Fabulous stance, poised on-track handling, decent noise
Too rigid and too spiky to be a truly well-rounded hot hatch
What is it?
Welcome to Renault’s latest take on ‘how a family car that’s drunk too many cans of Cow-Themed-Glucose-Energy Drink should behave'. In this game, you need a USP – that’s Unique Selling Point, for those of you not from an estate agent persuasion.
Buy a Hyundai i30N and you get loads of modes. The Honda Civic Type R’s ace in the hole is supreme track performance. AMG will sell you a Drift Mode you’ll brag of but never use. The Golf GTI’s trump card has always been the opposite – no gimmicks at all.
So, what can Renault bring to the party that’s shiny and interesting? Rear-wheel steering, that’s what. The Megane RS is the only car of this size that’ll swivel its rear wheels when you operate the steering, making the car feel more agile and lively in tight bends, but supposedly aiding its stability when you’re intercity cruising. Clever.
Except, we’ve not been huge fans of the ‘4Control’ system so far. And neither has Renault itself, because when it converted the standard Megane RS into the limited-edition Trophy-R version back in 2019, it junked the system to save weight.
That’s right – this isn’t a brand new car. This generation of Megane RS has been with us since 2017, but updates for 2021 are supposed to have made it simpler to spec, and better.
Chiefly, you can’t get a manual gearbox any more. Sacrilege? Not really – the six-speed manual ‘box previously fitted as standard was a woefully notchy bag of bolts. Besides, automatic hot hatches are what the people want – DSG Golf GTIs outsell the stick-shift, and even Hyundai and Ford have recently caved in to pressure and stuck autos in their superhatches.
Both versions – the standard RS 300 and the Trophy we’ve tested – now share identical power outputs. No 275bhp entry-level engine any more. Here we’ve 296bhp on tap from the Alpine A110 sports car’s 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, driving the front wheels via a six-speed twin-clutch gearbox. Spend £4,000 extra on the Trophy to snaffle a mechanical locking differential.
Trophys are also equipped with stiffer suspension (the Cup chassis, it’s called), a valve exhaust system, and 19-inch rims daubed in dubious red highlights. So passers-by will hear and see you’ve bought the more extreme one.
Unlike the old Megane RS, which was only sold as a coupe-fied three-door, the current generation is a more family-friendly five-door flavour. Prices kick off at £33,000 for a standard car, and a top-spec Trophy with some toys lands the wrong side of £40k. German hot hatch money, then, but Renault has one of the finest track records of any hot hatch maker out there, the Megane RS is festooned with toys, while its flared arches and pert tail make it one of best-looking hatches money can buy. Everything to play for, then…
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
The family-sized hot hatch battlefield is jammed with talent at the moment, so a few flaws can quickly send a car tumbling down the pecking order. The Megane RS’s stiff (non-configurable) ride, the tricky cabin interfaces and the haphazard rear-steer system are enough to pitch it below the likes of the Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai i30N and Ford Focus ST in Top Gear’s billing.
Make no mistake, this is an aggressive, entertaining car with flare and character, giving its own take on the recipe, and aiming to piss off anyone who’d just lazily plump for a Golf GTI in the process. For a select few, the Megane’s edginess will be just the tonic they need.
There is latent genius in this package – the Trophy-R proves it, but a hot hatch should be the ultimate happy medium. And given the Megane is far from a class-leading hatchback, and the RS upgrades are marmitey, the result is a flagship version which doesn’t quite hit the spot. Still tempted? It is very handsome after all. Keep the spec simple to help the ride out – and be brave with the paint choices.