Driven

VOLVO XC60 D4 IN­SCRIP­TION / The magic num­ber is XC60

- Cars · South Africa · BMW · Chicago Mercantile Exchange

his is a slightly un­con­ven­tional to start an ar­ti­cle but if I were to, first and fore­most, delve into the bor­ing ol’ facts that make the Megane RS, well, an RS, the first thing to de­scribe would be its power out­put: 221 kW that is avail­able at 6,000 r/min.

Torque? I tested the man­ual ver­sion of the RS 300 with a max­i­mum torque rat­ing of 400 Nm from a rea­son­ably low 2,400 r/min. The auto on the other hand is rated at 420 Nm from its 1.8-litre turbo en­gine.

So, that’s the clincher then – the most pow­er­ful RS in South Africa is over­shad­owed on the power front by the likes of the BMW M135i and the MercedesAM­G A45 S, the lat­ter of which is also the most pow­er­ful hot-hatch in the world.

BUT THAT’S JUST POWER

The fact of the mat­ter is that while most of these modern hot-hatch­backs, es­pe­cially the Merc A45, are feats of en­gi­neer­ing that de­serve a hearty round of ap­plause, they are so set in an en­gi­neer­ing phi­los­o­phy of ex­tract­ing each and ev­ery mi­crop­ower unit, that they have lost touch with what a hot-hatch­back should be.

Driv­ing the Merc AMG around a race­track, and in the men­tal zone of hit­ting ev­ery apex, I ac­tu­ally for­got that I was driv­ing the world’s most pow­er­ful hatch­back. The A45 was so in­tu­itive that the line be­tween it and a su­per­car was blurred to the point where I might as well have driven the GT, with the modern MBUX ar­chi­tec­ture. It’s mind warp­ing but that essence of what this kind of car should be, was miss­ing.

It’s the same story with the Beemer

Driv­ing around town it is com­fort­able. In Driven’s Au­gust 2020 edi­tion, I wrote that “it feels safe” when sum­mon­ing all that the four-cylin­der en­gine has on of­fer.

And is that where per­for­mance hatch­backs are ul­ti­mately go­ing?

HANG ON FOR DEAR LIFE

Not if the RS Tro­phy has any­thing to say about it. Sure, it’s a prac­ti­cal car – seat­ing space for five, a boot that can fit a month’s worth of gro­ceries for a small fam­ily but then, when you press the RS Mode but­ton and the screens turn red, you’d bet­ter get a firm grip on the steer­ing wheel.

What fol­lows af­ter an ex­ten­sive pe­riod of turbo lag from the 1.8-litre mill is un­wa­ver­ing torque-steer that doesn’t let up as long as you’re com­mit­ted to keep­ing the loud pedal de­pressed. Plan the up­shift on the man­ual care­fully though; just af­ter max­i­mum power at 6,000 r/min, the power curve falls flat like an easy-bake choco­late cake.

And speak­ing of the man­ual gear­box, it’s a sat­is­fy­ing af­fair work­ing through its six speeds. Slot­ting it in feels me­chan­i­cal and the clutch is bi­nary – it’s ei­ther en­gaged or dis­en­gaged with very lit­tle in the way of reg­u­lat­ing it.

LAST WORD

Tra­di­tional hot-hatch­backs that are ab­surdly sense­less are a dy­ing breed. The modern va­ri­ety is over-en­gi­neered, overly com­fort­able, too re­fined and, in the case of the Golf GTI, does ev­ery­thing just too well.

Call me a tra­di­tion­al­ist if you will, but when it comes to this seg­ment of cars, I adore that which makes no ra­tio­nal sense. I want tyre-squeal and torque-steer and I don’t even mind the bone-jar­ring ride qual­ity all that much.

I like the quirks – like the cup hold­ers on the cen­tre tun­nel that are only re­ally good at con­tain­ing items like the key fob and small change. They can’t fit a smart­phone, and when there’s an open can rest­ing in­side the up­per one, chang­ing gears can be­come an awk­ward ex­er­cise of try­ing to get your arm over or around it. Or the re­verse cam­era that oc­ca­sion­ally stut­ters to a halt since it seems to be hav­ing a hard time pro­cess­ing its sur­round­ings. Re­nault can leave out the entire in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem as far as I’m con­cerned since I spent my week with the Tro­phy just try­ing soak­ing it all in.

But then, this may just be the last true RS that has all these hot-hatch­back qual­i­ties that don’t make a lick of sense – and I love it for that!

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