First Drive: 2018 Renault Mégane R.S.

31st January 2018
Ben Miles

What exactly is a "hot hatch" these days? Is there a definition that fits every derivative that has attempted to be part of the pack over the last few years? We now have hatches so tepidly better than the original that we call them warm, and ones so powerful compared to the base model that "hot" seems to be a mockingly pitiful description. So where does Renault Sport even start when it gets its hands on the latest Mégane?


More to the point, how do you reimagine a model, now on its third generation, that's so beloved that its predecessor makes you look back misty-eyed at an otherwise unforgettable model range?

The answer, Renault Sport hopes, is to make the car the same, but with more tech. Under the bonnet is the same 1.8-litre turbocharged engine but given a sprinkling of new technology. That means power is up to 280PS (276bhp) at 6,000rpm and torque hits 390Nm (288lb ft) from just 2,400rpm. The suspension has received a trick compression-stop system in the shocks that effectively gives "shock absorbers within shock absorbers" and steering is sharpened up with Renault 4CONTROL four-wheel-steer system, which we first sampled on the Mégane GT in 2016. 

So here let us get a little bit techy, and feel free to jump a few pars if you just want to know how it drives, but this is what Renault Sport has spent all its money on. We already know that 4CONTROL works by varying the angle of the rear wheels as the fronts steer. Turn under 37mph and the rears will pivot in the opposite direction to the fronts by up to 2.7 degrees. This gives the rear a more lively feeling on entry, sometimes akin to it being in trolley wheels (but in a good way). Turn at high speeds and the back pair will follow the fronts by up to a single degree, increasing stability.

Like the Clio Renault Sport you can spec the Mégane RS with two chassis options: Sport, for road driving according to Renault, or Cup, more suited to "sports-style" use. The Sport is equipped with and electronically controlled torque distribution system, which gently dabs the brakes on the driven wheels to limit understeer and improve traction on exit. 

Cup-chassis cars are damped 10 per cent stiffer and an all-new Torsen limited-slip differential. We won't go into details about transfer rates, but safe to say the numbers are a significant improvement over the outgoing car.


And what of those compression stops? Well in layman's terms they feature a second piston on each wheel that dissipates more energy before the bump stop. That means less sudden deceleration at the end of compression and less rebound. Its a bit like having eight dampers rather than four and means the tyre contact patch is affected less.

That four-poster motor now features what Renault Sport call "supercar treatments". The engine has new reinforced cylinder heads for better cooling and heat dissipation, Diamond-Like Carbon surface treatments and a redesigned air-intake with a larger filter and a second inlet.

Sometimes you've just got something right already. So the marvellous six-speed manual from the outgoing model remains and option alongside a six-speed dual-clutch 'box which brings in launch control and a Multi Change Down feature that will fly through the gears in one go should hold the left paddle as you decelerate.

If you skipped the last few pars you can rejoin us here, as the already impressive Mégane exterior has been given a muscular overhaul by the team at Renault Sport. The RS has a wider track front and rear, instantly looking more purposeful, and gains rear spoiler, diffuser (which Renault Sport say makes a genuine difference) and the simple, but effective, RS shaped fog lamps that first appeared on the sadly never made Clio R.S. 16. Inside ready yourself for (HOW ARE THEY) sports seats out front, a choice of alcantara or carbon grey weaved fabric, red stitching accents and a specially redesigned knob.


Inside then it’s much like the normal Mégane, with a slightly disappointing level of scratchy plastics for the passenger, but an excellent sat-nav/infotainment system dominating the cenre console. The part-leather, part-alcantara wheel feels good in the hand and the accents of carbon feel tactile rather than the usual plastic. Seating is, as often for Renault, well honed, the sports seats feel firm to hold the driver in place without ever feeling too tight.

Thanks to Renault Sport the world of YouTube may be about to be flooded with videos from the Mégane RS's lucky new owners. Optional but built into the infotainment/sat nav system is Renault Sport's new R.S. Monitor system. Basically, a telemetry system built into the R-LINK 2 touchscreen but also hiding a few extras. Called R.S. Monitor Expert the Mégane can overlay your film of track day heroics and instantly overlay the telemetry data before allowing you to share on social media via a new app for iOS or Android. They've even developed a new website (R.S. Replay) so no longer will you have to meet fellow drivers in a Waitrose car park or track day to chat about your technique. Instead, you'll be able to analyse your data and videos along with other RS drivers online.

