Renault Megane RS hatchback
"The Renault Megane RS is as sharp and responsive as a hot hatch fan could want, yet hasn't lost sight of comfort"
- Agile handling
- Rapid acceleration
- Comfortable ride
- Patchy interior
- Little steering feel
- Unremarkable economy
The first Renault Megane RS was launched in 2004, and as one of the fastest, most exciting and driver-focused hatchbacks ever sold, well maintained examples are still sought-after today. This is good news for Renault, but puts the French company in a slightly awkward position – every new Megane RS needs to be at least as good as the original.
So, not only must the latest Megane RS stand up to comparison against the Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus RS, it needs to engage with drivers just like the original did, despite being weighed down by today's must-have technology. And, to make matters harder, Hyundai has just triumphantly entered the hot-hatchback fray with the high-achieving I30 N.
A Renaultsport version of the latest Megane was a long time coming – the Megane hatchback and Sport Tourer estate were launched in 2015. Devotees were teased for a while – the Megane GT has a Renaultsport engine, albeit one shared with the 201bhp Renaultsport Clio – but the full-fat third-generation Megane RS packs the 276bhp, 1.8-litre turbocharged engine that's also used by the Alpine A110 sports car.
If that’s not enough performance, there’s a 296bhp Megane RS Trophy, plus a very limited-edition hardcore RS Trophy-R for those who have much deeper pockets.
It certainly looks the part, too. Given a head start by the sporty styling that even entry-level Meganes boast, the RS gains flared wheelarches that stretch over a set of 19-inch alloy wheels that look purposeful and suggestive rather than aggressively 'in-your-face'. We reckon it strikes a good balance between the subtle aggression of the Golf GTI and the garish excess of the Civic Type-R.
The latest Megane RS is a far more sophisticated machine than its predecessor, too. As before, there's a six-speed manual gearbox, but you also have the choice of a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic – unlike the Renault Clio RS which is automatic-only. A four-wheel steering system is also standard. Called 4CONTROL, it's intended to increase the Megane's agility at low speeds, while also improving stability when driving quickly. This sounds good, but this gadgetry contributes to a car that weighs a little more than the Civic Type R and Golf GTI.
Don't worry, though. The Megane Renaultsport still drives superbly. The Sport model has a setup that's somehow soft and forgiving yet firm and agile all at the same time. Cornering is immediate and precise and grip is strong – yet not so tenacious as to prevent you from being carefully mischievous. That four-wheel-steering system really does lend the RS an extra dimension of maneuverability – the only disappointment being a lack of feel through the steering wheel.
There's still more agility to be had if you pay an extra few thousand pounds for the Cup chassis. The suspension dampers are stiffened by a further 10% and a limited-slip differential is fitted, both of which help you to put the Megane's 276bhp to the road more effectively in corners – although this comes at the cost of corrupting the Sport's civilised, comfortable nature. If you fancy even more power, there's also a 296bhp RS 300 Trophy version. This is the most powerful Renaultsport model of all time, and also gets bigger brakes, unique 19-inch alloy wheels and even optional lightweight alloys with extra sticky tyres aimed squarely at track-day enthusiasts.
Whichever version you choose, though, the RS only really delivers its full potential when you draw close to the national speed limit. This is a bit of shame, particularly when the Honda Civic Type R offers big fun even at low speeds.
Elsewhere, the RS shares the virtues of other Meganes, with a spacious, well equipped interior and sufficient boot space for family use – although fuel economy is unlikely to break 40mpg.
Safety has traditionally been a Renault strong suit and the RS shares the Megane's five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating. Not every owner is delighted by their Renault, though – the brand finished 19th out of 30 brands surveyed in our 2019 Driver Power satisfaction survey. However, even when everything's going well, it's likely that few will have quite as much fun as the driver of a Megane RS.