What are you driving?
If you subscribe to the school of thought that you don't always need a sledgehammer to crack a nut, chances are the Renault Megane RS appeals to you. The chassis boffins at Renaultsport have good form when it comes to making hatchbacks move quickly. I have a friend that owns both a Clio RS 197 and a Megane RS 230 F1 R26. Loves them both and I can see why. But Renaultsport seemed to lose its way a little when the latest Clio RS came along. The move to a turbocharged engine and an auto transmission didn't just upset the purists; it simply wasn't as much fun to drive - even if it did come with better performance stats. So there is plenty of pressure on the shoulder of its bigger brother.
Name its best bits
Any serious hot hatch should also have serious presence, and the Megane RS certainly ticks that box. Flared wheel arches bulk out the car, further highlighting the vent in the front wing. Equally, from behind, it's clear that this is no ordinary Renault Megane. Similarly swollen arches just about cover the rear track and the aggressive diffuser looks like it means business. Add to that the optional 19-inch Interlagos wheels (€350) and Metallic Volcanic Orange paintwork (€975) and you're sure to turn heads.
Though the Megane RS may cede horsepower to rivals like the Honda Civic Type R, it's still every bit the rapid hatchback. But what it lacks in outright power it does make up for in how it handles and rides. Renaultsport equips it with the 4Control rear-wheel-steering system, which turns the rear wheels in phase with the fronts above 60km/h and in the opposite direction by a few degrees at slower speeds. The benefits of the system are felt more at higher speeds where it adds to the car's stability during flowing bends. These are the types of roads that the Megane RS excels on and it's an opportunity for the nicely judged steering to shine. Heavily bolstered Alcantara seats also ensure you're held firmly in place.
Anything that bugs you?
A splash of faux carbon fibre and a few offcuts of Alcantara doesn't go far enough to make this feel more special inside. Much of that is down to the architecture and design of the standard Megane. The portrait-style infotainment system simply isn't good enough for 2019, even in the regular car, never mind in a version costing this much. Touch-sensitive controls along either side give no haptic feedback, and the satin plastic bezel ends up covered in fingerprints after only a few days use, ultimately compounding the cheapness of its material makeup. The only saving grace is that you can bypass the R-Link system in favour of Apple CarPlay. And if that sounds harsh or nit-picky, it isn't - these days, more than ever, we rely on a car's infotainment system to stay connected.
In performance terms, the EDC dual-clutch gearbox is best used manually. When left in auto mode, it doesn't always react as quickly as you would like. Occasionally this can lead you to press the throttle further, at which point it steps down more than the desired number of gear ratios. Manual shifting is a far more rewarding experience. Not only because it's easier to keep the engine in the performance sweet spot, but because you also get to use the large paddle shifters. These are far nicer than the tiny plastic things you'll find in the SEAT Leon Cupra and Volkswagen Golf R. If you're still not entirely convinced, fear not, because you can also order the Megane RS with three pedals and a six-speed manual.
And why have you given it this rating?
There was a time that a front-wheel-drive hatchback with 280hp would seem like a bonkers proposition. But against the current crop of hot hatch superstars the Megane RS, in its standard guise at least, doesn't shine quite as bright as you'd hope. In certain scenarios it performs very well, showcasing what a mostly well-sorted chassis it is. Keener drivers may want to consider the Trophy version.
What do the rest of the team think?
I like how the Megane looks on the outside (I agree with Dave on the cabin) and it sounds fabulous, too. Ignore the fact it has less power than some alternatives, as it's seriously rapid by any measure, and the four-wheel steering gives it ridiculous agility in low-speed corners. It's way too firm to be used daily on Irish roads, sadly, and, cool paddle-shifters aside, there's no way I'd have the EDC automatic transmission over the manual option. I reckon I'd have a Hyundai i30 N over the Renault.
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor