The reinvented Renault Megane RS Auto EDC arrives on the competitive hot-hatch block as an outlier. But with its daily driven sensibilities and spirited soul, the new French alternative could well be the best all-rounder in its vibrant segment.
I’m pleased and relieved to report that the 2018 Renault Megane RS Auto EDC is still a bloody good thing.
Why? Because the last time I drove one, I was riddled with jet lag punting a left-hook Euro-spec version hard along sun-kissed Spanish Costa del Sol back roads. Except, being January and winter, the narrow twisties near Ronda were peppered with snow, and the car-assessment brain capacity clogged contending with black ice, video-scripting distractions, and concerns pertaining to my Renault representative co-pilot accidentally wiping our route from the sat-nav.
And the fact that she was fast becoming carsick trying to amend the issue while I was hooking through hairpins. Though perhaps her quickly degrading state might’ve had something to do with her undiagnosed pregnancy.
“An intelligent, sophisticated and goodies-laden hero car that comes together well as a complete package,” I wrote at its international launch and, believe me, it wasn’t some poolside sangria talking at the time. Despite the circumstances, the French hatch must’ve had some serious cut-through, because I’m happy to cut and paste that summation into this garage review, having spent a week daily driving the soft ‘Sport’ version of the RS around my Sydney hometown.
The word ‘Sport’ isn’t part of this version’s nomenclature, though perhaps it should be. Y’see, you can currently buy three variations on the Megane RS theme: the Manual with a conventional six-gear cog-swapper with ‘regular’ Sport chassis tune ($44,990 list); the Manual with Cup Pack that, for a thrifty $1500 splurge, adds the time-honoured firmer spring/damper ‘Cup’ suspension tune, Torsen LSD and uprated bimaterial brake discs with red calipers; and the Auto EDC tested here ($47,490 list), the priciest in breed, if essentially the Sport-chassis Manual fitted with a six-speed dual-clutch EDC gearbox.
Nope, you can’t have EDC and Cup spec together yet, until the more powerful, harder-core Trophy arrives next year…
Of course, adding Sport to the namesake creates a terribly clumsy ‘Renault Megane Renault Sport Sport Auto EDC’ nomenclature that’s mostly unnecessary… Until the day that Cup pack surfaces on the automatic’s options list (never say never). And if its maker ever decides to rack up output from the current 280hp (205kW) to Trophy-level 300 horses (220kW-ish) in this life cycle update, in fine Renault Sport tradition, the car before might come to be known as the ‘280 Sport EDC’. Such things do resonate with trainspotters, and given that, last time I looked, Australia was third outright in global RS sales, Australia has plenty of them, including my own family.
I come from a brood of Renault Sport sympathisers and, as past and current gen-II Megane RS owners respectively, my dad and brother were more than a little keen for a spin of the Auto EDC.
“It’s a lot better than I’d anticipated,” says Dad, who’s been pestering for a steer of one since January. “Finally, someone got the normal drive mode dual-clutch calibration right,” opined my brother, also a Golf GTI DSG owner, who reckons the all-wheel steering “works great” and “brings a desirable alternative dimension” to what fast Focuses, Golfs and Civics offer.
For all of us, the “no wings required” exterior styling brief encapsulated in the Megane RS marketing catchphrase suits my family’s 40-something and 60-something tastes to a tee. Its broad-hipped, sweetly proportioned, wingless, almost concept car aesthetic promises a certain maturity and deftly executed balance of on-road thrills and daily driven livability that, thankfully, is delivered with success in the experience.
Let’s start with the cabin. I could give or take our test car’s ($880) pearlescent Liquid Yellow paintwork, but as a sucker for the suede effect, the extra ($1190) spend on the RS Alcantara and Leather upgrade inside is money well spent. The general design is appealing, pleasingly ‘French’ without overt flamboyance, clean and unfussy with a nicely struck balance of textures and enough presence in coloured highlights and metallic brightwork to inject life into an otherwise dark theme.
From the carbon-fibre-look door trim fabric to the 8.7-inch portrait-framed infotainment touchscreen through to red-accented seatbelts, it's not as stolid as some German hatches nor as tech-funky as a Honda, but has its own inimitable vibe. The restraint in styling has paid impressive dividends.
