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Review: Renault Megane RS - mixed bag but huge fun to drive

The Megane RS has been one of the most crucial hot hatches in the segment for some time, and here we find ourselves in the latest generation.

With its predecessors regarded as some of the finest-handling hatches of all time, the new RS has a lot to live up to, but Renault hopes that, thanks to new technologies and chassis enhancements, this version will be the best yet.

However, there are more competitors than ever for it to take on, making the job even trickier.

What's new?

There's quite a lot going on underneath the muscular styling. We've now got four-wheel steering, a powerful turbocharged engine and - enthusiasts rejoice - the choice of a dual-clutch automatic or six-speed manual gearbox.

Renault says this model is more influenced by motorsport than ever before. Engineers from the firm's F1 team helped develop the engine, ensuring it was as responsive as possible, despite being turbocharged.

The exterior has also been beefed up, as have the chassis and brakes. In all, it's designed to be the most involving RS yet. There's the choice of Sport or Cup chassis too, with the former more road-ready and the latter aimed at those who want to hit the track.

What's under the bonnet?

The new Megane RS is powered by a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine - the same as the one you'll find in the Alpine A110 sports car. Here it produces 278bhp and 390Nm, which enables the Megane to hit 60mph in 5.6 seconds before topping out at 155mph.

As we mentioned, two transmissions are available. However, the biggest change comes elsewhere. The new Megane now features all-wheel steering in a first for the hot-hatch segment.

At speeds of up to 37mph, both the front and rear wheels turn in the same direction, affording the car better high-speed stability. At low speed, they move in opposite directions, meaning the car can turn more sharply than with a conventional set-up.

What's it like to drive?

A hot hatch needs to be sharp, nimble and, most of all, fun to drive. In most respects, the Megane RS ticks these boxes. The 1.8-litre engine feels punchy at low speeds, yet has a willingness to be revved out too. It sounds characterful enough, though only when switched into all-out Race driving mode. In regular modes, it's pretty muted.

The handling is sharp, with perhaps too much artificial weight added in racier modes, but the four-wheel steering does make the car particularly agile in the bends, and it'll happily begin to rotate on a lifted throttle, but it never becomes scary or difficult to drive.

There are some niggles, however. The gearshift paddles are mounted just slightly too high on the steering wheel and the brake pedal lacks a degree of bite under the first inches of travel.

How does it look?

Despite being based on a rather run-of-the-mill hatchback, the RS looks impressive in the metal.

The arches have been fleshed out at both the front and rear, while small touches, such as air vents just behind the front wheels and a large hexagonal exhaust surround, help differentiate the RS from the regular Megane. There were few people we passed while on our southern Spain test route who didn't stop to stare - and that's the effect hot hatches should have.

The RS moniker has always been an indication of truly sporty cars, and enthusiasts instantly recognise the level of tuning and mechanical enhancement that it represents.

What's it like inside?

Those looking for a flamboyant, over-the-top interior may have to look in other directions than the Megane.

For the most part, though, it's a pleasant place to be. The sports seats are comfortable with plenty of support and adjustment, and the seating position is spot-on.

The materials are decent enough throughout, with only a few low-rent plastics on the dashboard and around the infotainment system spoiling the overall effect.

A hot hatch needs to be usable on a daily basis, so it's handy that the Megane RS features both decent rear-seat legroom and an impressively large boot. It means that those who plan on using their hot hatch every day - as they should - won't get caught short in terms of practicality.

What's the spec like?

The Megane RS benefits from quite a lot of standard equipment. Central to the cabin's design is the large, 8.7-inch infotainment screen, which houses satellite navigation and media functions.

One of the cleverest functions it features is the RS Monitor. This allows drivers to connect a dashcam or smartphone to the system and film their laps on the track. The car's telemetrics can overlay details such as speed and G-reading on to the footage, which can then be uploaded to the internet.

The screen itself looks good, but unfortunately small icons make it a little hard to navigate and are particularly annoying when you're trying to do something as simple as input a destination into the navigation.

Verdict

The RS is a mixed bag. The engine, chassis and ride are impressive. The 1.8-litre unit is responsive and pulls hard throughout the rev range, while the Sport chassis is just well-judged enough for the road. However, a few niggles, such as the infotainment system and oddly placed gearshift paddles, bring things down. That said, it's a huge amount of fun to drive - one of the key features of any hot hatch.

Facts at a glance

Model: Renault Megane R.S.

Price: £30,000 (est)

Engine: 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol

Power: 276bhp

Torque (Nm): 390Nm

Max speed (mph): 155mph

0-60mph: 5.6seconds

MPG: 40.3 (combined)

Emissions (g/km): 158g/km

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