Hot-hatches these days are priced anywhere from the $26,000 to nearly $75,000, from the tiny terror city cars to the new breed of premium-branded European mega-hatches. In between those two price points there’s a lot of space to be occupied, and there’s an emerging class of warm-to-hot-hatches that aim to offer more balanced abilities than their three-chilli compatriots.
That’s where these three come in – the Kia Pro_cee’d GT, Hyundai Veloster SR Turbo and Renault Megane RS265 Sport.
All are priced below $37,000 drive-away, giving them a unique talking point against a brigade led by the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST (and hardcore editions of the Renault Megane RS265) that start on the wrong side of that price point.
The Kia Pro_cee’d GT is the brand’s first sports hatch and the most affordable of this trio. We’ve already rated the Pro_cee’d GT as something of a revelation for the South Korean brand, the first time it has produced a properly entertaining, properly dynamic hatchback. This is big news, then…
Its Hyundai sibling, the Veloster SR Turbo, is an older contender, but this style-focused 2+1 door sporty hatch has cemented its place in the market as one of the best-selling sports cars going (partly because many of its more affordable rivals don’t come with an automatic gearbox). As with its South Korean partner in crime, the Veloster was (and is) a game changer for Hyundai, its quirky bodystyle an admirable step away from the norm.
But while the Kia and Hyundai have stepped up to the challenge, Renault has taken something of a step down for its latest hot-hatch offering, the Renault Megane RS265 Sport limited edition, which will only be sold here until July (but will likely come as a regular production model in the facelifted version thereafter).
The 2.0-litre turbocharged Megane outguns its 1.6-litre turbo competitors on power alone, but it misses out on some equipment, including the more expensive RS 265 Cup model’s brilliant mechanical limited slip differential that helps make it one of the most arresting hot-hatches ever made.
With a bigger engine – not to mention the pedigree that comes with its Renault Sport lineage – the Megane would appear to be hard to beat, so what better challenge for the South Koreans?
There are other questions begging to be answered, too: Is the RS265 Lite (as we came to call it) as brilliant as the pricier RS265 models? Or can its Asian rivals offer up compelling arguments despite their kilowatt deficits?
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
As we mentioned above, the Kia is the bargain of these three options. For its $29,990 asking price (or $33,500 drive-away estimate), the Pro_cee’d GT comes with an array of standard goodies, including a reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather and suede trimmed Recaro sports seats with electric lumbar support adjustment up front, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster screen with digital speedometer display, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and USB and auxiliary inputs.
It’s the only car here with dual-zone climate control as standard, but as with the Renault it misses out on a colour touchscreen. The Pro_cee’d is only available with a six-speed manual (as is the Renault) – something that may deter some buyers and push them towards the Hyundai.
The Veloster Turbo has a six-speed manual as standard for its $32,990 list price ($36,950 driveaway estimate), but a six-speed auto can be optioned for an extra $2000. It betters its rivals with a 7.0-inch touchscreen LCD media system that houses the display for its reverse-view camera (complemented by rear parking sensors) and standard satellite-navigation.
It also has electric driver’s seat adjustment and push-button start with smart key access. It gets single-zone climate control, but is the only car here with a panoramic glass roof, and matches the Kia’s 18-inch alloys, leather trim, and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. However, the Hyundai has only four seats rather than five like the Kia and Renault.
The Renault’s $36,990 driveaway price is the highest of these three, and its list of standard equipment the barest as well. It’s the only car here with cloth rather than leather or part-leather trim, and it misses out on a reverse-view camera – rear parking sensors are standard. Other shortfalls include a lack of auto headlights and auto wipers, and it has knob-and-dial manual air-conditioning controls.
However, it comes with a set of seriously racy Recaro front seats and the brand’s performance monitoring system (which we’ll get to later), and matches its rivals with 18-inch alloys and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. All three come with six airbags (dual front, front-side and full-length curtain) and stability control.
At first glance the Renault (above) appears to boast the most performance-focused interior, with its yellow seatbelts and matching meshed yellow seat inlays and stitching making its intent clear.
