The new third-generation 2018 Renault Mégane RS Cup targets the Volkswagen Golf GTI having gone all grown-up on us…
It’s hard to follow a class act, and the third-generation Mégane from the Renault Sport messieurs has its work cut out.
The thing is, since the first hot Mégane showed up 14 years ago it only had a Ford and a Golf for company, but now in 2018 European petrolheads alone buy over 100,000 hot hatches a year, and the all-new Mégane heads into a segment to fight no less than eight rivals as benchmarked by the French.
Inside-front-tyre-lift enthusiasts are living in a golden age of the lairy hot hatch, in many cases 300 horsepower just getting things started. There’s the Golf GTI, the Civic Type R, the Seat Cupra, Focus RS, and more from Peugeot, Mercedes, BMW and even Hyundai in on it. There is front- and rear- and all-wheel drive, and dual-clutches and manuals and limited slip diffs and torque vectoring tricks. Something for everyone, and it’ll be interesting to see what place the Renault can find for itself in this eclectic mix.
On paper it seems to square up snugly alongside the sensible Golf for example you can’t have this generation Mégane RS with two doors and a half-cage in the back like you used to be able to. The French are chasing volume, and now it’s available in a four-door body style only because that’s what sells (over 80 percent of the take). So you’re looking at about $40,000 worth of car, with a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (à la mid-engined Alpine) and a six-speed manual ‘box putting 280 horsepower to the front wheels. Spec the lower and stiffer Cup chassis and you get a limited-slip differential thrown it, with bigger and lighter brakes and 19-inch wheels running Bridgestones. An automatic is available though not in Cup specification with that LSD, but in entry-level Sport trim.
Heading to Circuito de Jerez to drive the thing it was sensible for Motormouth to expect a smokey and slidey holiday in southern Spain. Instead we motored along smoothly up and down the E5, and the muted exhaust note hummed through the villages east in the mountains, mindful of siesta time.
The electric steering system has the wheel thrumming softly under the fingertips and everything seems relaxed, weighted, and matured. It’s a grown-up car, this, and far from its wild predecessors with their perspex windows and six-point harnesses. With the torque, fourth gear nearly suffices for everything, and you barely have to downshift for hairpins. Clearly Renault went after the big score, the Golf, turning on tradition and attempting possibly the most rational hot hatch the French have ever done.
That isn’t to say the third-generation Mégane RS isn’t fun – on mountain roads it is absurdly quick and assured, and it is the ease of flying along at these sorts of speeds that gives the car a mature character. Four-wheel steering, for the first time in this model, means pretty much no understeer to work around, and the suspension soaks up bumps with some authority. Even over very rough sections of tarmac the car remains settled and dismisses any concern caused by the narrow and twisty roads.
On the track itself it’s the same story, with the 355mm lightweight brakes (the optional discs save 1.8kg per corner) performing time and again and lift-off oversteer available merely on demand.
If anything the new 2018 Renault Mégane RS is almost too much like the Volkswagen Golf GTI although the French did have more fun designing their version, and it’s a good looking car too. The interior is smartly turned out with sports seats, aluminium bits, and contrasting stitching, and along the cruise the cabin’s reasonably quiet and comfortable so we expect it’ll do just as fine along the daily grind as a Golf.
And if it’s still too sensible for you Renault is working on a Trophy version with more power and less practicality, just like the hot Méganes we remember. We’re glad the French find it so hard to change, and long may they remain the same.
2018 Renault Mégane RS Cup
1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder | six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive | 280 horsepower and 390Nm of torque | 0-100kph in 5.8 seconds and a top speed of 250kph | from about $40,000