Le Még: Renault Mégane RS 280 Cup real world test drive
We're in a new age as far as hot hatches are concerned. We say this simply because a certain German marque has birthed one packing supercar-like power levels – over 400bhp – and even equipping it with ‘Drift Mode’. Yes, that sounds sensational. But, if history has taught us anything, overwhelming power corrupts, and it corrupts fully.
So, where does that leave those yearning for something that stays truer to the hot hatch script – one that’s built to reward ‘real’ drivers, especially those who pride themselves on mastering three-pedals and a stick? Ask us that question last year and our go to response would have been a certain Japanese power hatch called the Honda Civic Type-R.
This year though, we might have to change our answer as France’s response to the Type-R has finally landed on Malaysian soil. It’s none other than the Renault Mégane RS 280 Cup and, when you look past its rather over-the-top tangerine-hued skin, it’s one prizefighter that’s both dapper and itching for a brawl.
You don’t need to look far back to know what Renault’s hot hatch was all about. The last two that preceded this new one – which is based on the current fourth-gen Mégane hatchback – already carved their names on the asphalt of every known twisty B-road and technical circuit worldwide.
Back then, the formula Renault applied was simple yet effective: ensure there’s enough power and torque, add an LSD plus a gated six-speed manual box, then pack all that into a properly stiffened and sorted chassis. With previous iterations of the Mégane RS, there was the bonus of unique – read: distinctively French – styling too.
With this new one though, the recipe gets tweaked a little, but the end result seems familiar to say the least. What’s changed? For starters, this Még’s grown a pair of extra doors. Staunch Renault Sport fans have cried foul over this, but it’s a move that was bound to happen sooner or later if you asked us.
Yes, it loses its sleek, coupe-like silhouette as a result, but the ability to bring two more of your mates – or perhaps brave family members – along for the ride is a bit of a bonus. Certainly, on paper at least, the Mégane is now a bit more versatile for the daily grind than its predecessors thanks to these additional doors.
However, don’t count on anyone seated in the back to be won over by the Még’s… shall we say purposefully stiff ride? Put simply, it’s no magic carpet ride, as verified by our shutterbug John Tan. A proud owner of a Suzuki Swift Sport, Tan was happier in the hot seat, smiling from ear-to-ear after we let him have a go at the feisty Renault for the better part of 10 minutes.
Truth be told, we wouldn’t want to trade said prime hot seat in the Mégane with one at the back either. That’s because the real fun happens up front, which is an area where the Még’s welcoming and very focused cockpit lies, as well as where drive comes from and gets directed to too.
On paper, Renault’s new 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine does seem to be at a disadvantage initially, especially when compared to some if its peers and their peppier 2.0-litre turbo mills. However, as we spanked the mill and rowed all six cogs through the gates whilst dancing through all three pedals in sync, all doubts were silenced.
Sure, 276bhp and 390Nm may not sound like much, but they’re enough to get this French hot hatch’s claimed 1,407kg bulk going, and in a respectably rapid manner too. Shift fast enough and 0-100kph sprints take just 5.8 seconds, or just as fast as the rivalling Civic Type-R in fact.
But unlike the Civic, the Még’s delivery feels just a tad bit more controllable, and we can thank the trick Torsen limited slip differential (LSD) suite and selectable drive modes Renault have primed the Mégane’s driver-oriented powertrain with.
Another highlight is the raunchy soundtrack the Mégane’s exhaust sings, especially when you hit the drive mode selector button into either Sport or Race modes. Predictably, this is where the Még’s throttle is sharpened, and its steering weight and accuracy increased too.
Things only got better as we charted through the twisty, corner-riddled Karak Highway-Genting Highlands route later on at night. Is this very clichéd ground to test a car like the Megane RS on? Perhaps. Can you think of a better route to bring out the best of this hot hatch’s chassis apart from a full-fledged trackday? Yeah, thought so…
Like before, power was never the Mégane’s sole ace card in hand. In fact, it has a few more to match, much of which lay in its superbly honed chassis and agility. With this new iteration, said chassis’s agility gets enhanced further with the addition of a rear-wheel-steering suite, or what Renault calls ‘4Control’.
At speeds below 60kph, the rear wheels turn as much as 2.7 degrees in the opposite direction of the steering, or up to one degree in the same direction between 60-100kph when Race Mode is engaged. The result is a front-wheel-drive hatch that’s made for snap directional changes or what we like to call ‘instant oversteer’.
Like its predecessors, the Mégane shines in twisty routes, but it favours more technical corners than before now with 4Control in play. No matter how tightly wound the corner line became during our hill climb, the Még didn’t seem fazed, effortlessly turning in and holding the line through the apex and exit.
What aided this snap agility greatly were the sticky Bridgestone Potenza S001 sports tyres our tester had shod on each of its pretty 19-inch alloys. Lets also not forget the Cup Chassis package’s addition of beefy Brembo calipers up front, which are tastily finished in red too.
Those unfamiliar with this sort of snap direction change will be taken by surprise initially. This is also where we caution anyone to only use Race mode in a circuit as it deactivates both traction and stability control interventions. Take our word on this: you’ll need them both to familiarise with the Mégane’s newfound agility.
In short, the Még’s cornering abilities are astounding to say the least. In the right hands, we reckon this hot hatch will simply blow its rivals out of the water should it be challenged on a twisty and highly technical course. No doubt, this is expected with any car that proudly bears the Renault Sport badge.
But unlike its predecessor, this new RS’s heightened performance is now matched with enhanced daily drivability, and the extra doors aren’t the only things fuelling the latter. In its last iteration, you could say things were rather ‘Spartan’ as far as creature comforts went, with only the basics covered.
This new one however sees that problem remedied thanks to a richer list of on board kit. Included now are things like dual-zone automatic climate controls, keyless entry, not forgetting smartphone connectivity through a new touchscreen infotainment and much more.
The biggest surprise though perhaps comes from knowing there’s now an automatic dual-clutch transmission (DCT) option available for the Mégane RS. If you asked us, this isn’t bad news entirely as it finally opens up the race-spec Még towards more enthusiasts who don’t necessarily possess manual driving know-how, or simply couldn’t be bothered rowing their own gears.
Does this dampen the Mégane’s lore as a true driver’s hot hatch? Ultimately, we reckon not. Just like many of the people it’s targeted to, this is perhaps a sign of the Még’s maturity. It’s still angry, potent and sharp for weekend jaunts, but it can now keep a lid on said rage and settle in for the weekday grind too.
Nevertheless, even if it had one less pedal and no cogs for us to row, we reckon the new Mégane RS wouldn’t be any less rewarding to drive in either form. The only question that remains then is which side of the transmission divide will you find yourself on?
RENAULT MEGANE RS 280 CUP SPECS
PRICE: RM279,888 (MT, as tested) / RM299,888 (DCT)
ENGINE: 1,798cc 4cyl turbo, 276bhp, 390Nm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual / 6-speed DCT
PERFORMANCE: 0-100kph in 5.8 secs, 255kph (MT) / 250kph (DCT)
ECONOMY: 7.9 litres/100km, 181g/km
WEIGHT: 1,407kg (MT) / 1,430kg (DCT)