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Can Renault Sport move its Megane hot hatch even closer to GTI territory - and is the entry-level model also the sweetest? We have six months to find out

Our Verdict

Renault Megane RS 280 2018 road test review hero front

Mégane RS has a chassis of remarkable deftness and balance that gives the hot hatch unmistakable class-leading potential

29 October 2019
Renault Megane RS 280 2019 long-term

Why we’re running it: To find out how much closer to GTI territory Renault Sport has moved its Mégane hot hatch and whether the cheapest one may also be the sweetest

Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Megane RS: Month 2

Do you want the good news or the bad news? The bad news it is​ - 16th October 2019

Ten years ago, I ran a V6 diesel version of the interesting and short-lived Renault Laguna Coupe. The experience proved about as different from running our current Mégane RS 280 as it’s possible for two separate cars to deliver, but for a couple of things.

Like the Mégane, the Laguna had four-wheel steering, and I remember being quite taken with it. Second, however, it had a keyless-entry system. Just like the one on the Mégane, it was a bit over-sensitive – so when you get out of the car with the key in your pocket on your way round to retrieve a bag from the passenger side, the proximity sensor thinks you’ve disappeared off to the shops and the car locks itself. If something like that bugs me so plainly, it must drive Renault’s engineers potty – and yet, even given 10 years to sort it out, the company hasn’t.

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And so, since I promised to write about what’s been bugging me about the Mégane RS, here goes. This will doubtless come across as unfair on the car, which in many ways is acquitting itself very well on our fleet. But once it’s out of my system, we can all move on. Moreover, if Renault’s serious about selling this car as a credible Volkswagen Golf GTI rival, it needs to get the small stuff right.

Do primary control ergonomics count as ‘small stuff’? Because, having spent a long time in the car now, I’ve noticed myself tending to sit on the outboard cushion squab rather than snug in the middle of the seat, which always betrays a set of offset pedals. It gets uncomfortable after an hour or so. I’ve also noticed that the centre line of the car’s instruments doesn’t quite line up with the middle of the steering column. It’s hard to ignore when there’s a coloured stripe at 12 o’clock on the steering wheel rim to constantly remind you of the offset. That just sets off my OCD.

While we’re on the subject of ergonomics, the RS’s touchscreen infotainment system is not proving much more usable with familiarity. Our car only has the cheaper, portrait-oriented system (by choice) but Renault’s decision to put the line of menu shortcut ‘buttons’ just below the screen means you too often touch one when reaching out to anchor an outstretched arm on the surround of the screen – and then end up in a different menu than you intended.

I don’t like the fact that the digital instruments can’t manage an analogue-style speedo and tacho simultaneously. I don’t like the daft vroomy welcome noises the car makes when you get in (but, mercifully, have found a way to turn them off). I’m not a huge fan of the slightly awkwardly shaped seatbelt buckles, either, which make it tougher to reach the button to undo them than need be.

I was reassured, however, that things could be much worse. Reader Mike Saar wrote in recently to list a litany of quality and reliability problems his Mégane has suffered since January 2018 – none of which has presented on our car, I’m pleased to report. Mike loves his car, anyway – and, to be honest, I’m nurturing a growing affection for ours. But imagine how I’d feel about it without so many obstacles for that sentiment to overcome…

Love it:

Perso driving mode Lets you choose personal settings for the 4WD, powertrain and traction control – and stays in that mode when you switch the car off.

Loathe it:

Manual gearbox The baggy, stretchy, occasionally obdurate shift quality isn’t worthy of the car.

Mileage: 2618

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Life with a Megane RS: Month 1

Drive mode tweaks for daily use - 21st September 2019

As the miles have mounted, I’ve settled on a driving mode I like and have found a way to neuter, or at least mitigate, some – if not all – of our Mégane RS 280’s little quirks and irritants. So far I’d say the VW Golf GTI has little to fear in the daily driver stakes – but the Mégane is still proving easier to live with than many would imagine. More next time. 

Mileage: 1896

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Sport not short on comfort - 28th August 2019

A run to Brands Hatch to catch the W Series finale was my first extended drive in the Mégane. I’ve only driven rock-hard Cup versions before, so I wasn’t expecting much comfort, but I was relieved to find our Sport model’s ride is far more forgiving – although it is perhaps the loudest car I’ve ever driven on the horrible stretch of concrete-surfaced M25 between junctions nine and 11.

Mileage: 1203

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Entry-level Mégane hot hatch begins its six-month test with a lot to prove - 21st August 2019

Anyone looking to measure the gulf that can exist between critical acclaim and commercial success in the business world would do very well to ask a car maker. Few have been showered in more of the former than Renault – for its hot hatchbacks, at least, and for as long as this tester has been in the reviewing business.

And yet if that same company had proved only equally good at making great hot hatchbacks as making money out of them, its recent product portfolio might look somewhat different from the way it does now.

