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?

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS - by JAMES TAY­LOR pics WIL­SON HEN­NESSY

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

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