Chances are that if you’ve got the all-new 2018 Renault Megane RS in your future car-ownership crosshairs, you’ve already decided on transmission preference in the choice between conventional manual and EDC dual-clutch types, even before you’ve so much as sat in the French hatch. Fair enough.
There’s also a fair chance, be it before or after purchasing commitment, you’ll ponder what you might miss out on with the alternative you’ve opted out of. That’s because, somewhat unusually for its segment, you have a choice of two subtly yet distinctly different types of specification for what’s a very similar list-price outlay.
The Liquid Yellow example on the page before you is the Megane RS EDC Auto – essentially the basic manual variant ($44,990) with the regular ‘Sport’ chassis tune, if fitted with the EDC dual-clutch auto transmission, lifting the pricing of what’s called the RS280 EDC Auto to $47,490. Meanwhile, the Orange Tonic version here for our reviewing pleasure is the RS280 Manual with Cup Pack – the ‘Cup’ bit adding a Torsen limited-slip differential, two-piece brake rotors, red painted calipers, and firmer spring and damper suspension spec that, combined, add $1490 to the bottom line for a $46,480 list price.
A scant $1010 disparity, then, for what already appear to be two inimitable prospects. But there’s also devil in further detail. The EDC gets a very tricky Multi-Shift Down function, where the dual-clutch auto downshifts multiple gears during hard braking while the driver holds the left paddle shifter.
Further, the EDC version exclusively fits a launch-control system. Also, when chasing the redline in Sport or Race modes, the EDC also activates some nice rev-matching ‘blurts’ to help facilitate rapid automated or paddle-manualised upshifts. Even the handbrakes are different: the dual-clutch getting an electric type; the manual fitting a conventional lever type, presumably for some added motorkhana friendliness.
The pearlescent ‘hero’ paintwork on either car wants for an extra $880. Handily, our EDC example has the Leather/Alcantara trim pack option ($1190), which won’t weigh into that car’s favour, but allows us to judge the pack’s worth against the standard cloth trim in the Manual Cup.
Here’s the sting: you cannot opt the Cup Pack on the EDC version (at least until the flagship Trophy version arrives next year), and for seemingly no other reason than its French maker considers manuals to be the serious drivers’ proposition. Somewhat strange, you’d think, given the EDC version clearly benefits from a smattering of unique powertrain/performance tweaks perhaps to counterbalance the manual Cup’s chassis/dynamics enhancements.
It’s a clear subtext: the Sport EDC and Cup Manual, as we’ll call them for simplicity's sake, are Megane RSs at their softest and most hard-edge – one for the road and one for the track, then – respectively. That’s certainly the way they seem to be positioned against one another, and as sampled in their favoured environments at the international launch earlier this year, I can confirm they’re both very adept at their suited roles.
What CarAdvice senior contributor Jez Spinks and I are really keen to find out is how good the Cup Manual is as a daily prospect. And, conversely, where if anywhere is the Sport EDC lacking once you let it off its chain for those spirited fairweather weekend punts. What are, and where are, the differences between them, if any differences at all?
Kicking off with around-town daily driving, the EDC came as a pleasant surprise to a number of staffers and Renault Sport-loving ring-ins who’d sampled it. Some of the most glowing plaudits were heaped specifically on the dual-clutch transmission itself and the Neutral and Sport drive-mode calibrations of the holistic powertrain.
Self-shifting, the EDC is crisp and smooth: it really takes a jerky right foot at light throttle and low speed to even vaguely catch it out. It’s never overly lazy nor desperately clingy holding on to engine RPM, conspiring to be one of the most polished and flexible Normal (Neutral) default drive modes. Nor is Sport overly visceral; instead it’s near perfectly tempered when adding response and muscle, and immensely usable at city speeds using all manner of throttle modulation. Amongst the self-shifting hot-hatch set, the Sport EDC is a real standout.
Initial impressions of the Cup Manual aren’t as glowing, if focusing on two specific areas: the three-pedal box assembly’s physical attributes and the clutch bite point. There’s a pronounced stagger to the pedal arrangement – low throttle, lifted brake, high-set clutch – that fast French cars wearing any badge seem to suffer from (same pedal box supplier, perhaps?). It’s uncomfortable even short-hauling, and makes heal-and-toeing damn difficult. And the clutch itself engages so high in the pedal throw that driving smoothly around town is a concentrated chore.
The rest of the powertrain is pretty good. The long gear lever makes for a slightly cumbersome shift – it’s no Civic Type R, say – but it’s quite easy work for urban driving, light enough in shift, and it engages positively in its gating. Clutch grumbles aside, there’s also a slightly clearer connection between the throttle and the engine (for whatever mechanical reason). Here, Neutral and Sport modes mainly govern throttle response, and it’s certainly no less responsive and progressive to drive than the EDC, if more of a chore due to those clutch pedal gripes.
“The manual’s clutch weighting feels spot-on, the biting point is obvious so you shouldn’t ever stall, and it’s easy to be accurate with gear changes,” says Jez. “But shift action is a bit clunky and lacks tactile interaction.”
The pair also garnered much praise for ride quality. By general motoring measure, you might call the Sport chassis firm and the Cup abrupt, but in the context of properly visceral hot hatches, fairer descriptions would be ‘pliant’ and ‘firm’ respectively. Again, all comers who sampled the Sport EDC opined that its bump control and absorbency were excellent – there’s only occasional minor fidgetiness at low speeds.
“The Sport chassis is just freaky,” says Jez, referring to the quality of ride for its passive, one-tune-fits-all suspension. “Seriously, it’s beautifully fluid over typical urban/suburban road surfaces, and is fantastically damped to cushion bigger bumps with control.”
By contrast, the Cup only really smooths out road imperfections once the body settles when carrying speed, and at sub-60km/h urban pace the vertical body movement can become unrelenting. And that’s not necessarily in trade for an extra sheen of driver connection during daily driven duties.
“The Cup suspension is noticeably firmer and there’s more fidgeting and jostling on the daily drive,” Jez weighs in. “It’s also not impossible to live with, and it’s the kind of ride you almost expect of a sporty hatch.” Canvassing wider opinions amongst those who drove it went from “the Cup rides fine” to “it’s fatiguing and hard to live with” usually coming from older testers.
Dig in and they’re lineball for punch and pace; that the Manual (non-Cup) is 23kg lighter than the EDC is largely an academic difference. Without launch control activated, on the street, the Sport EDC can axle tramp a touch on launch; something the Torsen LSD in the Cup Manual seems to massage out.
Grumpier off the mark, perhaps, but the EDC is easily swifter on the upshifts. Renault claims identical 5.8sec 0–100km/h prowess, and by the seat of the pants, pace-wise, nothing separates the pair other than the glorious upshift crackles as a bonus in the dual-clutcher.
“I honestly don’t care that there’s some artificially enhanced sound going on; the soundtrack sounds natural enough to me,” votes Jez. “The pops, bangs and gurgling [of the Sport EDC version] add to the drama without being over the top.” As a bit of hot-hatch trainspotting, the Megane RS cracks the sonic drum hard upshifting, whereas Hyundai’s i30 N tends to crackle away on throttle overrun.
That the Sport EDC is measurably more pleasant and easy to live with around town isn’t much surprise. It’s delivering on promise. One notable markdown with our test car was cold brake squeal at low speed, though I suspect it’s caused by this example having copped some hard track work in its life. One particular lead-footed staffer noted he got the brakes to smoke at one point, though he did get enough heat into the Cup’s anchors to get them ‘tinking’ after a spirited trip around the block... Somehow.
Jez and I had no such issues stretching their legs (and stoppers) along a favourite piece of back-country hot mix at a pretty healthy clip. A route with heavy gradients punctuated with lots of second- and third-gear corners and relentless changes of direction.
We’d both run each car up and back along the route, first in Sport mode then subsequently in Race mode: important because the all-wheel steering’s rear-steer effect swaps directions at 60km/h in the former and 100km/h in the latter. Given most corner speeds on this road are somewhere between, it's expected the modes’ different phasing characteristics potentially alter dynamic character to some noticeable degree (both cars run identical 245/35R19 Bridgestone Potenzas).
Point to point, the EDC Sport is a bloody quick tool fully going into bat for the driver’s whims. There’s nothing ‘soft’ about the level of intent it plies to twisty corners, nothing flaccid about the heady grip it asserts, and nothing blunt about its reflexes. At a decent eight-tenths clip it assumes a nicely struck balance between maintaining a planted and predictable state, while injecting a liveliness that makes it lithe and responsive to the driver’s whims without untidy manhandling.
