It’s not really a family car, is it? This is the question that generally gets posed to me when people see my 2014 Renault Megane RS 265 for the first time. When I say “question”, it feels more like an accusation rather than a genuine query. Some people don’t see a car, they see a mid-life crisis. They see a father with two young children failing to act in the best interests of his family.
I get it, the Megane RS’s coupe body and poised stance do not exactly give the appearance of a family friendly car. But this is also arguably due to the absurd notion people hold that you need to buy an SUV as soon as you have your first child. The RS 265 is actually the perfect family car for those who want something a bit more dynamic to get themselves and their family from A to B. Let me explain what it’s like to live with this car as a “responsible” parent on a budget and why it’s a better option as a family car than an SUV.
THE WORKDAY COMMUTE
Unless you’re a tradie lugging around tools and materials, we all should be able to agree that the key concerns for the daily commute tend to be comfort, safety, entertainment and economy. In terms of comfort, it would be fair to say that the Megane RS’s ride is firm. Compared to your standard SUV you’ll certainly feel the undulations of the road, although it’s not annoyingly bouncy and the suspension does a decent job of absorbing bumps. I have the 18-inch rims so those with the Premium or Trophy versions sitting on 19-inch rims might have a harsher experience. On the 18-inch rims, however, I find the firm ride engaging rather than uncomfortable and I don’t find myself wishing for adjustable dampers that higher-end hot hatches tend to offer.
The cloth seats in the base model RS 265 (the Premium and Trophy versions have leather seats) can also be described as firm. Personally, I find the seats really comfortable. The seats offer good lumbar support, which is great when you’re taking on corners but were also a bonus after I had surgery and did not want to be jostled around too much. The seats are fully adjustable, although not electronically which I don’t have any issue with. In some of the reviews I’ve read, concerns were raised about odd ergonomics, but other than the manual handbrake being awkwardly crammed between the passenger seat and the lower centre console, I don’t know what they’re on about.
This is a bit of nit picking but the designers of the interior clearly assumed that only espresso drinkers would be driving this car. There is only one cupholder and whilst it will fit a standard takeaway coffee cup (or a narrow large cup), it sits right under the centre console so getting your cup in and out is awkward. Worse, it sits right under the USB connection so if you have a device connected, it’s pretty much useless. Fortunately, the side pockets are great for storing water bottles and if you shove tea towels or something in them they can be used as makeshift cupholders.
The only other matter to talk about with respect to the interior is that clearly Renault was looking for some cost savings. I don’t believe it’s so cheap that it distracts from the overall look and feel of the car, and it has a suitably sporty feel, but it’s not up there with the German hot/hyper hatches. As a parent, my concern is that kids generally have a lack of respect for car interiors, so they do not mix well with cheap easily scratched plastics. But then, they don’t mix well with more costly car interiors either.
The car crawls through heavy traffic well enough although, as this model only came with a 6-speed manual transmission your left leg will get a workout. The clutch is light, however, and not hard work with a perfect take up point (at least in my opinion). The gearbox has a decent shift to it, however there are admittedly better manuals out there. Regardless, the manual is a plus for me as it is something to do whilst dealing with the tedium of traffic congestion. A lot of SUVs don’t even have this option.
The sat-nav, stereo and some track-related graphs and readouts are managed through the R-Link system. These all work fine most of the time but it’s not up there with 2020 standards (no Apple CarPlay or the Android equivalent). It’s also not the most stable system as it does tend to freeze/crash every now and then, but my main gripe is that the stereo sound, whilst not terrible, is underwhelming. Luckily for me, the original owner opted for the Arkamys system which does improve things considerably, but when you’re starting from a low bar it doesn’t mean a lot. The other issue is if you hook your phone up via USB to listen to music, there is about five minutes of your music cutting in and out whilst the R-Link system sorts out its various USB and Bluetooth connections and phone updates. Recently (and annoyingly), I was having trouble getting sound from phone calls even though I could still dial from the R-Link system. I spent two weeks looking for a remedy only for it to inexplicably start working again.
In terms of safety, I believe the RS 265 had a 5-star ANCAP rating but naturally it does not have the safety features of present-day cars. One factor not reflected in the 5-star rating, however, was the poor rear visibility due to the thick C-pillars. This can make reversing in a cramped car park awkward or, more importantly, stressful if you’ve got kids running around. I had a reversing camera installed for around $700 but if you get the Premium or Trophy versions, a reversing camera comes standard. Changing lanes can also seem a bit daunting as you only get a small triangle of a window to check your blind spots. I had blind spot detectors installed and while they work well enough, I’ve actually found the restricted vision to actually be sufficient once you get used to it - so I probably could have saved some time and money there. A final note on safety is that the low centre of gravity must surely make the Megane RS, and any other hot hatch (or hatches in general, for that matter), inherently safer than an SUV.
