The Renault Megane RS has for years been the hot hatch choice of connoisseurs. But these days, itâ€™s not without challengers to its crown. The Honda Civic Type R is currently the pick of the bunch, but thereâ€™s also the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Seat Leon Cupra R and Ford Focus RS looking to win the hearts of enthusiasts.
Renault Sportâ€™s track record in recent years hasnâ€™t been great â€“ witness the disappointing Clio RS 200 â€“ but it seems determined to restore order with this new Megane RS. It retains front-wheel drive but has a lightweight new 276bhp 1.8-litre turbo engine thatâ€™s more powerful than its predecessor, which you can pair with either a manual or automatic gearbox.
Fundamentally, suspension is similar in layout to before, with Renault adding on two new innovations â€“ four-wheel steering and hydraulic suspension bump stops. It doesnâ€™t use adaptive dampers though, engineers arguing a well-judged passive setup with those fancy hydraulic bump stops will work better than a pricey adaptive alternative.
Renault Megane RS 280
Engine: 4cylÂ inline, 1798cc, turbocharged, petrol
Power: 276bhp at 6000rpm
Torque: 288lb ft at 2400-4800rpm
Gearbox: 6-spd twin-clutch automatic/ 6-spd manual
Kerb weight: 1430kg
Top speed: 155mph
CO2 emissions: 155g/km
Thereâ€™s also a Cup version, which has firmer suspension than the standard car, bigger 19in wheels, more powerful brakes and a Torsen limited slip differential. Renaultâ€™s later also openly planning a Trophy version, with 296bhp and that Cup chassis as standard.
This is a potent-looking car with an impressive new cabin. The seats are supportive and, unlike some rivals, not mounted too high, and we like the sporty detailing such as the red seatbelts. Pity the gearshift paddles on the automatic car are poorly placed, and although the gearshifts are sharper than on the Clio, we prefer the manual.
The new engine is more impressive. It has more than enough real-world performance, with plentiful torque and a free-revving nature. Only minor gripes let the side down â€“ it sounds a bit ordinary and the accelerator pedal response is a bit strange at times. That it also doesnâ€™t have the high-rev effervescence of a Honda Civic Type R is perhaps an inevitabilityâ€¦
And the chassis? Itâ€™s sensational. We first tried a regular car on public roads, and the first standout was its outstanding ride quality, which could set new standards in this sector. Steering is confident and has good feel, and handling feels fantastic â€“ balanced, absorbing and playful. Even the standard car demonstrates this: the Cup alternative simply takes this inherent strength and makes it even more playful.
Four-wheel steering is a neat addition, particularly when you select â€˜raceâ€™ mode which alters the speed at which it switches from steering in the opposite direction as the front wheels, to steering in the same direction. The Megane turns in to corners with incredible vibrancy and the amount of speed you can carry in bends is miraculous. You can even flick it into mini-drifts, like you could in old school hot hatches, but without the risk of going too far and spinning off: incredible fun.
The verdict? Itâ€™s fantastic. Itâ€™s not without its faults, and we prefer the manual to the automatic, but weâ€™ve still seen enough to feel this could be a hot hatch great. We canâ€™t wait to get it to the UK, pitch it against the Honda Civic Type R and find out once and for all which is the best hot hatch you can buy right now.