As perhaps my personal favourite release of 2018 under a quarter-mil’, the Renault Megane RS – the ‘softer’ Sport EDC, specifically – was my list-topper for Christmas break getaway cars.
Last year I’d done the road and track international launch, a tech video, the local long-form garage review and even twin-tested the Sport EDC against its harder-edged Cup Manual brother, figuring by year’s end that a) the French hot hatch was more than a bit of me, and b) it couldn’t surely have any more to reveal. Right?
It was during an impromptu getaway road trip to the once colonial Central Western NSW township – and now wine mecca – of Mudgee where the pearlescent Liquid Yellow pocket rocket revealed a few more yet undiscovered hues and shades.
Not that anything about the car has changed, of course, except how I decided to use it. And I discovered over the three-day jaunt that when tasked as a grand tourer, the Megane RS makes a pretty good hot hatch. Even the ‘soft’ one.
Take the suspension tune. We’ve marvelled at the pliancy of the single-tune, non-adaptive underpinnings in reviews thus far – it’s a well-sorted ride and handling blend – but pointing it west and slogging across the typically shitty patchwork of roads from the big smoke to way out west, it really does get firm. For the first time with the RS, and more than once during the trip, I’d wished for multi-mode damping with some available super-soft grand touring setting.
The same can be said for road noise. Around Sydney Town, there aren’t large enough expanses of coarse chip for tyre noise to become that annoying, but west of the Big Smoke, the constant din in the cabin can become oppressive.
Add those heavily bolstered bucket seats – superb in lateral support for corner carving if unforgivingly form-fitting for long-hauling – and it’s easy to conclude the Frenchie’s levels of innate comfort does drop off the more kays you pound, and does eventually find its limits in proper friendliness.
But isn’t this really a case of right car, wrong driving context? Is it the car that’s underperforming or the environment that it’s being applied to? Perhaps a little of all of the above combined and, just quietly, by the time we roll into Mudgee, ears ringing and backs twinging slightly, I kind of wished I’d swapped Sam Purcell for that Audi Q8 of his.
That said, I’m still thankful I’ve not opted for, say, a Focus RS. Or Civic Type-R. Or i30 N. Or Pug 308 GTI. Or any other properly serious hot hatch. Because despite some discomfort, the Renault still seems the class act all-rounder for balanced goodness, or so I’m inclined to muse after parking up and settling in to the third or fourth glass of Mudgee’s finest…
Mudgee’s lovely and quiet, if so quiet to the point of near desolation the weekend prior to Christmas. There’s nothing to do but drink. Or go for a drive. It’s a 135km jaunt to the famed Mount Panorama, via the rather engaging Sofala Road that, in the downhill run past Wattle Flat, is a downright hoot. Even at a pace tame enough to keep your licence secure during a double-demerit holiday speeding blitz.
As expected, the Megane RS pays handsome dynamic compensation for any compromises in general comfort. Unsurprisingly, its grand touring credentials improve immensely the more curvature plays a part in the given route. What a great little back-road bomber it is.
The RS is not without proper annoyances. That 1.8-litre four works hard and delivers the goods, but bugger me doesn’t that electric thermo fan howl away for ages once you shut the engine down even after a leisurely drive. And this is yet another example – and I’ve now driven a few – with brakes that squeal loudly pulling up at low speed.
Other bugbears? The more time you spend with the infotainment system, the more frustrated you become. It’s slow, clunky, and needlessly requires submenu digging to perform the most menial tasks, and though not quite a deal-breaker, it should be tossed in the bin.
And in one final nitpick, why isn’t the central roundel instrumentation lined up properly and perfectly with the steering wheel (it sits noticeably towards the right)?
Does any of this tarnish my adoration for the flamboyant Frenchie? Perhaps a little. But it still remains the hot hatch I’d pony up my own cash for, no question.