Renault Megane RS250

words - Joshua Dowling
New generation hot hatch is a low-flying missile

Renault Megane RS250

Local Launch
Melbourne, VIC

What we liked
>> Smooth, linear power delivery
>> Superb, high levels of grip, strong brakes
>> Surprisingly comfortable over bumps

Not so much
>> Manual means 0-100 is slower than what's possible
>> 19-inch wheels don't look as good as cheaper 18s
>> Weak resale values are still a bitter pill to swallow

Overall rating: 4.0/5.0
Engine and Drivetrain: 4.0/5.0
Price, Value, Practicality: 3.5/5.0
Safety: 4.0/5.0
Behind the wheel: 4.5/5.0
X-factor: 4.0/5.0

About our ratings

OVERVIEW
-- The new generation Renault Megane RS has finally arrived
It might not make headlines in the motoring mainstream, but the arrival of the new generation Renault Megane RS is big news among hardcore performance car enthusiasts.

Its predecessor is one of the most highly regarded -- if oddly designed -- hot hatches on the planet. And if overseas reports are a guide, the latest model has stepped up several notches.

The new Renault Megane RS is lower, wider and sleeker than the model it replaces -- and, significantly, it is also more powerful and quicker in the 0 to 100km/h dash.

If the previous Megane RS was a daring design, the new model is almost conservative by comparison. In the right colour it will camouflage in the traffic nicely -- if that's what you want (see pics).

If you want to stand out there is of course a choice of hero colours, starting with the bright yellow that has defined Renault Sport cars for the past half decade.

Compared to the thousands of Volkswagen Golf GTIs and Ford Focus XR5s, the Renault Megane RS is a rare sighting on Australian roads. Over the past five years only 500 or so have made it to Australia. There have been more new Ferraris sold over the same period!

The exclusivity of the Megane RS looks set to continue, with only 50 new cars due in Australia by the end of this year and limited supply into the new year.

Renault has had a tough time locally over the past few years but a raft of new models over the next six months will no doubt boost the French maker's spirits -- and allow the very niche but very desirable Renault RS cars to keep heading our way.


PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
-- Two models, from $45,600 drive-away and $50,900 drive-away
With the previous generation Megane RS there was basically one model joined occasionally by special editions.

For the new car, Renault has decided to introduce two variants: the Megane RS Cup and the Megane RS Cup Trophee.

Both come with the same mechanical package and performance but the Trophee gains 19-inch wheels (although the 18s from the Cup are available as a no-cost option following a grilling on Renault forums in Australia), Recaro sports racing seats, a proximity key, automatically folding door mirrors, tyre pressure monitors, a more powerful audio unit, and floor mats.

How do you distinguish the two cars from the outside (apart from the wheels)? The Cup model has a gloss black front bumper and mirror scalps, the Cup Trophee has a grey front bumper and mirror scalps. This rule is thrown out the window on black cars, and both get grey bumpers. Confused? So are we.

The only options are leather-covered Recaro sports racing seats, front parking sensors (rear sensors are standard, a camera is not available) and xenon headlights.

As with the latest Clio Cup, the new Renault Megane RS comes with a performance testing mode in its on-board computer, called RS Monitor. It shows the car's vital signs such as oil temperature and pressure and g-forces, but it also can measure 0 to 100km/h times and lap times.

As we discovered, however, the 0 to 100km/h stop watch is not entirely accurate. More about that later.


MECHANICAL
-- 2.0-litre turbo four is a smooth operator
The tried and tested 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder used to power the previous Megane RS has been given a thorough going-over.

Power and torque are up, from 165kW to 184kW (up 11 per cent) and 300Nm to 340 (up 13 per cent) -- but so is fuel consumption.

The official fuel rating average is 8.7L/100km, up from 8.4L/100km for the old model.

This is partly because of the extra performance, but also an extra 32kg. The new RS weighs 1393kg compared to 1361kg for the old model.

As before the Megane RS has a six-speed manual transmission. An automated twin-clutch manual is still not available, even though such a gearbox has been available on its arch rival, the Golf GTI, for more than five years.

We assume the French are working on such a transmission but may be running into the same problems as Volkswagen initially had: developing a gearbox strong enough to handle the torque.

The six-speed manual is central to the new Megane RS story for a couple of reasons. The ratios are so perfectly chosen that the car is always in the engine's power band when you're on the move. The downside is that it tops out at 97.8km/h in second gear, which means you need to grab third to clip 100km/h.

In the real world this is not a problem, but it means the Megane RS is robbed of a time in the high 5-second bracket for the 0 to 100km/h dash.

With such acceleration it is safe to say that the French have not skimped on brakes.