A clear win for the SUV would be if you happen to carpool for an adult basketball team. The sloping rear makes for what my partner calls a “cosy” space in the back seat. I’m about 178 cm and I’m reasonably comfortable in the back and other than not having your own door, rear passengers would be fine for the daily commute. Taller people though, would describe the space as “claustrophobic”.
THE SCHOOL/CHILDCARE/SPORT RUN
Most cars are fine for the school/childcare/sport pick up and drop off as long as you have seats available for the kids and sufficient storage space to store their bags, the odd project, sports equipment and possibly a pram if you also have a baby or toddler. The Megane RS easily deals with this.
THE SHOPPING TRIP
The boot is a surprisingly decent size so you shouldn’t have any issues if you like to do a weekly grocery shop or even a mega-shop if you’re preparing for a pandemic (not that I’m advocating such behaviour). Prams will, of course, provide more of a challenge although these won’t necessarily be resolved by purchasing a similar sized SUV. For larger purchases at hardware or appliance stores, the seats fold down (although unfortunately the seats are far from flat when lowered) so you can fit most things in the car (if you can do a trip without the kids), but not even large SUVs can fit everything so unless you’re running a logistics business, it’s not going to be a frequent issue.
An issue generally raised by motoring journalists is that the boot has a relatively high entry point and a small opening. I personally don’t find this a big issue day-to-day and it seems to be more of petty concern than an actual problem. I will acknowledge, however, that threading certain prams through the boot opening several times a day could get annoying after a while. I will also confess, that when we needed to get a couple of bikes fixed, I elected to use my partner’s Subaru Impreza as it was just easier to load the bikes in and out.
I’m not sure it’s worth buying an oversized, less dynamic car just for a couple of big purchases each year, especially when you can just rent a ute at Bunnings or ask for delivery. In preparation for a potential COVID-19 lockdown, we recently bought a large sized trampoline (something we’d been promising the kids for ages, anyway) and I was able to get everything home in just a couple of trips.
The Renault’s steering feels firm, precise and gives excellent feedback but it has a wide turning circle compared to regular hatchbacks. This matched with poor rear vision can make parking initially look like a challenge on paper but in practice it isn’t a big deal. Again, adding a reversing camera or getting a more premium model with a camera already installed might be ideal.
THE FAMILY OUTING
Given that the Megane RS works well both as a daily driver and family hauler, it’s also good for the family day trip. Our family trips are almost exclusively done in the RS 265. A key participant in our family trips is our Labrador-cross. With the back shelf removed, she happily sits in the boot and can easily share her enthusiasm for the drive - generally to the beach - with the rest of the family by peering over the back seats. The kids can also share with her any rejected food (an activity not condoned by me).
One issue with our dog is that she has velociraptor-like claws which can be a problem getting her in and out of the back given the high opening. The soft plastic on the bottom lip of the boot entry can be easily scratched and whilst she has the ability to leap into the car without touching the lip, after a decent walk her preference is to climb and scramble in rather than leap. A towel easily resolves this issue (some kind of rubber mat would be even better) but I generally find myself lifting her in, so it’s fortunate we have a 30kg Labrador-cross and not a St Bernard. Those with heavy dogs or those not keen on lifting their dogs might think that an SUV is the only answer, but there are plenty of other hot hatches with more accessible boots.
The high boot entry remains an issue for prams if you’re getting in and out of the car a lot. Carting bikes is also challenging or just simply not possible for larger bikes if you intend to use the back seats. A roof rack might address this but I must admit we tend to use our Subaru Impreza in these instances.
THE FAMILY HOLIDAY
Smaller cars always present a challenge when packing for a holiday away, especially if it's for an extended time. We can fit two large suitcases in the back with space for other, thinner items and we find that is more than enough for a family of four. It all depends what you want/need to take. Bikes aren’t going to happen (unless you could try installing a roof rack) but scooters or skateboards should be okay. Prams will cause a headache, however you could always consider getting something more compact than a Mountain Buggy or Bugaboo when away (or permanently, for that matter, as these prams are basically over-sized, over-priced status symbols; the SUVs of prams). Hiring prams and cots is also an option.
We’ve travelled from Geelong to Mildura three or four times now and I have to say that even I’m surprised just how well the car did. With the Megane RS’s track capable feel, it’s not exactly a grand tourer and some might find the “engaging” ride and steering a bit tiring after 600km. Yet the engagement of this car feels so good to me and my partner that we would argue that a long drive is actually less tiring because it’s so much more enjoyable. An SUV might flatten out the undulations and bumps of the road but the tedium of driving one of those things would be exhausting.
