The new Renault Megane RS280 might be an easier car to daily drive than its hard-riding predecessor, but it still looks and feels special on road and on track.
In the hot-hatch world, it’s always been a bit of a left-field choice amongst bigger sellers like the Golf GTI/R, and as such has never really hit big sales numbers. The same is still true, according to Jean Calcat, international sales general manager at Renault Sport.
“If you go back just ten years, we were only selling 10,000 cars that were RS versions, whereas today that number has risen to over 50,000 units – that’s cars made by Renault Sport, including both GT and GT Line," he said.
“But when you drill down into those sales numbers we still sell roughly 10,000 full-blown RS versions each year. We’re also moving another 10,000 GTs and nearly 30,000 GT Line cars, which is clearly where the market is heading," he went on.
“With more and more speed limiting regulations coming into play globally, drivers have way more respect for speed limits and less of a need for high-performance cars, which is why cars that look the part but have a standard engine under the bonnet attract the most number of buyers."
With that in mind, Calcat believes there's more to be done with ‘warm hatch’ variants within Renault Sport, which offer more than just a cosmetic makeover. Think Megane GT Line, for example.
“We think there’s a huge market for sporty spin-offs like our GT Line and GT cars, which essentially wear a Renault Sport badge and are effectively de-tuned versions of our all-out RS cars," he explained.
Given the core Renault range is moving quickly towards SUVs as part of a wider market push, Renault Sport is clearly taking a look at the role the GT or RS sub-brands can play in this fast-moving category.
“That’s particularly relevant in markets like Australia, where Renault’s number one selling vehicle is its mid-size SUV, the Koleos," Calcat said.
"That’s the complete opposite scenario that we have in France, where the Koleos is a big, fat SUV that sells okay, but nothing like the numbers we do in Clio and Megane.
“Of course that becomes a big challenge for us because at the very heart of Renault Sport DNA is everything handling and roadholding, which is where we really thrive as a company.
"Don’t get me wrong, we think we build very good engines, but probably no better than our main rivals in this segment. But when it comes to chassis and dynamics, we think we’re number one."
That approach is, according to Calcat, tricky to replicate in a high-riding crossover – the likes of which are popular in Australia.
“When it comes to SUVs the same formula doesn’t really apply, but if you look at something like the Alfa Stelvio with its four-cylinder engines, that’s probably closer to what we see a Renault Sport SUV doing," he said.
“Right now we’re thinking about it but we haven’t found a magic formula yet, though it’s something of a priority for sure."
We also asked Jean where he sees Renault Sport in terms of EV development, and how the company’s push into Formula E might inform technology in high-performance EVs for the road.
“We’re currently thinking hard about our future in the electric world and as you know, we showed a concept called the ZOE e-Sport at last year’s Geneva Motor Show, which drew from our success in the FIA Formula E Championship.
“This was a high-performance two-seater with up to 640Nm of torque and promised acceleration from rest to 100km/h in 3.2 seconds and certainly a hint of where we want to go at Renault Sport in the EV world,” he concluded.