Those Recaro chairs feel like proper racing seats, with excellent support and bolstering in the base and the upright – and they even feature harness holes. However, they are firm and can be uncomfortable on longer drives.
There is a solidity to its cabin, and its dashboard is tidy and lined with high quality soft plastics, though it is let down slightly by its manual air-con knobs that give off a budget vibe. There’s the typical French oddities in terms of ergonomics, such as large rear windscreen pillars, a bulky rear pillar, a handbrake that points towards the passenger’s feet, oddly placed cruise control buttons, and a stereo control stalk hidden behind the wheel.
That stalk also operates the Renault Sport (RS) Monitor system, which is engaged once you hit the traction control button (which carries an RS logo). Once Sport mode is activated for the less restrictive stability control (ESC) mode, there are a variety of throttle response levels that can be chosen, with the information displayed on the small monochrome screen on top of the dash. We’ll get to performance later, though.
The rear seat of the Megane is the hardest to get into of these three, and once you’re seated your feet are confined by a bracing bar under the front seats. Head-room and knee-room can only be described as fair, too.
The boot is rated at 344 litres compared to the Hyundai’s 320L and the Kia’s supreme 380L, and there’s a tyre inflation kit under the floor while both South Korean cars offer a space-saver spare.
The Hyundai’s unusual 2+1 door body gives off the impression of being the most practical car here, offering the ability for people to get in and out on the kerb side of the car without having to slide and fold forward the front seat.
In reality, rear seat ingress and egress is hampered by a small door aperture that makes even the smoothest-moving of six-footers look and feel awkward as they try and slip in or clamber out of the car. Once inside, both knee-room and head-room is very tight – two of our three testers felt uncomfortable after just minutes – and there’s even a warning on the boot to ensure occupants’ heads aren’t crunched when you shut the hatch.
There are cupholders between the rear seats, and a single mesh map pocket.
At the front, the ambience is better. The large media screen adds a splash of tech that its rivals just can’t match, but away from that talking point there are some less impressive elements.
The overtly styled door handles, for example, are squeaky and feel flimsy. The same can be said for the plastics that protrude from the centre console which rattled in our test car, and the coarser textured plastics over the main dashboard that can’t match the softer finishes of the Kia and Renault.
The seats offer good adjustment, particularly for the driver with its electric toggle switches, but there’s not nearly as much support on offer here as in the Kia or Renault.
The Pro_cee’d proved to be the best in terms of back seat access. While its quick slide and fold seat mechanism is a little clunky, the large door openings mean it’s simpler to access the back seat, and once in the rear row our judges assessed it to offer the most space and best levels of comfort: head-room is generous, and leg- and toe-room better than many small hatchbacks. Storage in the back is excellent, too, with cupholders on either side of the rear bench and twin map pockets.
The front seats were also very comfortable, yet as they’re also from Recaro there was plenty of hugging to be had in tighter bends, and the suede material on the bases helped to stop bum-slip. The Kia’s seats don’t have electric movement, but there is height and lumbar adjustment for both front pews.
However, its biggest letdown is its dash design. The big colour instrument cluster is great – particularly its orange digital speedo counter – but it far outdoes the dowdy red-on-black stereo display screen which detracts notably from the cabin ambience. If you look beyond that, though, the Kia’s interior is the most practical – not to mention most comfortable and quietest – of these three.
PERFORMANCE AND ECONOMY
With its power advantage, the Renault is by far the fastest car here. Propelling the Sport limited edition model from 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.0 seconds is a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder with 195kW (at 5500rpm) and 360Nm (at 3000rpm).
We have no reason to doubt its acceleration claim, as the Renault is another league in terms of all-out grunt.
Dial up the RS Monitor and select from Linear, Sport or Extreme, and the throttle pedal almost hums under your right foot, begging to be prodded. When it is, the rewards are compelling – the response is sharp and progress rapid. There are also Snow and Normal modes, but those are a bit dull by comparison, though even if you don’t choose to adjust the throttle mapping the Megane offers the most urgency. In fact, it’s easy for the pace to get away from you.