Some other points are that a single tank of petrol gets us from Geelong to Mildura with a bit of breathing space. I’m not sure a Toyota RAV4 can make the same claim and it also lacks the Megane RS’s overtaking capability. Trucks, caravans and annoying people travelling at a glacial pace in long convoys are easily left behind. It may not have the most powerful engine in its class but, it's more than enough on a highway.
Whilst there is plenty of room in the back for a weekend of camping, the car sits lower than most so you are naturally restricted on where you can go. Most places are not a problem but I will admit that we generally take the Subaru Impreza for these trips.
TAKING SOME “ME” TIME
When you have your first child, people will sagely tell you that in order to be a good parent you need to take some time out for yourself. In practice, I find this easier said than done but having a car that can give an invigorating driving experience means that when the opportunity arrives, you can take it. Let’s be honest, no parent buys a hot hatch because they’re seeking the ultimate family car. They buy a hot hatch because they need a practical car but they want a performance car.
There are plenty of articles written by professional motoring journalist which accurately describe the Renualt Megane RS as a true driver’s car. All I can say is that negotiating tight bends on winding roads are an absolute joy and the Cup chassis is fantastic. You can really feel the benefits of a stiff chassis; the body roll is minimal and the grip is unbelievable. The steering is just something to behold being the right level of firmness and providing great feedback. When driving over loose gravel I feel like I can feel each individual stone rolling under the tyres.
As mentioned earlier, Renault could probably have further refined the gear shifts although the ratios feel spot on and the pedals are the right size and perfectly spaced apart. Again, I have read some vague references to odd ergonomics, so what may feel perfect to me may not work for others.
The car can be a bit skittish when hard cornering on wet roads or loose surfaces reminding you that it is front-wheel drive. Having said that, you still feel like you’re in control and, if anything, it just adds to the overall engaging feel. The has car plenty of grip and whilst some of the all-wheel drive hyper hatches available would ultimately be more capable on the track, on twisty legal roads the Megane RS would surely be better value for money.
The engine is not the most powerful in its class but the power from the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine is readily accessible, which may be an issue for those who enjoy the challenge of squeezing out the full potential of high-revving naturally aspirated engines. It does, however, make a nice soothing and assertive “burr” when accelerating from about 2000rpm with the revs taking on an angrier tone as the needle reaches the redline. It admittedly does not sound as nice as a naturally aspirated Busso V6 engine or have the pops and crackles that other hot hatches might have, but then I don’t want to draw too much attention to myself when dropping the kids off at school.
Unless you’re paying six figure sums, could an SUV really offer the same engaging and dynamic driving experience of the Megane RS? I must confess that I like to be low to the ground when driving a car whilst a lot of people I know say they feel more comfortable being up high.
I’ve only had the car serviced once and that cost me under $500, which doesn’t seem too bad given that the recommendation is to get a service annually. Unfortunately, the car was due for a timing belt replacement so that was another $800. Other repairs included a replacement of the driver’s door locking module ($700 including labour) and I had the clutch pedal return spring break on me.
This second repair was infuriating as Renault does/will not sell the spring on its own. Instead, Renault insists that you acquire the entire pedal assembly (I’ve seen quotes for $750 not including labour). Good mechanics, like the one I use, will improvise and source an alternative spring, which is sometimes of superior quality to the original but that requires some mucking around that we could all do without. My mechanic was able to do this for just under $300 including labour. To be fair on Renault, my understanding is that this practice of not selling individual parts is not limited to them.
Fuel consumption is around 9.8 litres per 100 kilometres, which does not stand up against a Toyota RAV4 but then the RS 265 is a performance car after all and a RAV4 certainly is not. There is an auto stop/start function which works well enough, although many reviews at the time were not glowing of this feature. It does require you to get the timing right.
Words like engaging, dynamic, accessible and practical best sum up this car, which is pretty much what a hot hatch should be. On top of that, it’s great value as a used car as long as you don’t get one that has been thrashed around. In this instance, I believe Renault has struck the perfect balance.
But is the Renault Megane RS 265 the perfect family car? Maybe not for every family but it is pretty much close to perfect for us. For our family, the Megane RS addresses our needs whilst still providing a great driving experience (something which is just as important to my partner as it is to me). A similarly sized SUV would just not offer any real added benefits. The ultimate test is whether the family actually makes use of the car or whether it is generally easier to use something else. We have an arguably more sensible MY12 Subaru Impreza yet the default family car for us is always the RS 265.