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Renault Megane RS280 review: Wheels spin

By Andy Enright, 09 Oct 2019 Reviews

Renault Megane RS280 review: Wheels spin

An evergreen carpark of rides at Wheels HQ gives us the perfect opportunity to take our readers for a quick spin. Short, sharp and to the point, Wheels spin is the quick read you need to get to know a car.

What’s in the garage?

Get the roller door clanking up at the Wheels garage this week and you’ll find an orange Megane RS280 with Cup chassis.  There’s not too much that Renaultsport doesn’t know about building a great hot hatch, but the French don’t have a clear run at the market. In recent years we’ve seen a new generation of front-drive tearaways that have arrived to rewrite the rules. The Honda Civic Type R is one, the Hyundai i30N another. In order to face these two down, Renault’s latest Megane needs to be something very special indeed. Does it have the herbs to be our pick of the bunch?

These hot Meganes open at $45,990 for the Sport chassis with manual gearbox. A Sport chassis with the EDC twin-clutch ‘box retails for $50,490. Alternatively there’s the even harder-edged Cup chassis that we’re driving, which kicks off at $48,990 in manual guise or $51,990 if you plump for the EDC version. 


What we reckon


Cameron Kirby
Staff Journalist

While the Megane RS Cup is great when you push it, I struggle to forgive its shortfalls when performing day-to-day duties. To me, a hot hatch should be able to be a ‘best of both worlds’ compromise, and the Cup missed the mark in that respect. Its biggest shortcoming in this respect is an inability to put any of its power down without breaking into axle-tramping wheel spin. To pull away from a standstill without the tyres screeching and spinning requires a very delicate touch. Keep it for the weekend, not the commute.


Trent Giunco
Staff Journalist

The first time I saw the Megane RS in the Wheels car park I pored over it like I was observing the lines of a new supercar. To me, it is the best looking hot hatch you can buy – period. I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel. However, when I actually did, my thoughts soured. The rear steering takes time to acclimatise to, the pedal positioning is awkward for me and the gear change… well, that’s another story. It’s a hard car to drive quickly, ahem, quickly. It requires time to build up to its high limits and to create a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s unquestionably rapid and rewarding at ten-tenths, but getting there requires bravery. And probably a race track. I’d also opt for the EDC.

 


Review

Power and Performance

Any hatch with 205kW under the bonnet isn’t going to feel tame and the Cup is a pretty wild ride. Sometimes it feels a bit too coltish for its own good. Depending on the available grip, should you give the Megane the goods off the line you’ll either get banging axle tramp or zizzing wheelspin. The traction control system never seems quite up to the task of measuring out exactly the amount of torque the front boots can handle.

Once it’s up and running, however, there are very few complaints about the 1.8-litre turbocharged four’s pep and pick up. Nor its bi-material brakes. They’re brilliant. The Comfort drive mode is a bit of a dud, as the car has no adaptive suspension, so you don’t get a benefit in terms of ride quality. It also softens off the throttle map to such a degree that it makes heel and tow downchanges feel cumbersome. Switch to Sport or the Perso customisable mode and the right-hand pedal gets a lot more alert and tactile.

Fans of a good manual gearbox might need to look elsewhere. This isn’t a great example. The lever itself is weirdly shaped and its action is noisy and clunky. There’s little joy to be gained in finessing shifts. Instead, the Renault is at its happiest when it’s being absolutely beaten to a pulp, smashing shifts home at a frenetic rate. This is a theme that’s common amongst a few dynamic measures in the Cup and it seriously compromises its day to day utility.

If you’ve opted for the more hardcore Cup over the gentler Sport version should that matter? If you wanted something that was hard-edged and uncompromising, buy yourself a Lotus Elise that’s a year or two old. It’ll be more fun, more tactile, faster and more rewarding. A hot hatch is supposed to be a versatile thing and the Megane RS280 Cup does versatility like a teenager does tidying their bedroom.