Almost everyone who shuffled through the first-row seating during our week with the car made mention of how nice the buckets are: super-deep yet pliant bolstering, supportive and wonderfully comfortable, rib-hugging for lateral grip yet relieved in shape around the shoulder blades to allow elbow clearance during full turns of steering lock. The wheel itself is nice and chunky – not overly so – and the digital driver’s instrumentation is clear and logical, swapping between different colour themes depending on the chosen drive mode.
The user interface is a bit of a mixed bag, if mostly positive. Start-up presents some silly Audi-like ‘heartbeat’ frivolity through the stereo speakers, but pleasantly the Megane RS defaults to whatever drive mode was used last. A nice touch. And while the RS drive-mode select button offers on-screen access to five different settings – Comfort, Neutral, Sport, Race and Perso (individual) – simply tapping the button quickly toggles between Neutral and Sport on the fly, which is more convenient than some rivals’ methods. The auto handbrake and auto lock/unlock via ignition key proximity are also a couple of neat touches.
The infotainment is loaded with kit – proprietary sat-nav, smartphone mirroring, DAB+, lots of customisable appearance adjustment, exhaustive race-style RS Monitor telemetry displays and data logging – but does suffer from clunky submenu-itis. From map screen to radio channels to tone control and back is laborious, though thankfully there are audio shortcut controls on the steering column. But the biggest letdown is the column-mounted paddle-shifter format that’s vastly less useable in the heat of battle than the infinitely superior wheel-mounted method.
There are five doors against the prior three-door format, with technically five seats, if ostensibly enough room for four adults in decent long-haul comfort – there are rear air vents, thankfully – in the nicely contoured rear seating, which can liberate more useable space than the compact 434L boot once you drop the 40:60 split-fold seat backs. Practicality-wise, it’s useable if not especially utilitarian, though that’s not the main game you’re signing up for, right?
For me, the big question about the Megane RS in more road-friendly Sport tune is how it contends with home turf away from the aforementioned Spanish jet lag, black ice and car/pregnancy sickness. Given I’ve already answered that it’s bloody good, I ought to explain why and how.
It’s rare a carmaker gets Normal (or ‘Neutral’ here) and Sport drive modes right, especially with hot hatches, where producing a thrilling drive and an easy-to-live-with nature are exclusively challenging tasks, let alone balance both in combination. Perfect? No. But Renault Sport has done an impressive job calibrating each of the two essential on-road drive modes.
Neutral mode has virtually none of the flaccid low-RPM laziness in engine response or idle-chasing gearbox calibration that frustrates so many turbo-four and dual-clutch powertrain combinations. This energetic 1.8-litre four is responsive without excessive sharpness, harnesses its 390Nm torque peak nice and low at 2400rpm and provides strident thrust without full throttle or redline-chasing theatrics, the gearbox upshifting cleanly, quickly and assertively in the process.
There’s a nice, metallic thrum to the soundtrack, too, that’s audible yet nicely muted and annoyance free. Neither the engine nor transmission presents anything like noticeable shortcomings around town. Yes, at low speed and light throttle the gearbox is occasionally less than seamless, but it’s a cleaner, more polished dual-clutch than a great many fitted to big-dollar prestige-branded cars.
Sport mode raises the volume, the responses for engine and gearbox, adding a nice snare drum-like ‘crack’ while rev-matching during upshifts. Yet the powertrain remains composed and linear – none of the desperate clinging to redline or other unnecessary theatrics you find in some hot hatches. It just amps up the action when you sink the right foot, yet remains tempered, friendly and well-rounded in nature at part or constant throttle.
No, at 205kW it’s not the most explosive small car on the block, but at once it’s both impressively quick and flexible in nature – easily amongst the finest for all-round drivability augmented with enough oomph to break traction if you really dig in.
