Renault’s performance hatch works best when driven hardest
When I was young and skinny and had hair, 100kW of power was the Phwoar! number in hot hatch territory. At the time, the ancestor of all front-wheel drive hot hatches, VW’s Golf GTi, produced just 78kW from a 1.8-litre four.
Then, in 1991, Toyota launched the Corolla SX Seca Liftback, with a 98kW 1.6-litre engine, and Nissan released the Pulsar SSS, with a 105kW 2.0-litre.
Both weighed about one tonne, so they were basically overpowered tin cans. But fun to drive? Hilarious, mate.
Today, 200kW is the benchmark. Again, the Golf GTi is slightly undernourished with 180kW, but that’s irrelevant when it’s so immaculately sorted.
The Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai i30N and today’s drive, Renault’s Megane RS 280, all produce 200kW-plus, with the Honda the most powerful at 228kW.
They also weigh about half a tonne more than their early 1990s counterparts, because, unlike those cars, your chances of walking away from a crash are better than 5 per cent.
The RS costs $44,990 with a six-speed manual, as tested, or $47,490 with a six-speed dualclutch transmission.
As standard, it includes Nappa leather-clad steering wheel and gear lever shroud, Brembo brakes, 19-inch alloys, surround parking sensors, large portrait-style infotainment touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, stand-alone voice control (for audio and phone), navigation, automatic parking and cloth upholstery.
Our car adds the Cup Chassis option pack, at $1490, with lowered, stiffened suspension, gloss black 19-inch alloys, Torsen mechanical limitedslip diff, red brake calipers and aluminium/cast iron discs, which save 1.8kg at each wheel.
Unless you’re going to do track days, the Cup chassis option is probably overkill. The suspension is 10 per cent stiffer than standard (which I haven’t tried) and the ride, though hard rather than harsh, is tedious around town.
The heavily bolstered, tight-fitting, pseudo race shell driver’s seat is properly supportive at RS cornering velocities. You’re seated close to the floor, with plenty of travel and steering wheel adjustment.
The 2018 RS also has much improved rear leg and headroom and comfort for adults compared with its three-door predecessor.
Its central digital instrument display is configurable according to your selected drive mode. We’re in a French car, so a variety of seductive mood lighting options is provided, a jarring contrast with cheap plastics in a pretty impoverished cabin, especially compared with the Golf. An on-screen RS Monitor features all sorts of boy-racer distractions, including a stopwatch, but if you have time to admire your spectacular numbers, you’re a lot slower than you think you are.
The big ticket stuff is standard: autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise.
As with previous hot rod Renaults, the Megane RS makes fewer concessions to normal road use