It pays the price when it comes to fuel efficiency, though, despite being the only car here with stop-start engine technology. Claimed fuel use for the Renault is 7.5 litres per 100km, while the Kia has a claimed consumption of 7.4L/100km, and the Hyundai claims just 6.4L/100km.
On test, our spirited test drive saw the Megane record the highest average use of 12.0L/100km, with the Hyundai the next thirstiest (10.9L) and the Kia the most frugal (10.7L). The Megane is also the only car to require 95 Octane fuel – the others can run on regular unleaded (E10).
The Megane’s more efficient competitors share the same 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder with considerably lower power outputs of 150kW (at 6000rpm) and 265Nm of torque (from 1750-4500rpm).
The Kia’s claimed 7.7 second sprint time from 0-100km/h is not as quick as many other hot-hatches out there, but the engine’s flexibility and mid-range punch mean it’s more liveable in day-to-day driving, though there is some turbo lag below 1750rpm which one of our testers found to be frustrating during commuting.
Hyundai doesn’t offer an official 0-100km/h time, but local testing has yielded an apparent 6.9sec sprint. It certainly didn’t feel a full 12 per cent faster than the Kia, but it’s worth noting the Hyundai is the smallest car here, measuring 4220 millimetres long and 1790mm wide compared with the Kia (4310mm long and 1780mm wide).
The Hyundai is also lighter, weighing 1265 kilograms compared to 1359kg. The Megane is the heaviest at 1411kg, and the middle ground in terms of length (4299mm), but it’s the broadest car here (1848mm).
Neither the Kia nor Hyundai offer an engine note close to the raspy induction suck of the Renault – indeed, the noise from the Hyundai’s engine bay is quite harsh and something of a racket, while the Kia is buzzy at higher revs. In both cases, however, the engine is well matched to the chassis’, offering up perfectly acceptable levels of acceleration and usability but lacking the fizz and responsiveness of the French car.
When it comes to transmissions, all feature the aforementioned six-speed manual ‘box, with the Megane offering the sportiest shifts and its selector slots into place with a slinky, reassured action. As with the regular RS265 models, the Sport feels more like a racecar than a sub-$40K hatchback. But the drawback is its clutch that is very heavy in urban operation, and proved frustrating at times and easy to stall, even with the stop-start system.
The lack of a hill-hold function on the Renault and the Hyundai meant urban commuting in the Kia was less painful, though both it and the Hyundai lack the precise shift action of their competitor. We noticed some notchy shifts and sloppiness between the gates in the Kia, while the Hyundai had a slightly less convincing clutch action and clickier feel to its shifts.
STEERING, RIDE AND HANDLING
This is the main game for the South Korean contenders in this contest … and also where the Megane RS265 needs to defend its exclusion of a limited slip differential. It doesn’t matter how much power the car pushes out, it’s whether it can get it to the ground, and the disadvantage of front-drive cars having to both steer and propel at the front hoops only extends with more power going to them.
The Renault, we need not be reminded, has a lot of power going there. Experience with the Renault Megane GT220 wagon, which gets a slightly detuned version of the 2.0-litre turbo seen here but without the limited-slip diff of the RS265, indicates the magic Renault Sport dynamics fall away somewhat without it.
Adding power to this RS265 Sport limited edition may make the problem even worse, though it shares the RS265’s unique front-end architecture (that effectively separates the steering hub from the strut to mitigate torque steer) where the GT220 lacks it, too. Maybe, then, the RS265 Sport will be okay.
In the face of this, the Kia Pro_cee’d GT is by far the best handling car the brand has ever made, and that’s no faint praise.
It steers with alacrity, biting hard into sharp bends with minimal understeer, which comes down in part to the company’s move to fit the car with 225mm-wide, 40-aspect, 18-inch Michelin Pilot Sport tyres. Its steering delivers quick response, and there’s only the slightest hint of torque-steer in corners though it is easily managed and keeps the driver involved.
The Kia’s multi-link rear suspension enables it with a sense of composure and balance when you push it hard, and it grips with tenacity. But it also offers a comfortable and compliant ride: small bumps are noticeable around town, but its composure over larger, sharper-edged inconsistencies is where the Kia outperforms its peers.
