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.
Read Next: 2018 Hot Hatch Megatest
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.
Read next: How to jump start your car
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.