Racy Re­nault leads charge of the hot hatches

Daily Star Sunday - - RESULT! -

I’M not prone to para­noia but a few days driv­ing this ’ere Re­nault Me­gan R.S. 280 got me won­der­ing if some­thing might be amiss.

Even my wife no­ticed it. “Why’s ev­ery­one star­ing at us?” she re­marked af­ter a ran­dom stranger stopped in the mid­dle of a ze­bra cross­ing to cop a bet­ter look at our car.

At first I put it down to the £1,300, lurid Vol­canic orange paint­work. Then I got home and started do­ing a bit of re­search.

The sub­ject of WLTP – an acro­nym for the new EU6 real-world fuel and emis­sions test­ing – reared its ugly head.

It’s not a Re­nault spe­cific prob­lem. It’s not a Me­gane R.S. spe­cific prob­lem. Every man­u­fac­turer un­der the sun is be­ing hit hard by this time con­sum­ing new leg­is­la­tion and it’s hit­ting per­for­mance mod­els harder than most be­cause every man­u­fac­turer has to have its whole range achieve an aver­age CO2 level of 130g/km if they want to avoid hefty EU fines.

So while the new R.S. 280 gets down to an im­pres­sive 163g/km (155 on 18in wheels) – a big im­prove­ment over the pre­vi­ous model – it’s still mud­dy­ing the over­all cor­po­rate CO2 wa­ters.

The up­shot of this – un­less you bought one and reg­is­tered it be­fore Septem­ber 1 this year – is that you can’t have one now, even if you want one.

Re­nault UK says Me­gane R.S. or­der books re­open next month and de­liv­er­ies should start in Fe­bru­ary or March next year.

So the rea­son ev­ery­one has been star­ing wasn’t be­cause I’d left my flies down or but­toned my shirt up skew whiff, it was just that my Me­gane R.S. 280 is as rare as a uni­corn in Run­corn.

If you do want one, and I sug­gest that yes, you do, you’re just go­ing to have to sit tight.

Like any pre­vi­ous hot Me­gane, this lat­est ver­sion is up there with the class best. It feels light and re­spon­sive, it’s ex­plo­sively fast and, un­like some of its more be­nign op­po­si­tion, it’s ca­pa­ble of bust­ing some pretty spec­tac­u­lar endswap­ping moves when you turn all the elec­tronic as­sis­tance off in race mode and drive it like you TWOCd it.

Head­line fig­ures of 280PS and a peak torque fig­ure of 390Nm at just 2,400rpm tell you quite a lot of the story – the twit­ter­ing and chirrup­ing turbo waste­gate and tyre smok­ing wheel­spin add ex­tra zest to the ex­plo­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s all a bit wasted on the road.

All you no­tice on most com­mutes is how firm the Cup-spec chas­sis set­tings are and how ag­gres­sive the throt­tle re­sponse is in any­thing but com­fort set­tings. Oh, and how dis­tract­ing the con­trol-ev­ery­thing cen­tral touch screen is.

No, with its lim­ited slip-diff, ag­gres­sive Brembo brak­ing sys­tem, 35-pro­file 19in Bridge­stone Poten­zas and short­throw gear lever it is the per­fect track day car.

And with the lux­ury of rear doors and a large-ish boot, it’s also a pretty con­vinc­ing fam­ily car when needs must, too. Hav­ing re­cently driven the Type R Honda Civic and Seat Cupra R, I’d take the Me­gane over those two.

The Civic is amaz­ing to drive but I couldn’t put up with its men­tal ex­te­rior styling, and the Cupra’s pla­s­ticky in­te­rior isn’t a patch on the Me­gane’s tac­tile Al­can­tara trimmed cock­pit.

I reckon WLTP might be the writ­ing on the wall for hot hatches over the next few years.

This might be the be­gin­ning of the fi­nal hur­rah, a part­ing shot, a last good­bye, the last of a line.

What­ever their fu­ture, there is cer­tainly no deny­ing the hot hatch mar­ket is cur­rently at fever pitch.

Good luck with your or­der and de­liv­ery slot.

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■ZEST: In­cred­i­bly fast R.S. 280 is the per­fect car for a track day

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