The Hyundai, by contrast, is let down most by its 215mm-wide, 40-aspect 18-inch Hankook Ventus Prime 2 tyres, which don’t permit the front-end traction it deserves. Testers agreed the car’s chassis felt more capable than its allowed it to be – the lack of grip meaning it understeers more going into a corner, and lacks the directness pushing out of the bend that the Kia and the Renault possessed.
However the Veloster also has a simpler torsion beam rear suspension setup that doesn’t offer the same levels of balance or poise as the Pro_cee’d GT through tighter bends (though the Megane’s torsion bar design copes perfectly well…). The ride comfort falls short of the Kia, fumbling over sharp-edged bumps but remaining relatively stable and comfortable over smoother surfaces.
Its steering also lacks the consistency and response of the Pro_cee’d GT, with a lack of meaningful feedback to the driver’s hands.
The Megane RS265 Sport limited edition is definitely a better bet than the GT220 sampled last year. You’d still expect it to be the sharpest tool here, though, and it may not surprise many that it is even without its LSD trickery.
The Renault corners with eagerness and profound levels of front-end grip – thanks in large part to its 225-mm,40-aspect 18-inch Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres.
Its steering is easily the best here, with ultra-fast response, directness and excellent feedback to the driver’s hands.
Through a series of sharp corners and tight hairpins, the Megane proved that even without mechanical assistance it could clamber uphill out of twists and keep turning through tightening bends without pushing straight on. There is some torque steer on the straight-ahead when the throttle is applied, though, and an eagerness from the stability control when Sport mode was not engaged.
The Sport rides on a softer suspension than the more hardcore Cup and Trophy versions, though you wouldn’t know it. It is firm but controlled over bumps, though all three of our testers felt it was by far the most uncomfortable in the country or the suburbs.
It was also the noisiest on the road with plenty of tyre noise intrusion into the cabin, two issues that allowed the Kia a couple of late punches as the verdict draws near…
If you plan to hang on to your ride for a while, the Kia takes the honours. It has a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and capped price servicing. It requires visits for maintenance more often than most Kia’s, though, with intervals every six months or 7500km, and it has a slightly higher average annual cost of $573, but its service campaign lasts two extra years.
Hyundai offers a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, but only offers three years of capped price servicing. As with the Kia, it needs services every 7500km, but offsetting its shorter maintenance campaign is a lower annual average cost of $388 over the first three years of ownership.
Renault offers a shorter three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty for its RS models. It also falls short on the capped price servicing scheme in terms of duration – maintenance is required every 10,000km or 12 months, but service costs are the lowest here at $299 per year for the first three years.
This emerging segment of the market offers some interesting talking points, and there are reasons why buyers would choose any one of these three cars.
The Veloster’s positive points include its strong standard equipment list and that somewhat-handy rear-door, which one of our judges – who has an 11-year-old son whom he drops off to school – said was a winner for him.
However, it falls short on polish and poise, and can’t match the other two cars here in terms of driver enjoyment.
If you want the hottest of these three hatches, there’s no two ways about it – the Renault Megane RS265 Sport is the best driver’s car.
It has the most power, is easily the quickest and most dynamically capable, and the most entertaining. It’s the one all three judges loved punting most. But there are a few catches: that clutch could be wearing after a while, with all three judges agreeing it would be tedious to live with on a day-to-day basis.
When it comes to balancing abilities, the Kia was the car that all agreed would be easiest to live with. It is more comfortable and better equipped than the Renault, not to mention also being considerably more affordable. With good ride compliance and cockpit quietness it is a suitable commuter, and while the Megane is dynamically superior, the Kia Pro_cee’d is well within cooee in terms of its handling prowess and its fun factor – and that’s a win on more grounds than one for South Korea.
Read our review of the tiny terror hot-hatches: http://www.caradvice.com.au/266183/ford-fiesta-st-v-renault-clio-rs200-comparison-review/
Read our review of the circa-$40K hot-hatch brigade: http://www.caradvice.com.au/259081/hot-hatch-comparison-vw-golf-gti-v-ford-focus-st/
Photography by Mitchell Oke.