Ride and handling:

One of the big on-paper attractions of choosing the Cup is the fact that it gets a proper Torsen mechanical front diff rather than the Sport’s e-diff. Unless you take it on track or regularly drive like an utter berserker on-road, there’s not actually that much benefit. When you really punt the car through a corner and get on the gas early, you a feel a tug at the wheel as the diff claws you into a corner, but you really need to be dialling it up to get to the point where you’ll start to feel its effect. The 245/35 ZR19 Bridgestone Potenza rubber offers decent lateral grip when warmed up, although first thing in the morning, the front boots easily lapse into understeer.

On track, it’s a different story. Those that regularly attend track days will certainly be able to eke out a superior lap time using throttle rather than brake pads to scribe an arc and the unyielding ride of the dampers won’t present anything like such an issue on smooth hotmix. Our colleagues over the office at MOTOR tested the Megane and the Hyundai i30N back to back on track and preferred the Hyundai. And they preferred the Civic to the Hyundai as a track weapon which presents a pretty clear pecking order.

On road, the Megane is certainly firm, (the Cup gets revised springs, dampers and bumpstops) picking up imperfections in the road that most cars would smother to nothingness. It’s always jostling at you to the point that it becomes wearing in everyday use. Go really quickly and it starts to make sense but the numbers you’ll clock up before it does so would not have your local plod overly amused.

The Megane features rear-wheel steering that, in effect, shortens the wheelbase at modest speeds and lengthens it at high speeds, increased manoeuvrability and stability respectively. In Comfort, it switches between the two modes at 60km/h while in Sport the transition lifts to 100km/h. The rear wheels can counter steer up to 2.7 degrees. It can make the car’s response feel a little artificial and, tellingly, the super-focused Trophy-R model that’s available in some other markets – and which set a front-wheel drive Nurburgring lap record – does without it. I’m certainly not sold on its benefits.

Interior and Comfort:

The things that matter to enthusiast drivers are all pretty good. You get a decent steering wheel, reasonable pedal placement, great seats and visibility out of the car is good, so it’s easy to place and manoeuvre. But then you expect this of Renault – they’ve been the benchmark for a number of years.

Employ a more critical eye and things aren’t quite so happy. The infotainment system could most characteristically be described as quirky, with a number of touchscreen key presses required to shift between functions. The sat nav brings up your desired destination competently but then takes some utterly baffling routes to get there, sometimes skirting you up barely navigable cart tracks. The ten-speaker Bose stereo system is punchy and the Megane is fairly easy to pair a phone with, although Android Auto smartphone mirroring can be a hit and miss affair.

Practicality is a plus, with five doors, a decently-sized 434-litre boot which can extend to 1247 litres if you drop the rear seats. Stowage space is good with decently-sized door bins and a centre cubby as well as a pair of central cup holders, although as soon as you place any beverage in them, your access to the gear lever – a fairly fundamental aspect of driving the car – is severely hampered. Some of the ergonomics are decidedly French, such as the switch to enable the cruise control being on the centre console by your elbow and the other cruise functions being on a tab behind the steering wheel. Likewise, it can be a mission to see a visible clock in the car, the infotainment screen nor the dash carrying this info when other functions are enabled.

The capless fuel filler is a nice touch, but the fuel tank is relatively small for a car that can be relatively thirsty when driven hard. We’ve averaged around 9L/100km when driving the car gently, but go for a thrap and that can easily jump into the high teens.


Verdict

Know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s the key takeaway from the Renault Megane RS280 Cup. Nine times out of ten, the RS280 Sport is a better car, especially when teamed with the EDC transmission, but there will always be that hardcore of drivers who want something hard, angry and uncompromising. The Cup answers that call, and the harder you drive it, the better it gets. If you’re looking for a car that’s probably going to be a second car that can also lap up some track action at the weekend, the Cup gets a solid recommendation. As your daily driver? Best look elsewhere.

RENAULT MEGANE RS280 CUP SPECS

Model: Renault Megane RS280 Cup
Engine: 1798cc four, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 205kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 390Nm @ 2400-4800rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight1427kg
0-100km/h: 6.5sec (tested)
Economy: 9.2L/100km (tested)
Price: $48,990 ($50,180 as tested)
On sale: Now