Renault Sport is the firm that gave us some of the most memorable and brilliant fast front-drivers of the noughties era, which also just happened to be the decade when I was coming up the ladder as a road tester. Ask me to put together a list of the 10 best hot hatchbacks I’ve driven to date and I reckon as many as four of them would be cars made – or, at least, heavily modified – by Renault Sport in Dieppe. From the Clio 182 Trophy to the 200 Cup, and the Mégane R26R to the 265 RB8, this firm’s output pretty accurately defines what you could call ‘my era’ in car enthusiasm. I think of those cars now with much the same reverence that blokes 10 years my senior lavish on the Peugeot 205 GTi and Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI – as, I dare say, do plenty of my peers. Which makes me a good candidate to run the latest arrival on Autocar’s long-term test fleet, I suppose – a Flame Red Renault Mégane RS 280 – although I won’t be running it alone.

And perhaps younger road testers Ricky Lane and Simon Davis, who may not have my high expectations of, or personal preference for, Renault Sport products, will be fairer judges of this car than I will be. The coming months should tell.

It’s the recent ‘strategic development’ of Renault Sport’s cars in general, and the nature and story of the latest Mégane RS in particular, that has brought us to this point, with some interesting questions to ponder over extended use and mileage.

At the beginning of the current decade, Renault’s management took a conscious decision to change tack with its factory-tuned RS products, you may remember. Eyeing jealously both the profit margin and the sales volume enjoyed by rival Volkswagen with its GTI lines, it decided to modernise and to slightly reposition its hot hatchbacks in order to make them more appealing as daily-driven, technologically sophisticated, pseudo-premium-branded cars.

When it launched the last Clio RS in 2012, complete with dual-clutch-only transmission and downsized turbo engine, Renault Sport clearly hoped to retain the diehard enthusiast following that the old line of naturally aspirated hot Clios had so brilliantly nurtured. And yet, if you look at how that car’s sales footprint declined in the UK, it pretty plainly didn’t manage to.

The current Mégane RS 280 came along last year, repeating what some might consider the mistakes of the last Clio RS. It moved from a 2.0-litre atmospheric engine to a more emissions-friendly, less sweet-revving 1.8-litre turbo and also became the first hot Mégane to be offered with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox (although this time, Renault Sport didn’t forget to include a manual as well). It also became the first core Renault Sport product (leaving aside the Twingos and GTs) to be manufactured away from Dieppe, at the same Spanish factory as every other Mégane. The smart money, with the Alpine sports car story going so well and probably needing more and more space at Dieppe to expand into, would be on the next Clio RS following suit.

Despite bringing a very tempting chassis to the hot hatchback segment with both four-wheel steering and hydraulic suspension bump stops, the Mégane RS undershot on expectations in its first few big tests. It lost to a Honda Civic Type R in RS 280 Cup form in the spring of 2018 and again to the same car in RS 300 Trophy form only a few months ago. In both tests, however, the car ran with Renault’s firmer Cup suspension settings – which, as Renault Sport chassis engineers were keen to point out on the 2018 press launch, really are intended for track use more than road miles.

Our long-termer, by contrast, is fitted with the standard Sport suspension, as part of which the car’s hydraulic suspension mounts are tuned to operate quite differently from how they do in the Cup version.

Plumping for a Sport rather than a Cup chassis also means you don’t get a limited-slip differential, of course, but for a car with a more liveable ride compromise than the often tetchy, leaden-footed Cup version, that is a sacrifice that the Autocar road test jury is very willing to make.

And so a Mégane RS 280 Sport is what we’ve got. No slippy diff, no Cup chassis, no Trophy-spec engine – but a car better placed than any other, we hope, to tell us whether a hot Mégane could ever really rival a Golf GTI for overall roundedness and daily usability. Renault Sport clearly likes to think that it can.

However, after just a day and a night in our car as I write these words, and having already identified a handful of things that, I suspect, will become familiar Renault-brand ergonomic and usability bugbears before much longer, it’s fair to say I have a few doubts. We’ll cover those next time.

I’ve also yet to have my first really good B-road thrash in the car, I should add, so the Mégane’s stock has the potential to both rise and fall – and quite a long way in both cases. It should be a revealing few months.

Second Opinion

Renault Sport’s Méganes and Clios were a dominant force in the car magazines I read as a teenager. And now that we road testers are going to run this one for the next few months, I’m looking forward to discovering if some of that magic from years gone by lives on here. One thing’s for sure: the wider hot hatch landscape has never been more competitive, so our Mégane has some serious impressing to do

Simon Davis

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Renault Megane RS 280 Sport specification

Specs: Price New £27,835 Price as tested £29,435 Options Metallic paint (Flame Red) £650, Interlagos Black 19in alloy wheels £950

Test Data: Engine 4cyls, 1798cc, turbocharged petrol Power 276bhp at 6000rpm Torque 288lb ft at 2400-4500rpm Kerb weight 1407kg Top speed 158mph 0-62mph 5.8sec Fuel economy no WLTP data CO2 163g/km Faults None Expenses None

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29 October 2019

For all the remote locking issues you gotta love this manual, sub 6.0 to 60, sub £28k very hot hatch. Afterall a 1.0 bog standard Focus starts at nearly £21k

29 October 2019

...but you had to mention the VW mk2 golf as some sort of handling benchmark in the article and I cannot think why, it was not that good, I seem to remember the R5 turbo beating it when it came to a cross country blast, not even the Peugeot 205 could stay with the Renault 5 cross country.

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