It might not drive like the other Renault Sport Méganes we’ve known and loved, but this version is still mightily impressive

The latest version of the Mégane RS marks a change in attitude from Renault Sport, the French company that’s been responsible for some of evo’s favourite hot hatches.

Out goes the simple but well-honed chassis of the previous Méganes, with their humble torsion beam rear axles, and in its place is greater sophistication and more complex components. Most notable is the optional addition of a dual-clutch transmission, and the standard fitment of rear-wheel steering on all models bar the hardcore Trophy-R.

Different it may be, but the same well-considered approach has been taken as before; every one of the new car’s clever components works in unison with the next to make this hot hatch seriously capable. While it’s very impressive, fans of older Renault Sport models may find the new car a little cold and lacking the gritty, no compromise interaction between car and driver that was so evident in previous Mégane RSs.

But what this car can achieve, and what the more complex chassis allows it to do, will astound even the most ardent old-school hot hatch fan. Its ability to dispatch the most serpentine and challenging B-road with exceptional agility, unwavering traction and resolute body control is a thing to behold.

That the Mégane is also a looker, thanks to well-integrated flared arches, a neat silhouette and subtle spoilers, makes it an even more appealing package. Its understated exterior also further differentiates it from its somewhat grotesque rivals. Yes, we’re looking at you, Honda Civic Type R.

Engine, transmission and technical details

The Mégane’s 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is the same unit as found in the middle of the new Alpine A110, as is the dual-clutch transmission. But rather than making do with the sports car’s 185kW and 319Nm, the hot hatch gets an extra 20kW and 70Nm of torque in standard form, and a bump to 220kW and 400Nm for the Trophy and Trophy-R (the latter being manual-only). That’s thanks to alterations to the cylinder head by Renault’s Formula 1 powertrain engineers, a faster reacting twin-scroll turbocharger, mirror coating on the cylinder bores and a higher capacity, dual-intake induction.

The Mégane’s exhaust includes some refreshingly simple technology to create different volumes depending on how you’re driving. But, rather than resorting to heavy valves and actuators, the pressure and speed of the exhaust gasses change the way it sounds – as the revs rise and the engine expels more exhaust gasses, the longer silencer tube in the back-box is automatically bypassed. Certain models, including the Trophy-R, bring back that good old blast-furnace sound thanks to an Akrapovic system.

Unlike some of its rivals – notably the Hyundai i30N Performance and the Honda Civic Type R – the Renault Sport Mégane does not have adaptive dampers. They aren’t even an option like they are on the Golf GTI and R.

Instead, the Mégane has passive dampers, but rather than being devoid of any state-of-the-art technology, each unit has inbuilt hydraulic bump stops that make the extremes of the suspension movement far less abrupt than with conventional rubber stops. Both the springs and the dampers on the Trophy-R are adjustable – the former tweaking ride height with an optional tool.

The Trophy-R is a bit of a treasure trove of technical highlights, though. Most obvious is the addition of carbon-ceramic front brakes and carbonfibre wheels, but overall it’s 130kg lighter too, owing to the removal of the rear seats, using thinner side glass, a carbonfibre bonnet, titanium exhaust system, and a full 32kg saved by using a purpose-designed torsion-beam rear axle with no rear-wheel steering set-up. There’s a new rear diffuser too, plus a simpler cabin and some stunning Sabelt bucket seats – both achieving further weight savings.

Performance and 0-100 time

Oddly, whether you choose the manual gearbox or the EDC transmission, which comes with launch control, the basic Mégane RS’s official 0-100kmh time is unchanged. We’d usually expect the dual-clutch ’box to result in quicker acceleration, but the 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 276205kW and 390Nm of torque drags the car to 100kmh in a claimed 5.8sec in both cases. The only difference is the auto has a 5kmh lower top speed of 250kmh.

The 220kW, 400Nm Trophy trims a tenth from the above 0-100kmh time – 5.7sec for both ’boxes – and lifts top speed to 260kmh, which this time is identical with either transmission. With less weight but identical power, the Trophy-R does a little better: 5.4sec to 100kmh and 262kmh flat out.

