The Renault Megane RS has long been the hot hatch of choice for enthusiasts and track day attendees, with a primary focus on lap times and driver engagement.
With the latest generation of the French brand's flagship performance car, Renault has tried to broaden the Megane RS's appeal, in the form of a dual-clutch automatic option for the first time in the model's history.
Here on test we have the latest variant to land in Australia – the 2019 Renault Megane RS Cup EDC – which blends the new quick-shifting DCT auto with the more hardcore 'Cup' suspension tune that claims to be around 20 per cent stiffer than the 'standard' Sport trim.
Priced from $51,990 before on-road costs, the Megane RS Cup EDC is the current flagship until the hotter Trophy and Trophy-R variants arrive later in the year, and commands a $3000 premium over its six-speed manual equivalent.
Opting for the eye-searing Orange Tonic 'signature' exterior finish applied to our tester (which I personally love, by the way) asks for an additional $1000. All up, the vehicle we have on test is priced at $52,990 plus on-road costs.
To achieve the aforementioned added stiffness over its lesser 'Sport' counterpart, the Cup gets revised springs, dampers and bump stops, while a Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential on the front axle claims to aid traction by shuffling torque between the front wheels – more on that in a bit.
Other goodies included as part of the 'Cup' package are upgraded 'bi-material' performance brakes with red calipers.
Power continues to come from a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making a beefy 205kW at 6000rpm, and 390Nm of torque at 2400rpm. Drive is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed EDC (Efficient Dual Clutch) automatic sourced from Germany's Getrag, and the aforementioned front diff.
Compared to direct rivals like the Honda Civic Type R, the Megane is a little down on power – at least on paper. It's down 200cc, 23kW and 10Nm on its UK-built Japanese-branded competitor, though Renault's claim of 5.8 seconds is almost a match for the 5.7-second sprint quoted by the manual-only Honda.
While we didn't get the opportunity to test the claimed acceleration time with GPS tracking equipment on a closed section of road, the Megane is certainly no slouch in real-world driving. There's good response from the engine off the line, and there's an added shove once the turbo four hits its peak torque reserve at 2400rpm.
It sounds good, too. The factory exhaust system has a meaty tone and burbly character, which will encourage you to hit the throttle a little harder and rev it out.
As an everyday driver, the Megane is certainly liveable around town. The dual-clutch auto is good on the move, though will occasionally exhibit typical traits like low-speed hesitation and jerkiness when coupled with the idle stop/start function.
It's also worth noting we caught the front wheels crabbing on sharper turns like roundabouts and U-turn manoeuvres, particularly in the wet, which transmitted an ugly shudder through the steering rack. In saying that, the standard 4Control all-wheel steering system helps low-speed manoeuvrability by turning the rear wheels by up to 2.7 degrees in the opposite direction to the fronts below 60km/h, which cuts the size of the turning circle.
Being a more track-oriented hot hatch, those in the market for a Megane RS are probably looking for a sportier, firmer driver. However, be warned the extra stiffness of the Cup chassis is certainly noticeable around town – and the standard Sport is already on the firmer side of something like a Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Get out of town, though, and the Megane really starts to shine. The steering is quick and super direct with a good amount of weight to it, which makes you feel like you have a proper connection with the front wheels.
Whereas the added stiffness can be a pain around town, the trade-off is how adept the Megane is in corners. The Renault is sharp and balanced with minimal body roll, and almost begs you to push it harder. That's helped by the grippy 245/35R19 Bridgestone Potenza tyres wrapped around the Cup's stealthy black-painted 'Interlagos' alloy wheels.
The aforementioned four-wheel steering system aims to enhance high-speed stability by turning the rear wheels by up to 1.0 degree in the same direction as the fronts at speeds above 60km/h.
It's with more spirited driving you'll unlock even more aural drama from the Megane's exhaust, too. At higher revs the 1.8-litre turbo has a lovely brassy, almost trumpet-like tone, while well-timed upshifts using the fixed column-mounted paddle shifters (as opposed to steering-mounted ones that move with the tiller as you turn) reward you with loud pops, or 'farts' as some might call them.
Furthermore, flicking the 'Multi-Sense' drive-mode selector into 'Sport' gets you added pops and crackles on overrun as you lift off the throttle. I'll admit I spent some time with this mode on just for the child-like giggles I had listening to those sounds.
All of these aspects came together during a punt via some twisty roads through Warrandyte, Park Orchards and Wonga Park in Melbourne's east, where the Megane proved to be a stack of fun and a genuinely engaging drive.
Using the fixed paddle shifters, the Megane lets you take full control of the gears combined with the awesome soundtrack, while there's plenty of stopping power from the bi-material performance brakes.
In terms of overall refinement, we were very impressed with how capable and comfortable the Megane RS proved to be on the freeway. At 100km/h the engine is humming away at around 2500rpm in sixth gear, while very little road and wind noise finds its way into the cabin despite the big wheels and skinny low-profile tyres.
The firm ride also settles quite a bit on the highway, lending a planted on-road feel that inspires confidence at higher speeds.
We got plenty of opportunities to test out some of the assistance systems during our time with the Megane, namely the adaptive cruise and blind-spot monitoring systems. The ACC tech lacks the stop&go function of rival models, though it generally worked well and didn't make any silly mistakes that forced us to take over control.
