Introduce the new Mégane RS Cup to a bumpy British B-road and it wouldn’t take a cynic long to suggest why those press launch restrictions might have been in place.
Lordy, it’s firm-riding. Sufficiently aggressive in its damping, in fact, to feel brusque and quite irritable when you’re just bumbling around; and for the car’s body control to require big speeds on the road, and plenty of energy flowing upwards into the struts, before the ride even begins to loosen up and work over bumps. Ever drove a last-gen Mégane RS Trophy? The Cup isn’t far off that level of vertical tetchiness. Really.
There’s no slackening those dampers off, either; Dieppe’s choice for passive dampers and hydraulic bump stops denies you the opportunity to adjust the car’s comfort levels to suit your mood or journey. You can quickly warm to that old-school ‘like it or lump it’ lack of compromise, though. And you’ll certainly like the influence of the car’s firm set-up on its handling.
The steering is at once highly strung (particularly sensitive to road camber, reactive to bump steer and prone to a bit of traction-related directional interference, too) and also lacks much of the reassuring weight and feedback of the old Mégane’s rim. But the car carves its way around smooth, tight bends with such incisiveness, alacrity and balance that it takes a while to become accustomed to what it can actually do; and, by the way, that turns out to be quite a lot more on all three fronts than you imagine any front-driven hatchback might be capable of.
Use Race or Perso driving mode in order to set the car’s four-wheel steering system to its most ‘dynamic’ setting (contra-steered rear wheels all the way up to 62mph) and the car pivots underneath you like something much smaller of wheelbase. At times, the sensation can even feel like oversteer until you get used to it. Is it exciting or just unsettling? That'll depend on your personal taste, I suppose — but it quickly became the former for this tester.
The more pedestrian parts of the new Mégane RS’s package are somewhat less convincing, much as they may matter. The car’s ergonomic layout isn’t great (it has slightly shallow footwells, high pedals and a steering column short on reach adjustment); its cabin isn’t as classy-looking or well laid out as some in the hot hatch niche; and its portrait-oriented R-Link 2 infotainment system remains fiddly, distracting and a bit graphically unappealing.
And if any of that matters to you nearly as much as the car’s driver appeal, you’ll probably buy a VW Golf GTI or Golf R, anyway.