At this pace, there are only a couple of things you might ping the Sport EDC on. One is that on an uphill climb, the fronts can scrabble for traction just so attempting to put full power into some of the lumpier hot mix surfaces. Another is that those confounded column-mounted shifters stymie the ability to upshift mid-corner – one of the advantages of a dual-clutched powertrain – without lifting your right hand to snap the paddle.
The flipside to the Sport EDC package is that the extra compliance actually enhances the tyre friction on a lumpy road, all things being equal. And bar gripes about the position of the paddle shifters, this dual-clutch holds ratios well in ‘manual’ transmission mode and self-shifts keenly and intuitively left to its own devices.
Up to this eight-tenths threshold – a fair whack quicker than some owners might brave – the Cup Manual delivers quite a similar character, perched in an edifying dynamic sweet spot between planted and playful. Yes, it reacts a little more alarmingly to road bumps, but it doesn’t get flustered or unruly, and the added pace helps induce a nicely pliant state. But push on and the Cup chassis really starts paying some extra dividends in the last 10 per cent of the dynamic experience.
Traction is one thing: at no time do the front tyres seem to inhibit full thrust. But it’s the power down exiting corners and the feeling through the steering wheel that seem sharper and clearer by a noticeable degree or two. Dig in and there’s more of an assertive edge to the Cup chassis.
“The Cup feels even more tied down in the twisties,” Jez reckons. “And there’s a better brake feel with its different-compound discs, though, that said, the braking remains nicely progressive with both models. Despite the Torsen LSD, I still felt some mild torque steer in the Cup Manual.”
Like its Sport-chassis auto-shifting stablemate, there are a couple of areas you might ping the Cup Manual on when pressing on along a challenging back road. With the weird clutch pedal placement, I found it an awkward exercise bracing my left leg in the corners compared with the more natural driving position of the Sport EDC. And as an inherent combination of classic cog-swapping with a high-G cornering chassis, you have to be more strategic picking gears for corners and short-shift more often than you might with the flappy-paddle alternative.
Despite who was driving what, neither car and driver combination proved to be quicker than the other.
“The Cup does have the edge in hard driving,” adds Jez. “But you’re treated to sensational directional changes regardless of which RS you opt for. No doubt you would pick the Cup for a track attack, though on-road, at least, its chassis seems to be more about stability than playfulness. It’s what I’d call a ‘fun stability’ of sorts. You can carry some serious speed into and through corners in either RS.”
The four-wheel-steering system? In Sport mode it’s quite inconspicuous and innocuous, perhaps because its rotation enhancement affects most noticeably only in tight (sub-60km/h) turns. But in Race it’s much more noticeable during a spirited punt, dialling out understeer and coercing the nose of the car to track a tight line. Thus set, both cars' tail ends are quite frisky – the Cup Manual only slightly more so – and you really don’t want to lift out of the throttle too suddenly in the mid-corner.
From experience at its international launch, I know the Megane RS will slide its rear if you treat it like a go-kart on-track, but such tomfoolery has no place on a public road. And this test is really to assess how differently each balances Jekyll with Hyde as an all-rounder on the street.
“The Sport EDC seems like the perfect ‘driver dad’ car,” says one dad reviewer to another. “Its comfort-leaning ride won’t upset the non-petrolhead better half or the kids, and yet it still harnesses all the means – that chassis, that powertrain – to offer a high entertainment factor for those solo weekend runs along your favourite great road.”
I’ll personally take it further. While I could just live with the Cup Manual’s firmer ride, the crook pedal and clutch arrangement in the Cup will be a deterrent for some buyers. For me, it’s a deal-breaker.
Yes, those two-piece rotor brakes and LSD would be nice fitted to the Sport EDC, but primarily this version only lacks by their omission in really hard driving situations, which will be a very small percentage of the hot-hatch experience for a great many owners. It’s not enough benefit in trade for the detriment the Cup’s firmer ride brings to the daily driven scenario.
While this twin test by no means intends to sway your preference for one transmission type over the other, as a finer all-rounder, the Sport EDC version is simply a more resolved package.