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