A hot hatch in its own niche

ROAD TEST/ Lively Me­gane RS Lux forges its own path in a hyper-com­pet­i­tive hot-hatch mar­ket, writes De­nis Droppa

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Two years af­ter the launch of its fourth­gen­er­a­tion Me­gane, Re­nault SA re­cently in­tro­duced the big­mus­cle ver­sion — as a mat­ter of fact, two of them.

In an un­usual move the French car maker of­fers its hot hatch­back in two flavours: the Lux au­to­matic and the Cup man­ual. The two cars are iden­ti­cally priced at R549,900 but the Cup is a racier ver­sion for en­thu­si­asts, and along with re­quir­ing man­ual gear shifts it also has firmer sus­pen­sion.

Both de­riv­a­tives are fired along by a new 1.8l turbo petrol en­gine. It’s down­sized from the pre­vi­ous 2.0l unit but power and torque have in­creased from 195kW and 360Nm to 205kW and 390Nm.

There is plenty of sporty show-and-tell to vis­ually dis­tin­guish the RS duo from reg­u­lar Me­ganes, the most ob­vi­ous be­ing the more ag­gres­sivelystyled bumpers with fog lights that are in­spired by a che­quered flag. The wider stance (an ex­tra 60mm at the front and 45mm at the rear) and big­ger al­loy wheels (stan­dard 18-inch and op­tion­ally 19-inch) also im­bue this racy Re­nault with more pres­ence, as does our test ve­hi­cle’s “tonic orange” — a new colour added to the pal­ette of the Me­gane RS.

The sporty vibe con­tin­ues in the cabin with its alu­minium ped­als, nappa-cov­ered steer­ing wheel and body-hug­ging Al­can­tara sports seats. As be­fits its flag­ship sta­tus in the range, the spec sheet is fully-loaded and in­cludes a heart­beat that plays through the speak­ers as a wel­come when you get into the car.

A com­pletely au­to­matic key un­locks the car as you walk up to it, and locks it again when you walk away — no press­ing of any but­tons re­quired. My prob­lem with the hi-tech key is its lack of a low-tech eye­let so that you can hang it on a key rack at home, which meant I was con­stantly mis­plac­ing it.

Along with gov­erned top speeds of 250km/h, Re­nault quotes an iden­ti­cal 5.8 sec­ond 0-100km/h time for both Me­gane RS de­riv­a­tives, a claim we’d be in­clined to dis­pute given the propen­sity for mod­ern au­to­mat­ics to out­sprint their three­pedalled coun­ter­parts. Es­pe­cially au­to­mat­ics with a launch con­trol func­tion, as found in this Me­gane RS Lux, where left-foot brak­ing al­lows the driver to hike the en­gine revs be­fore zoom­ing off the line.

Apart from re­quir­ing man­ual gear shifts, the Cup ver­sion is de­signed for a more vis­ceral ex­pe­ri­ence with its 20% firmer sus­pen­sion and bet­ter trac­tion un­der hard ac­cel­er­a­tion due to a front lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial.

That said, the Lux that I road tested is hardly “soft” and still oc­cu­pies the wilder side of the hot-hatch king­dom, com­pared to the more ap­proach­able and civilised VW Golf GTI.

Its ride is still pretty firm, es­pe­cially on bumps and rip­ples, and the RS Lux isn’t a car that dou­bles as a comfy com­muter for school runs. Gearshift pad­dles al­low the driver to be more in­volved, but un­for­tu­nately not while turn­ing as they’re fixed in place on the steer­ing col­umn rather than on the wheel it­self.

The Multi-Sense fea­ture of­fers var­i­ous drive modes that af­fect throt­tle, steer­ing and gear shift re­sponses.

The sportier modes bring out this Me­gane’s feral side with a quicker throt­tle and heav­ier steer­ing, ac­com­pa­nied by loud crack­les and burps from the ex­haust that add vo­cal siz­zle. In Race mode the sta­bil­ity con­trol is dis­abled, leav­ing trac­tion du­ties in the driver’s hands.

The Me­gane RS still has its power fed through the front wheels and be­comes a bit of a hand­ful when driven en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. There is some wheel spin and torque steer un­der hard ac­cel­er­a­tion which some driv­ers might find dis­con­cert­ing and oth­ers al­lur­ingly play­ful.

Keep a firm hand on the tiller and Re­nault’s racy hatch gets through cor­ners with a planted feel. The 4Con­trol rear-wheel steer­ing gives it a nim­ble turn-in that nicely re­sists un­der­steer.

I like that the Me­gane RS doesn’t try to clone its ri­vals but Type: Four-cylin­der turbo Ca­pac­ity: 205kW at 6,000 r/min Torque: 390Nm at 2,400-4,500 r/min Type: Seven-speed au­to­matic EDC dual clutch Type: Front-wheel drive forges its own niche in the hot hatch seg­ment. With its firm ride and ten­dency to torque steer the Me­gane can be a hand­ful in ev­ery­day driv­ing but it’s well priced in the hot hatch league, be­ing notably more pow­er­ful than the sim­i­larly priced GTI but power-wise ven­tur­ing right into the ter­ri­tory of the more ex­pen­sive Golf R.

EN­GINE TRANS­MIS­SION DRIV­E­TRAIN PER­FOR­MANCE (claimed)

Top speed: 250km/h 0-100km/h: 5.8 sec­onds Fuel Con­sump­tion: 8.5l/100km (claimed), 10.5l/100km/h (as tested) Emis­sion: 158 g/km

STAN­DARD FEA­TURES

Elec­tronic sta­bil­ity pro­gramme, six airbags, ABS brakes, elec­tric win­dows, elec­tric mir­rors, cli­mate con­trol, Al­can­tara RS up­hol­stery, heated front seats, dig­i­tal speedome­ter, au­to­matic lights and wipers, LED head­lamps with cor­ner­ing func­tion, cruise con­trol, hands-free key­less sys­tem, park sen­sors and rear view cam­era, touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem with Blue­tooth and nav­i­ga­tion, voice con­trol, 4CON­TROL four-wheel steer­ing sys­tem, Multi-Sense (5 driv­ing modes), leather steer­ing wheel with mul­ti­func­tion con­trols

COST OF OWN­ER­SHIP

War­ranty: Five years/150,000km Ser­vice Plan: Five years/90,000km Price: R549,900 Lease*: R11,778 per month

A wider stance and ‘che­quered flag’ fog lights iden­tify the RS as top gun of the Me­gane range.

Boy-racer dé­cor: alu­minium ped­als and car­bon fi­brelook door lin­ing, left. Below: Rear wheel steer­ing helps this racy Me­gane nip through cor­ners quicker.

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