Renault has had a longstanding history with building hot hatches that are at the forefront of affordable front-wheel-drive performance cars. Some of the most impressive and insane hot-hatch hardware has come from this little factory in Dieppe (I’m pointing at you, Renault Clio Sport V6!).
When Renault launched the Megane RS in 2010 after the unique and quirky first version in 2004, it was entering into a market where Volkswagen had returned with a Golf GTI that was considered by many as a major return to form, and Ford having released its front-drive Focus RS. The market for high-performance, affordable, front-wheel-drive cars at the time had, for the first time in a reasonably long time, so much choice.
Each of these cars is unique in character – and the Renault sought to be somewhere in between the brutality of the Focus RS and the comforts of the Golf GTI. Renault managed to put together a car that surpassed both. Journalists around the world raved about its capabilities, and doing things that put more expensively priced cars into the shade.
However, despite the praise lauded on the Megane RS, people were loath to commit to purchasing one. It’s French, which means quirky! It’s going to be unreliable! It’s weird looking! It’s going to have a bad resell!
Honestly, committing to a car such as the Megane RS is a choice not made with practicality. You are committing to a car that is completely impractical, is slung low without rear doors, requires anyone slightly taller than average to contort into the back seats, and has doors that are as long as albatross wings. Be prepared for a lack of visibility out of the car behind the front seats, with your visual blind spot coverage reliant on large rear-view mirrors because the B-pillar is thick. The rear window blends into a C-pillar that falls away to a rounded liftback end, culminating in a smallish oval rear window,
Ergonomics are also quirky. For example, the cruise control and speed-limiter toggle are positioned on the centre console, which is away from the other driving controls on the steering wheel for the cruise control and speed limiter. You’ll also be needing the speed limiter because the speedometer increments are not very useful in Australia. The 100km/h mark is between the well-indicated 90 and 110km/h marks. In fact, the dials are at an angle that, while aesthetically pleasing, makes it hard to accurately read what the speedometer is showing, let alone the revolution counter.
The rear hatch wiper control is a flick control to turn on/off, so you must remember if it’s on or off. It serves to remind you that you are driving and owning a unique car. The one saving grace here is that the driving position could be massaged in such a way, so that even a person of 6ft 7in height could find a reasonable seating position.
If you can accept that owning the Renault Megane RS is going to be something unique, then this car reminds you of why you chose to accept all the quirkiness and oddities of this firebrand from Dieppe and enjoy the experience of driving a Renault Megane RS.
Once the engine speed rises about 2700rpm or so, the turbo unleashes the F4R engine’s capabilities, piling all its 300Nm+ and 184kW through to the redline and a factory-quoted 0–100km/h number of 6.2 seconds. In seven years, front-wheel-drive performance cars have irregularly broken the six-second barrier, so even today this car holds its own against newer competition from around the world.
Where it also excels is in the feedback and tactile nature in responding to driver inputs. It loves any sort of corner; a testament to the front strut and suspension set-up that nullifies torque steer, and allows the suspension geometry to be more accurate and precise when the tyres are working hard through the bends.
The set-up of the torsion beam rear – something that is an anachronism in current front-wheel-drive performance cars – allows the car to almost pirouette through sharp bends, changes in directions and undulations without so much as a protest. Since purchase, the tyres have moved from the original Continentals to a set of Pirellis, which have had less overall grip, but a lot more feedback and more predictability – again demonstrating the fantastic competence of the mechanical tuning.
Even accelerating through sweeping corners, through drives over the Black Spur or along the Jamieson Rd, the car’s mechanical set-up provides the progressive feedback that allows you to make the adjustments to driving line or the accelerator pedal to maintain a momentum the car is capable of. The comparison between the electronic differentials that other front-wheel drivers have is chalk and cheese. Having driven cars with electronic differentials, the moment the computer takes over, the conversation between car and driver is lost as the computer reminds the driver who is in charge – it’s not you.
The Renault talks to you through its electrically assisted steering – which is quite communicative – what the car is capable of. It gives a level of comfort and trust in the car that is exhilarating. Reducing the electronic protection unleashes more of the car. Completely turn off the electronics and the car’s full potential is realised, and the driver will marvel at the constant communication and feedback that the thoroughly engineered and tuned mechanical set-up provides.
Living with the car as a day-to-day for seven years, the Megane still has road presence and uniqueness that attracts a level of attention that is unexpected yet welcome. Having a limited-edition model with its special pearlescent-white paint job adds to the allure, and the white inserts in the cabin do provide a nice contrasting break from what is a very dark interior with some very hard plastics.
In a daily commute, the manual is, as is always the case, hard work, along with the jarringly stiff suspension and low ride. However, the usability of the drivetrain means that trundling in city traffic is only as tiring as the intelligence of the traffic around you.
Spending this amount of time with the same car means that you accept all its oddities. I’m used to the positioning of all the controls in and around the steering wheel. You realise that the sound and phone controls are on a fixed stalk, so that you’re not fiddling with the next song or volume while turning the steering wheel. The four buttons on the steering wheel to control the cruise control and speed limiter make sense.
These all serve to remind the driver that they are in a car built for the purity of the drive. The focus is on the driver and the tarmac in front of them, and how much information the car can provide the driver, so they can drive to the limit of the car’s ability.
It just makes it so much harder to stop driving, when the driving is so much fun.