Rear-wheel steer­ing could be the RS Me­gane’s se­cret weapon – or its down­fall

Motor (Australia) - - EXPOSED -

around 162kW. In the RS Me­gane its fancy cylin­der head helps it to an im­pres­sive spe­cific out­put of more than 150bhp per litre, and it revs to 7000rpm. “This is im­por­tant for track driv­ing, as is flex­i­bil­ity. The en­gine is al­ways full of torque,” says Norie.

To­day, talk of track driv­ing is never far away. Take the gear­boxes, for in­stance. The man­ual is back by cus­tomer de­mand, and if it ain’t broke... “It’s the same gear­box as pre­vi­ously, the same gearset. We had good feed­back from cus­tomers that the ra­tios were well suited to track days and also for the road,” Norie says. “It’s a sim­ple gear­box, re­li­able, so we de­cided to keep it. And for the twin-clutch op­tion we have a new gearset that can go up to 400Nm, more in the fu­ture.”

The Tro­phy will fea­ture a me­chan­i­cal lim­ited-slip diff, this time from Torsen rather than GKN. “We’re now able to trans­fer 45 per cent of the torque to the wheel with the most po­ten­tial,” says Norie, while the reg­u­lar RS will use the brakes to slow the in­side wheel.

Four driv­ing modes will fea­ture: Com­fort (fo­cus­ing on ef­fi­ciency), Nat­u­ral, Sport and Race. There’ll also be a cus­tom-ev­ery­thing mode avail­able to mix and match. “With the twin-clutch gear­box you can have fully au­to­matic shifts in Race mode, or a man­ual set­ting where you can keep the 7000rpm lim­iter if you want to hold the same gear into a cor­ner.”

“We have two good­ies: Mul­ti­ple shift al­lows you to hold the down­shift pad­dle and it will down­shift, down­shift, down­shift, to give you just the right gear for the cor­ner, and there’s also launch con­trol. You can ac­ti­vate it in Sport, where it keeps the ESP on, and in Race – where there are no aids at all.”

And how’s this for proof Re­nault Sport lis­tens to its cus­tomers? The new RS Me­gane will be avail­able with a man­ual hand­brake. “It’s much more fun. The driv­ers of our RS cars like to tweak a man­ual hand­brake into cor­ners,” Norie smiles, mim­ing a hand­brake turn. Sim­i­larly, man­ual RSs won’t fea­ture rev-match­ing on down­shifts. “We know this tech­nol­ogy from the Nis­san 370Z, but we stud­ied it and de­cided for the Me­gane we don’t need it. Clients say they don’t want it. They want a sim­pler car and to do the heel-and-toe them­selves.”

You get the im­pres­sion Re­nault Sport is do­ing this car the right way, build­ing on what the RS Me­gane does best. But there’s one worry – rear-wheel steer­ing.

This tech­nol­ogy could prove to be the Me­gane’s se­cret weapon or its down­fall. It’s not a new tech­nol­ogy, of course, but mod­ern com­puter con­trol is mak­ing it more pre­cise and con­trol­lable than ever. Plenty of high-end per­for­mance cars now fea­ture rear-wheel steer, but the GT and RS Me­ganes are the only C-seg­ment hatches that steer from the rear.

On-pa­per ap­peal is un­de­ni­able, ef­fec­tively length­en­ing the wheel­base at high speeds to in­crease sta­bil­ity while help­ing to tuck the nose into slower cor­ners (and make three-point turns a cinch). But at high speeds – in the tdf and AMG GT R es­pe­cially – it can feel odd, and rob the driver of con­fi­dence. Some find the Me­gane GT’s rear-steer a lit­tle bi­nary in its ac­tions, and that it hin­ders rather than helps.

Re­nault Sport boss Ratti is bullish about the RS sys­tem’s po­ten­tial: “We have adapted the Me­gane GT’s sys­tem com­pletely for sport driv­ing. Not only that, we have used it to adapt the sus­pen­sion, the steer­ing – we are re-imag­in­ing the whole car and ve­hi­cle dy­nam­ics around the four-wheel con­trol set-up.”

Chas­sis en­gi­neer An­toine Frey has played a key role in im­ple­ment­ing the sys­tem. “To start with, we were ner­vous,” he ad­mits. “But with the former Me­gane we were at the limit for high-speed sta­bil­ity. We have to add tech­nol­ogy to make an im­prove­ment. If you want to do this with­out four-wheel steer, you have to put very large tyres on the back, as we see with SUVs now.”

The sys­tem is in op­er­a­tion at all times. Be­low 60km/h the rear wheels turn the op­po­site way to the fronts – or at higher speeds in Race mode, for ra­zor­sharp turn-in re­sponse. “But it’s in a nat­u­ral way,” says Frey. “What we want is that you get out of the car and say ‘I don’t feel it’. At the start we were not ex­pect­ing such a gain. The re­sponse is re­ally sharp, and the body con­trol, I think we have one of the flat­test cars on the mar­ket. We de­creased the roll by 10 per cent com­pared with the old car. If we tried to do that with anti-roll bars, the front end would be com­pletely over­loaded and com­fort would suf­fer.”

In fact, Frey prom­ises the new car will ride more com­fort­ably, helped by new hy­draulic bump stops, which ab­sorb en­ergy at the end of the sus­pen­sion’s stroke: “They’re easy to tune, with lots of pa­ram­e­ters.”

Frey shows us a graph of yaw rate ver­sus road speed, plot­ted against the old RS Me­gane and the cur­rent Me­gane GT. The new car has a lot more low-speed agility, and a bit more at high speeds – but a load more at medium speeds. “We can’t show you the curves from other man­u­fac­tur­ers’ cars – but we are pretty well placed, I think.”

De­vel­op­ment driver Lau­rent Hur­gon (the man who broke the Nur­bur­gring fron­twheel drive lap record in pre­vi­ous Me­ganes) says that apart from in­creas­ing the car’s agility, all-wheel steer re­duces the amount of steer­ing wheel an­gle re­quired.

“At the be­gin­ning we were wor­ried the rear-wheel steer might lose some of the fun,” says Hur­gon. “But you lift your foot from the throt­tle, you feel it ro­tat­ing. Of course it adds some weight, but we feel it is com­pen­sated for by the ex­tra agility. And we man­aged to keep the fun.”

To­day, talk of Nur­bur­gring lap­ti­mes is con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence. Com­mit­ting to a record ’Ring time can be a mill­stone for a project – Re­nault Sport’s just try­ing to make the new Me­gane the best it can be. But if the graphs aren’t ly­ing, there could be a few fur­rowed brows at cur­rent front-drive record holder Honda when the Me­gane Tro­phy launches.

You’d like the peo­ple at Re­nault Sport – they love cars the same way you and I love cars, and they’ve poured as much pas­sion into the new Me­gane as its pre­de­ces­sors – if not more. They’re con­fi­dent that, when it comes to meet­ing the sky-high stan­dards set by the Me­gane RS’s legacy of in­dis­putable bril­liance, they’ve suc­ceeded. And just as well, there’ll be hell to pay if they’ve failed.

No all-wheel drive, four doors and ‘tame’ styling, how­ever, on pedi­gree alone the new RS will be a con­tender, join­ing a slew of new or re­freshed hot-hatch play­ers

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