornering and under power, the latter giving me a connoisseur’s appreciation of axle tramp. Strange thing is, upon inspection they’re nowhere near their wear bars. The Polish-made Bridgestone Potenza S001 tyres get a whole lot better when warmed up, but the roundabout 200m from my door represents an interesting test at 7am.
One thing the Renault can never be accused of is being boring or vanilla in any way. Yes, it has its foibles, but there are delights, too. Its hellion personality can be wearing, but when you’re in the mood it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious. It’s one of those cars that takes quite a while to key into its frequency but the reward is well worth the effort.
Pressure drop - Enright goes for a lap of the ring but fails to find air apparent
- Price as tested: $50,180
- This month: 1287km @ 7.4L/100km
When was the last time you went out for a drive just for the fun of it? Unfortunately, a no-particular-destination solo blast on great roads isn’t something many of us block out time in the diary for. Life has a habit of getting in the way.
A Sunday when my partner was overseas and nothing particular needed doing raised exactly that opportunity for me, so I juiced the Megane RS up the previous night and pointed it at the Reefton Ring.
You might know this drive loop, even if you’re not a Melburnian. It’s a 124km jaunt that runs through Warburton, Healesville, Marysville, Reefton and back to Warburton accessible from any point on the circuit.
It includes open, flowing roads, the temperate rainforest of the Black Spur, a bit of altitude up past Lake Mountain and the seemingly endless twists of Reefton Spur. Go clockwise to descend Reefton Spur or anti-clock for an ascent of the bends. You’ll get it done in comfortably less than two hours without unduly endangering your licence, and it’s a great test of a car’s ride and handling.
The former isn’t a forte of the Megane RS with the Cup chassis, but this Renault never saw a corner it didn’t like, and the Reefton Ring is chock full of ’em. Early on a Sunday morning at a decent clip is a great way to blow away a few cobwebs and really put the Megane into its element.
I took a break to ponder the finer points of the handling envelope over a vanilla snot block the size of a steamer trunk from the Beechworth Bakery in Healesville. Once the tyres are warmed up, it understeers far less and the Perso drive mode lets you tailor the dynamic settings. I mentioned at one point previously that the car’s pedals weren’t very well set up for heel and toeing. That judgment may have been premature. In the more comfortable modes, the throttle travel is too long for an effective blip. Dialling it into Sport or Race sharpens the throttle mapping and then you can give the loud pedal a crisp jab with your right clog.
Not quite so much fun is the Megane’s strange predilection for tyre deflation. On a few occasions I’ve hopped into the vehicle, often after travelling away for a week, and been greeted by a low-tyre-pressure warning. The strange thing is, it’s rarely been the same tyre twice, so returning it to 33psi front, 30psi rear is becoming a fairly regular occurrence. I’d be keen to hear from any other owners who’ve experienced similar apparently random deflations. Other than that, I’m already looking forward to the next quiet Sunday and another lap of the Ring.
The RS280 starts its run for our garage reliability champ of 2019
FAR BE IT from me toperpetuate national stereotypes, but French cars haven’t always had the most unblemished record of reliability. Let’s just say that they can keep you involved, such are their often novel engineering approaches.
Paul Magès, the inventor of Citroen’s fiendishly complex hydropneumatic suspension, had a plaque on his desk which read, ‘Everyone thought it was impossible, except an idiot who did not know and who created it.’ Yet this month, the Megane seems to have soldiered on indefatigably. Even the insidiously deflating tyres seem to have waved the white flag and started behaving. So, a clean bill of health – which can’t be said of all the long-termers in the Wheels garage. Looking at you, Mercedes-Benz A250. Okay, so the Merc had fallen victim to editor Inwood’s obsessive-compulsive lugholes, but sometimes you have to wing in an outrageous claim and hope it sticks.
Also praying for a certain level of adhesion were our video team, who co-opted me and the Megane for a training day demonstrating camera rigging techniques to our newer hires.
I trust that they didn’t actually review the footage shot on the day, because the Renault’s not the ideal camera car. The Cup chassis is so firm that any takes would probably look like something the Blair Witch Project would reject as too jumpy. Still, it was huge fun to pedal around in pursuit of a fast subject, the Megane being the only car in the Wheels car park that could have kept up with a supercar on a properly challenging road.