The 1.8-litre engine feels far stronger in the Mégane than it does in the Alpine, even more so than the 20kW extra might make you believe. Not only is it powerful enough, it feels sophisticated. Maybe not as smooth as VW’s EA888 engine that’s found in many hot hatches within its group, but still eager and refined. Even the rasping noise it makes is alright, if not the most evocative.

Play around with the driver modes, pop the Mégane into Race, and the inoffensive engine noise is masked by a thrummy, synthetic din emitted by the speakers. Not only does this not sound very appealing, it’s barely like an engine noise at all. The Perso mode, where you can choose your own set-up, allows you to select the Race settings for everything but the engine noise, if you wish. Excellent.

The EDC transmission is unobtrusive at slow speeds when left in automatic mode. Use the column-mounted paddles to change gear yourself and not only do you realise the paddles are set too high and are too small to comfortably use, you also get a jolt as the next gear engages, especially in Race mode. When not in the sportiest setting, though, the dual-clutch ’box changes up automatically as it hits the red line, which can be frustrating if it coincides with your own request for an upshift, or if you’re about to hit the brakes and don’t want an upchange.

The manual transmission may not have the best gearchange in its class – that accolade goes to the Honda Civic Type R – and until it’s bedded in with a few miles the change can be notchy and obstructive. But it’s at its best when you’re driving hard, which seems appropriate, and undoubtedly contributes to the experience more than the EDC gearbox does.

Ride and handling

Even with many of the same attributes as previous Renault Sport Méganes, such as the strong engine, the excellent body control and the impressive traction, this model behaves very differently from its predecessors. And that’s mostly down to the new all-wheel-steering system.

The Mégane is hyper alert, reacting – almost overreacting – to every steering input. Treat it like an ordinary hot hatch and it feels nervous and twitchy as you enter a corner. Play by its rules, trust that the rear-wheel steer alone will give it the capability to turn in rather than trying to improve the car’s agility yourself by braking later and deep into a corner, and what the new Mégane’s chassis and systems are trying to do makes much more sense. It changes direction with such precision and ease you long for a tight and twisty road for you to lead it down, repeatedly jinking one way, then the other.

With the Cup chassis (optional on the RS, standard on the Trophy), which comes with a limited-slip differential, jump on the throttle early in a bend and you reveal the Mégane’s real party piece. The diff gives the front axle incredible bite and helps lock the tyres on the trajectory you’ve set with the steering. The back axle also engages to so religiously make the entire car follow the arc you set that it feels as though you could maintain the same radius no matter what speed you’re travelling at, without the front or rear tyres losing grip. Just as long as you keep your foot on the throttle. Lift off, and in traditional hot hatch style the back end will want to break wide – but rather than feeling graceful and controllable, it’s very sudden and startling, rather like the way it feels entering a corner.

As a result of its passive dampers, the Mégane – even in non-Cup guise – is perhaps not the most comfortable hot hatch you can buy. However, it’s still far from being too harsh, no matter which set-up it has. Any jolt or bounce you do feel – and it’s only really noticeable over the worst roads – is totally forgivable considering the tight control the suspension has over the body. Compressions and crests are dealt with without any fuss, and if the tyres do leave the tarmac the car returns to earth smoothly. There is some roll, but it’s kept to such a minimum and is so well contained that all it does is help you gauge the levels of grip, which, as it turns out, are huge.

Curiously, the basic, non-Cup Mégane is for once the sweetest of the bunch. The smaller wheels and softer suspension seem to calm it down a little and absorb some of the nervous feeling the four-wheel steering can instil. The basic car also flows down bumpy roads with greater composure, rarely lacking body control but absorbing craggy asphalt more easily than the stiffer Cup cars. It misses little of the Cup and Trophy’s agility, but feels better suited to public roads.

The same can’t really be said for the Trophy-R, which is a surprise, as its ancestor, the Mégane R26.R, felt even better on the road than the standard Méganes of the time. In some respects it’s a more natural car to drive than the other RSs thanks to its conventional rear axle and the benefits of lower weight, but even tuned to its softest the ride quality is unyieldingly firm, and the car spends a lot of time being knocked off your chosen line as a result. Once again, the basic Mégane actually feels like a more appropriate car for the roads – though there’s no denying the Trophy-R is mighty on track. Will Beaumont