The Megane RS is bipolar. It might not sound much like a compliment, that, but it’s a big ’un. This is our first drive in the Megane RS without the stiffer ‘Cup’ chassis – let’s call it the NonCup – and it’s packing a split personality of Tyler Durden proportions.
Take it easy in the NonCup and you could forget you’re in a hot hatch at all. For a front-wheel-drive car packing 250bhp, it’s seriously chilled-out. On a trundle along A-roads, it proved as soft and uncrashy as a dieselly French saloon. Force OAPs with calcified spines to ride shotgun and marvel at how they don’t lose a few inches in height every time you ride over a pothole.
Looking at the figures, maybe this isn’t surprising. Compared to the Cup – itself no coccyx-crusher – the NonCup’s front and rear springs are 35 and 38 per cent less stiff respectively, while anti-roll stiffness is down 15 per cent. The NonCup gets slightly more forgiving, narrower tyres as standard, too.
But what is surprising, at least once the NonCup has lulled you into a state of Qigong-like relaxation, is how hard it goes when you’ve dispatched said Elderly Person With Brittle Bones and unleashed your inner Stig. The personality switch is frankly a bit unsettling, like discovering that your friendly local librarian moonlights as a death metal frontman and bites the heads off ducklings.
It isn’t just the Megane’s fastness, though that’s special enough. The 2.0-litre turbo engine remains unchanged from the Cup version, and blusters the Megane to 62mph in six-and-a-bit seconds, almost a second quicker than the Golf GTI and just a couple of tenths slower than the Focus RS. It feels every bit as quick as the figures suggest, but it’s the sheer grip of the thing when you whang it through a few corners that seems to defy physics.
There’s none of the lurch or looseness you’d expect from a car that’s so relaxed at low speed. Instead, that pliancy is the NonCup’s greatest weapon, letting it cling onto even the most rubbish roads where stiffer cars would be bounced off. It might lack those last few microns of flatness and feel you get from the Cup chassis, but it’s still a sublime thing – and (cue self-congratulatory pat on back) a welcome vindication of our recent decision to award RenaultSport our Manufacturer of the Year Award a few months back.
To create such a Jekyll-and-Hyde hot hatch without resort to damper-adjusting sport buttons or the like is genius. In fact, I can’t think of another car that nails the split-personality thing with such aplomb. The Focus RS remains our hardcore hot hatch of choice, but the NonCup Renault Megane might just be the ultimate all-rounder.
On your drive for: £584pcm
Performance: 0-62mph in 6.1secs, max speed 156mph, 33.6mpg
Tech: 1998cc, 4cyl, FWD, 250bhp, 251lb ft, 1387kg, 195g/km CO2