Renault is taking risks with its new Megane RS
The last Renault Megane RS was sublime, and in many ways, became the 911 GT3 of hot hatches. Can the third RS do the same?
UNDER pressure? Oh yes. There’s the unenviable task of replacing the flagship hot hatch in your range, and then there’s the pressure of replacing what is nothing less than the class benchmark. Rival machines might be faster (Ford Focus RS, BMW M140i) or more wellrounded (VW Golf GTI and R), but for excitement and pure driving pleasure, the outgoing Megane RS is still the king – even now, after nearly seven years in production. It’s one of the besthandling, most exciting front-wheel drive cars of all time. And now Renault Sport must deliver a worthy successor. Which it will, of course. Won’t it?
Worryingly, there are a few on-paper reasons why the new Megane RS could turn out to be something of a dud. Renault Sport’s last all-new hot hatch, 2013’s Clio RS 200, is a good car, but not quite a great one. We couldn’t bond with its exotic but out-of-place paddleshift gearbox, and an overall driving experience that felt formidable at ten-tenths, but entirely forgettable below it. And on-paper the source material for the new RS Megane isn’t as promising as it could be. The regular Megane is merely good, with compromised interior packaging, fiddly ergonomics and fine, but not particularly enamouring, driving dynamics, while the warmed-up (and Renault Sport-developed) Megane GT variant’s rear-wheel steering system has divided opinion: Renault is chuffed with it; we’re not sold.
So the heat under the magnifying glass has been a little more intense than usual for the engineering virtuosos at Renault Sport headquarters on the outskirts of Paris – which is where we’ve been for an in-depth and first-hand preview of the new Megane RS from the minds that created it; the engineers who’ll shortly be celebrated or quietly shunned...
So, here are the headlines. The new RS Megane is powered by the same 1.8-litre turbo engine as the upcoming Alpine sports car and will be front-wheel drive only. Unlike the Clio RS, the Megane will be available with the choice of a manual or a dualclutch auto gearbox. Just like before, two versions will be offered: the regular Megane RS with 203kW on tap, and a faster, more focused Trophy with 218kW, available later in 2018. Customers get a choice of suspension set-ups – standard Sport or optional, 10 per cent stiffer Cup chassis (with the latter fitted by default to the Trophy). The difference in price between the regular RS and the Trophy will be similar to that of the previous RS Megane – expect $9000 or so. All cars, intriguingly, and potentially divisively, will feature rear-wheel steering.
Unlike the fully independent, adaptively damped Civic Type R, the Megane uses torsion-beam rear suspension and passive dampers, but its dual-axis front suspension has been completely redesigned over with the previous-gen RS Megane’s front end.
“We still have six months of development remaining, so we don’t yet have final acceleration and top-speed figures,” says project manager Grégoire Ginet, but he acknowledges 0-100km/h will be ‘less than 6sec’ and a top speed of ‘more than 250km/h’.
That’s quick, of course, but the performance bar has been raised of late. Honda’s latest Civic Type R, for example, churns out 228kW and tops out at 278km/h, while Ford’s all-wheel drive, 257kW Focus RS blasts to 100km/h in 4.5sec and hits 265km/h. You get the impression, though, that Renault Sport isn’t interested in this kilowatt arms race, but has instead focused on what the RS Megane has always been about – corners.
“We had three performance objectives,” continues Ginet. “Driving pleasure, agility and efficiency. We want to stay first-in-class for chassis performance.”
That meant widening the basic Megane’s track widths, already the broadest in its class. Design director Éric Diemert was happy to oblige. “We worked with the engineers, and quickly came to the conclusion we had to widen the front track, and work with large wheels,” he says, beaming. “This is great for us because every time designers draw, they draw very large wheels and wide proportions!”
So the front arches stick their elbows out for a 60mm wider front track, while the rear track is 45mm wider. Ford’s Focus RS has identical track widths to the regular model (and can therefore get away with using the same bodyshell, saving a whole heap of money) because of the torque-vectoring and traction advantages of all-wheel drive. Was Renault Sport tempted to take the same route?