There’s a loftier Race mode to sharpen the Megane's synapses further – plus a neat on-command launch-control mode that works a treat – but, really, it essentially pushes the French hatch into a less comfortable on-street zone than its deftly executed Neutral and Sport settings. And if you feel compelled to activate Race on-road, you’re doing it wrong anyway…
Then there’s the impressively struck ride and handling balance. The Sport chassis tune does err on the firm side, yet it’s tempered and compliant, rounding off road imperfections and pretty much fatigue-free for long-haul urban driving, only really becoming fidgety at low speeds over the worse road acne. And yet, the chassis always maintains a sound, connected driving experience, with no flab or vagueness.
The ride is so nicely measured that its sharp and agile dynamic nature comes as some surprise once you tip into a corner. The widened track and hefty footprint are undoubtedly key to the Megane’s assertive off-centre steering response, though it’s quite a measured and even front end offering pinpoint line adjustment. Without the Torsen front diff (as offered in the Cup), the unloaded front wheel will slightly break traction under full throttle exiting a corner, though the slight tug of torque steer merely encourages you to ease off the right boot a smidge while the hatch continues to faithfully track the chosen arc.
I found the four-wheel-steering effect more pronounced and noticeable around town than on a sneaky back-road punt, and not just for the impressively tight turning circle. It really does enhance the car’s eagerness to rotate through a corner, if mostly below 60km/h where – in anything other than Race mode – it turns the rears in the opposite direction to the fronts. Strangely, it maintains its inherently keen agility even at higher speeds – where the rears turn in the complementary direction, and there’s such poise and grip in the underpinnings that the Megane can carry serious pace through properly tight corners when bombing across the countryside.
Properly handy fast road cars have dynamic thresholds where planted predictability becomes reactive engagement and, pushing lateral grip's friendship (on-track), there's lively playfulness on tap. On a twisty back road, the Megane RS's Sport chassis manages to blend just the right amount of surefooted poise with heightened response to driver input without becoming too frisky – at a rapid clip that feels just about right. It's a bloody excellent and rewarding back-road bomber.
Does it match the driver connection of a Civic Type R or Focus RS? Our assessment of the firmer-set Cup manual version back in our three-way test in September was, well, 'not quite'. But in this isolated punt of the Sport version with no pricier and harder-core rivals in sight, the Megane RS delivers large on driving enjoyment in the heat of the moment, when you consider how refined and nice it becomes the moment you turn down its flame.
Well-thought-through details? Launch control is activated easily by grabbing both paddle shifters, AEB can be defeated for track work (where such systems can be downright dangerous if they remain engaged), and you get the excellent Multi-shift Down feature that shuffles through downshifts during deep braking manoeuvres. That the instrumentation has dedicated colours for different drive modes and, as mentioned, the car restarts in whatever mode it was shut down in, is both logical and convenient.
It’s the duality that impresses most about the Megane RS Auto EDC. It’s not the quickest or perhaps the most comfortable hot hatch out there, but it’s really bloody good at both with a combined quality that's tough to match. For some tastes, it’s a highly compelling package that brings little in the way of shortcomings and nothing in the way of deal-breakers.
Niggling gripes? Yes, a few. Our test car’s brakes squeal a little pulling up at low speed. And at shutdown, the engine’s thermo fan hums along loudly for a good while. And while the EDC clutch modulation is very smooth, even at a crawl, the car can creep a little downhill in gear; something to watch for when parallel parking.
Disappointing is the three-year warranty on RS models given it's a downgrade from the five-year surety Renault offers with other model lines, unlimited kilometres or not. Its 12-month/20,000km capped-price servicing intervals are, at $399 a pop, $50 over the regular Megane, though if experience is anything to go by, you might want to factor in the cost of extra rubber if you’re planning on regularly taking the grippy hot hatch to the track.
All up, the Megane RS Auto EDC is not only fast and friendly in large doses, but also offers huge appeal and an alternative to petrolhead buyers unimpressed by the boy-racer-isms of the Focus RS and Civic Type R, yet long for an option a little more bespoke and more esoteric than a me-too fast Golf. Further, the Spanish-built, wide-body, French-branded hatch starts to look like good value given that the once $38K base Golf GTI has turned into a slightly pricier ($45,490 list) prospect.