The Megane RS also comes as standard with inter-urban autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning, though misses out on the auto high-beam offered by the Megane GT. The current-generation Megane range remains untested by local crash-testing firm ANCAP, though Euro NCAP gave the standard Megane a five-star rating in 2015.
She can get a little thirsty, though. During our week with the Megane we covered just under 470km, which included a thorough mix of peak-hour commuting in Melbourne traffic along with longer stints on the highway and spirited squirts on back roads.
The trip computer showed an indicated 11.2L/100km, which is quite a bit up on Renault's 7.5L/100km combined claim, even the urban claim of 9.2L/100km. While some of you will say 'who cares about fuel economy in a performance car?!', hot hatches are traditionally meant to be fairly economical, so we have to knock the Renault ever so slightly for its real-world fuel consumption.
Add to that the Megane's thirst for more expensive 98RON premium unleaded, and you could be spending quite a bit on replenishing its 50L tank given you'll get less than 500km between fills.
When you're not moving, there's still plenty to like. I'm personally a huge fan of the Megane RS's looks.
Taking away the added visual drama of the Orange Tonic metallic paint, the aggressive yet understated looks of the Renault Sport Megane will really appeal to fans of the 'sleeper' aesthetic.
The pumped guards, chunky bumpers, prominent rear diffuser, centrally mounted exhaust and angular LED headlights with C-shaped daytime-running light signature really help to make the French hatchback stand out in the carpark.
It's further bolstered by the bold black wheels against the equally loud metallic orange paintwork – and the LED tail-lights that span the width of the rear when the vehicle is on are another tasty element.
Hop inside and that typical French design flair is echoed in the cabin, largely thanks to the portrait-oriented 8.7-inch R-Link touchscreen infotainment system that dominates the dashboard.
While not as intuitive or responsive as systems offered by rival brands, the Renault's touchscreen does the job adequately and works fine when operating with Apple CarPlay. We didn't get a chance to try out Android Auto, though we'd wager it'd work just as well as the Apple mirroring software.
The 10-speaker Bose sound system is great for when you want to belt out some tunes in traffic, offering crisp sound and a level of bass even Meghan Trainor would be proud of.
Front passengers are seated in figure-hugging Alcantara-trimmed sports seats with heating and contrast red stitching, along with lumbar adjustment for the driver. There's a good amount of adjustment in the seats and the steering wheel to help find a good driving position, while the decent bolstering and suppleness of the seats themselves mean you won't get a sore bum during longer stints on the road.
The changeable LED ambient lighting is a nice touch, particularly when red or orange is chosen, while the carbon-fibre-look leatherette trim on the door inserts adds another dash of sportiness, if a little chintzy.
The overall perception of build quality is on par with the class, with a mix of soft-touch and hard plastics scattered throughout the interior, though the main touchpoints are all nicely trimmed and the cabin itself feels well screwed together – with the exception of the RS badge on the steering wheel on our tester, which didn't feel like it was securely fastened when pressed.
Some of the ergonomics will take some getting used to, however, namely the two-stage cruise-control switch gear (main switch on the centre tunnel and set/reset control on the steering wheel), while the tiny buttons on the centre stack can have you hit the wrong target when trying to change song or demister functions.
A decent amount of storage helps to offset some of the ergonomic niggles, with a large cubby under the centre stack and decent-sized door bins, along with two cup holders with sliding cover and additional storage under the front centre armrest.
Moving to the second row, you'll find fairly tight levels of leg room, especially with a taller driver like myself up front, while head room is adequate despite the sloping roof line.
Rear-seat amenities include air vents and a 12V socket, bolstered by a fold-down centre armrest and door bins on each side. The outboard pews also feature ISOFIX child seat mounts, too, in case the kiddies want to come along for a back road blast.
Compared to the front, the rear doors don't have the more yielding soft-touch trims on the upper tier, which is an increasingly popular cost-cutting measure across numerous brands that's a bit of a pet peeve of mine – though I know a lot of people couldn't care less either.
Further back again, the Megane offers a decent 434L of boot volume with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1247L with the second row folded. As a reference, a Volkswagen Golf GTI offers 380L/1270L.
There's no spare wheel in the RS, just a tyre repair kit to help patch up punctures to get you to the nearest tyre shop.
From an ownership perspective, the Megane RS is covered by Renault Australia's five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with one year of complimentary roadside assistance and three years of capped-price servicing.
Maintenance intervals are 12 months or 20,000km, whichever comes first, with the first three visits asking for $799, $399 and $399 respectively – totalling $1597 for the first 36 months or 60,000km.
Further charges come from items like air filters ($49 every 20,000km/24 months), pollen filters ($63 every 20,000km/24 months), and accessory belt ($306 every 60,000km/48 months) – which can get a little exxy if you have to shell out for these items within the first three years.
All told, I thoroughly enjoyed the Megane RS Cup EDC. It's an attractive, fast, sharp-handling hot hatch that makes you feel a bit like a race driver every time you get behind the wheel.
The addition of an auto ’box adds an extra degree of everyday usability compared to manual-only previous generations, and the bright colour options mean you can stand out a little from the countless Golf GTIs and Rs on the roads these days.
It may be a little too firm around town for some, but the Megane RS certainly presents as a more capable daily driver with plenty of kit and safety tech to keep it up there with the segment leaders, combined with that sharp drive experience the nameplate is known for.