“We have four-wheel drive systems in the group
[at partner company Nissan], and at one point we considered it could be interesting, but the technology isn’t ready for sports cars yet,” chassis engineer Antoine Frey tells me.
Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, 19s an option, in black or grey, while the Trophy will get its own specific set of 19s. And yet, despite the outrigger axle widths, the new RS Megane looks... understated, don’t you think? When Diemert first pulls the covers from the hot hatch, a car that has such weight of expectation loaded on its shoulders it could use the stuff for downforce, it looks mature – demure almost. Even in Berocca vitamin-tablet orange, its unadorned surfaces are the antithesis of the Civic Type R.
“The front and rear arches are designed to look as if this car has been designed from the first breath,” Diemert says, by which he means they’re smoothly integrated with the surrounding bodywork, rather than blistered add-ons. An extractor vent on the trailing edge of the front arches reduces heat and pressure build-up, and gives away just how much wider the RS Megane is than the standard car. And there’s no giant rear wing, or aero-critical roof spikes.
“Roof spikes? We call them vortex generators, and we don’t have these kinds of elements,” says performance engineer Fabien Berthomieu. That doesn’t mean the Megane’s shape isn’t driven by aerodynamics. “Stability at high speed was one of our main objectives,” says Berthomieu. “But this doesn’t mean that we want huge downforce on the back – it’s not advantageous to have the maximum.”
The diffuser starts around the rear axle, and it’s definitely not for show. Nor are the false vents bookending the rear bumper. Their grilles are false, but their shape helps guide the airflow around the side of the bumper. “Everything we do in design is not just for aesthetics, it also has a role to play in performance,” insists Renault Sport boss Patrice Ratti.
That applies, too, to what looks the most gimmicky aspect of the car’s styling, the chequered flag ‘RS Vision’ light clusters in the corners of the front bumper, which comprise the daytime running lights, fog lights and cornering lights. They’re claimed to offer phenomenal performance on high beam, combining the foglamps and cornering lights with the main beam to hurl pools of light further down the road.
The Megane RS’s most dramatic angle is the rear, with its central exhausts exiting from a cavern in the middle of the diffuser. “We decided to come back to the central exhaust,” Diemert says. “The RS is different from the [twin-exhaust] Megane GT, with its own identity. This was important to us.” An engineer jumps in to reposition the car for photos, and it sounds suitably throbby and purposeful as it moves.
That’s the result of two paths within the exhaust and no valves, explains transmission engineer Sébastien Norie. “It’s all natural depending on the load on the throttle,” says Norie. “You can expect backfire booms during shifts and lift-off in Sport and Race driving modes. We’re often asked if we’ll use an artificial sound – the answer is that we do use the speakers a bit, to counteract vibration from the windscreen, and also to add an aggressive note – but you can always switch it off if you want.”
Plenty of manufacturers with an F1 arm are keen to talk up the link between its grand prix engineering and its road cars, but we doubt many had the F1 engine squad design the cylinder head for its new hot hatch. “At the start, we only planned to modify the engine slightly,” Norie explains. “Then we decided on a significant modification for the cooling, and other advantages. We only had a short time – six-to-eight months – so we approached our colleagues at Renault F1. They’re used to doing stuff quickly. This part had to go down a normal production line – it was a challenge to explain to our F1 colleagues this part isn’t going to be built by specialist prototype guys!”
Said cylinder head crowns a new 1.8-litre inline four from the Renault Nissan alliance, called the TCe280, with a full aluminium block saving 5kg and a large, twin-scroll turbocharger. As well as a berth amidships in the new Alpine A110, it’ll also be put to more prosaic work within the Renault Espace, detuned to
As per the 911 GT2 RS, 812 Superfast and Aventador S, the new RS’s steering comes from the back as well as the front. Both ends feature pumped guards for wider tracks
RS Replay app lets you check the state of the car – brake temps, tyre condition as well as component life – and lets you overlay video footage with telemetry data