Behind the wheel, we sampled the Mégane in Sport chassis option on the road, equipped with the latest version of Renault Sport's six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Renault have found reaction to this system mixed at best over the course of the current Clio's life and, fortunately, have listened to that reaction. The latest version loses its predecessor's sluggish nature and the throw of the paddles now feels more natural, rather than the almost lazy tug of the Clio's ‘box. The only drawback is that to fit in the steering column-mounted radio controls the fixed paddles couldn't be more than a certain length, which can leave you scrambling to find them should your hands not be at nine and three.

Steering is weighted nicely, really coming into its own as you speed up, while the addition of the trick shocks means ride in none-sport mode through towns is never jarring, although the Mégane can feel like it's launching its rear a little over harsher speed bumps.


Turn to Sport mode and the car sharpens up its act, engine note is raised to a level that perhaps it always should be. The note has, like every car in the 2010s, been tubed specifically, with even the much-maligned gear change 'fart' receiving a worker. The changes have worked, but you do wonder if they could have made the noise a more permanent fixture.

Foot down in a straight line and the new RS won't rip the skin from your face, in a world of 300PS hot hatches the new Mégane feels restrained rather than over the top. Perhaps as a result of this, or due to the carried over front suspension, there's never too much more than a reassuring whiff of torque steer under heavy acceleration. When there is is a tug to one side rather than anything more extreme.

When the going gets twistier that well-weighted steering is sharp without trying to tug you through every corner in the world. While that means it's no match for the pin-sharp focus of the Focus RS on entry it also means it doesn't suffer from the Ford's tendency to fidget on the road. Mid-corner the car feels stable with the 4CONTROL system doing its thing to either keep everything smooth at speed or pull your round the tighter stuff. The Cup chassis car is more inclined to lift-off oversteer than the Sport, a result of its more track focused setup.

It's an undeniably joy-filled drive, but you do wonder a few hours later if the advances in tech have perhaps taken a bit of the edge away. Perhaps the Cup chassis on the road might bring that back, but the Sport is an everyman's hot Mégane, helping you to enjoy yourself without leaving you panting too hard for breath. We'd be keen to see if that limited-slip diff brings some more of the edge to the road, but perhaps that's a beauty in the latest Mégane, the fact that you can have it either as menacing fun machine ready to monster the open roads, or as the slightly more relaxed, less raucous version, but without ever losing the essential speed. We're speculating now, but you see where we're coming from.


On track in Track mode the Cup chassis is a lot of fun, we only had a limited period of time on Jerez's billiard-table smooth asphalt, but in that period we found a car keen to haul itself at speed and eager to get a bit more playful. The Brembos have been beefed up all round and the Mégane now has some serious stopping power, so you can really attack your approach to each corner. Turn in is sharp without being twitchy and in the right conditions the rear is eager to come round with a well-timed lift. Exit and the new shocks come into play, and you can feel the Mégane hauling itself away from the apex, with perhaps that hint of torque steering adding that reassuring tug on the wheel into the mix.

To help the car feel more planted the boffins at Renault Sport extended the axle widths as well as flaring the wheel arches. Each arch is now 60mm wider with the track inside moved slightly less due to the thicker rubber attached. While that helps on the road and track, the best thing its done to the car is to give it a purposeful look. The Mégane RS is now more reminiscent of a wide track special than just a slightly breathed-on road car. The Mégane RS is purposeful and aggressive, building on the current Mégane's genuine good looks to add an extra little menace that draws the eye. Through southern Spain even the most world-weary of Spanish older gentleman couldn't help but turn their head as the orange-clad Mégane strolled through town.

The late 2010s are an undeniably big time for Renault Sport and Renault as a whole. There's a new top-end hot hatch in the form of the Mégane, the hyper-scrutinised at home relaunch of Alpine and the development of the next Clio and Clio RS. Sometimes you worry if they might drop one of those balls, especially after the slightly underwhelming Clio RS as every detail of the Alpine project is monitored by a French nation desperate for its return.

The latest Mégane RS shows they have done no such thing. While the Clio paved the way for Renault Sport to begin getting serious about making cars it is the Mégane that is the king in 2018. A car so important to the RS team that the hotter 300bhp Trophy edition will be with us this year and one that Renault hopes will vindicate all that investment in Formula 1. Progress through the years may have softened the odd edge but it’s still one of the best and most capable hot hatches around. We can’t wait to try the Trophy.

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