The Meg’s also been pushed into service as a bit of a load lugger this month. Running repairs to the gardens at home have seen it loaded to the gunwales with bags of paver sand, mulch and potting mix. This has revealed an unexpected bonus. With the rear seats folded down, the cabin is far, far noisier, and noisier in a good way. The pops and crackles from the exhaust sound that much sharper and there’s a more purposeful resonance about the newly enlarged cabin. They’re staying folded from now on.
I’m now looking towards the end of my stewardship of ARQ325 and I’ve got to formulate an opinion on it for the farewell piece next month. It’s not going to be easy. If it was couched in terms of a relationship, you’d have to say ‘it’s complicated’. Nevertheless, I owe it to the orange Renault to see it go out on a high, so check back here next issue, because I’m going to subject it to something a bit special for its send-off. One thing’s for sure. Life’s rarely dull with a Megane RS.
Update #6 - Farewell
Perspective’s a lovely thing. If you’ve been keeping tabs on my stint with the Renault Megane Cup, you’ll know that we haven’t really bonded. I admire the car and will freely admit that it can be a lot of fun, but it’s one of those cars that you need to be in the right mood for. It’s like that friend that never stops cracking jokes: sometimes it’s just what you need, while at other times you feel the growing urge to go postal.
Feeling that I needed a break from the Megane’s always-on personality, I borrowed editor Inwood’s Ranger Raptor for a week. It was bliss. A diesel engine, an automatic ’box and a pillow-top ride was just what the doctor ordered.
I figured that getting back into the Renault would remind me of why we hadn’t hit it off but, quite remarkably, it made me warm to the RS280 all over again. After the baggy, vague steering of the Raptor, the Megane’s four-wheel steering felt hyper-direct. It was almost as if you could feel what every individual tread block was doing. The lazy roll oversteer characteristic of the ute was banished in favour of an apex-targeting missile. In short, it made me search out one of my favourite roads and enjoy the Renault’s ferocious dynamics with a fresh sense of appreciation.
I’d become accustomed to searching out long dirt roads in the Raptor and curiosity got the better of me with the Megane. I wanted to see if the little Euro hatch would sink or swim when taken a long way out of its comfort zone. As long as you avoided the most egregious potholes and switched the car into Race mode, the Renault was a blast, although it does prefer fast, flowing tracks to those that are so tight that sending 205kW to the front boots becomes a significant issue. Just like on road, there’s a speed on dirt where the suspension tune makes a lot of sense, but it is reasonably ambitious and the result of clouting an errant macropod would be consequential. Not a dawn or dusk sort of thing, then.
There are other things that the Megane does well too, that you really appreciate when living with the car. The capless fuel filler is one of them. You don’t need to hunt around on the floor or under the dash to pull any sort of fuel flap tab, nor do you need to unscrew a cap. You just pull up at the bowser, press the flap to open the filler and insert the nozzle. The tank is relatively small at 50 litres and on a B-road blast you can easily average 17L/100km, which sees the fuel light come back on after about 240km.
The keyless go system is one of the best I’ve encountered, letting you know when the car has self locked or unlocked, and the main beam LEDs are bright enough to alert alien civilisations to our presence.
Follow a Megane RS up a challenging road and it looks outrageous – wide, chunky, purposeful, and with what appears to be functional aero. The handlebar moustache rear light signature is also undeniably cool. Initially I wasn’t too sure about the styling of this car, perhaps because the five-door shape came as a departure from the lithe coupe body of the previous Megane, but over five months it has wormed its way into my affections. It strikes a great balance between the buttoned-down sobriety of a Golf R and the juvenile excesses of a Civic Type R.
The conclusion I’ve arrived at is that this car is a grower. It still wouldn’t be my first choice, as I maintain that the Sport chassis with EDC transmission makes a superior road car and the Trophy a better track option, but if you’re going to do a bit of both and a manual gearbox is a non-negotiable inclusion, we could make a case for it.
Ultimately, that’s a pretty minuscule sliver of the Venn diagram to be chasing, and if you were after a manual hot hatch in this price bracket that can do dual roles, I can think of a few I’d prefer. On the right road, at the right time, in the right conditions, however, the Megane RS280 Cup is an absolute hoot. Perspective and all that…
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