The new RS has even bigger Brembos than before (four-piston calipers up front clamp 340mm discs, up from 312mm on the old model) while rear discs have shrunk slightly (down from 300mm in diameter to 290mm), although Renault insists the swept area of the brake pads are the same.

Perhaps the most welcome addition to the mechanical line-up is a proper mechanical limited slip differential, which became standard on the later special editions in the previous generation Megane RS.

In an era when most other hot hatch makers are using electronics to police how much power is delivered to the front wheels (with mixed results) it is refreshing to see Renault do it the proper way.


PACKAGING
-- Sleek coupe-like body more like a sports car than a hatch
Longer, wider and lower than the car it replaces the new Renault Megane RS is perfectly formed for hot hatch duties.

Its sleek lines give it coupe-like proportions but it is still, technically, a hatch.

The upside is that it has a lower centre of gravity than the outgoing car, the downside is that the back seat is a bit cramped, and rear visibility is marginal when parking.

This likely matters little to the target market who don't plan on using any of the (yellow) seatbelts other than the driver's.

The quality and the layout of the cabin is a step up from the previous model but it still lacks the high level of perceived quality of the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Renault is also quite proud of the sound system by Arkamys, a famous French audio brand. The Cup comes with four 15-watt speakers, the Cup Trophee comes with four 30-watt speakers. Neither, to be blunt, are impressive and are below average for the class.

At least there is a nice engine note and exhaust note -- and plenty of other driving activity -- to keep you occupied.

The standard seats on the Cup are fine but the Recaro racing seats that come with the Cup Trophee are awesome. However, only serious players should apply. They are not the type of seat you'd want to deliver pizzas in, but for track days they would be ideal. Renault has even cut the holes in the seats for the racing harness.


SAFETY
-- Five-star safety and secure road holding make a good combo
Renault was the first carmaker to achieve a five star rating from the independent crash test body Euro NCAP nine years ago -- and it hasn't looked back since.

A five-door version of the latest Megane scored five stars when it was tested two years ago; the three-door has not been tested but is recognised as having achieved the same rating.

Both Megane RS models come with front, side and curtain airbags, but the Cup also has under-thigh airbags in the front seats, to bring the airbag tally to eight.

These extra airbags are not available in the Cup Trophee's Recaro racing seats, but you could argue that their scalloped base and high under thigh support means they have anti-submarining qualities in a crash any way.


COMPETITORS
-- VW Golf GTI, Golf R, and Ford Focus RS are just the start
It has been a good couple of seasons for hot hatch lovers. Not long after the new generation Golf GTI arrived late last year, its bigger brother Golf R arrived mid way through this year. Both are sell-out successes.

Meantime, buoyed by strong sales of heavily discounted Focus XR5 Turbo models, Ford Australia has shipped 315 very special Focus RS hatches to our shores. They're all but sold out too.

So the Megane RS faces plenty of stiff competition -- or healthy demand, depending on how you look at it.

The Golf GTI and Golf R have the edge in every day live-ability (three- or five-door body styles and the option of an automated twin-clutch gearboxes) and the Focus XR5 Turbo has the edge on price -- but it's in runout mode. The Focus RS is a sharper instrument -- but costs in excess of $60,000.

So, the upshot is that price-wise the Renault nestles between the Golf GTI and Golf R -- and outperforms the GTI but is marginally outgunned by the dearer Golf R, largely due to its all-wheel-drive system and auto gearbox.

But, and it's a big but, the Megane RS is simply more fun to drive...


ON THE ROAD
-- Superb handling, brilliant engine, but a bung stopwatch
Let's get a little bit of controversy out of the way before we go into detail about how awesome the new Megane RS is to drive.

We mentioned earlier that it has a whiz-bang onboard computer that allows the driver to measure their own lap times and 0 to 100km/h times, among other functions.

It is amazing stuff, except for one slight problem. The Renault is a little bit quick on the stop watch trigger.

You see, we did more than a dozen 0 to 100km/h runs using a satellite based timing device (the same type used by car makers themselves, and performance magazines). And not once did it match the time recorded by the car.

At first, our timing device said we took 6.6 seconds to complete the 0 to 100km/h dash, the car said it did a 6.1. We then managed a 6.3 but the car said it did a 5.9. Finally, after some practice, we did a couple of 6.2-second runs, but the car said it did a 5.7 each time.

Given that the official 0 to 100km/h claim is 6.1 seconds -- 0.4 sec faster than its predecessor -- it made us wonder if Renault did this deliberately to make owners feel good about beating the manufacturer claim.

But alas the explanation was a lot more innocent than that. The car's 0 to 100km/h time is based on the car's speedometer. And as anyone who has used a navigation unit can attest, car speedos are not accurate. Indeed, car makers deliberately fudge them in our favour by under-calling the real speed by a few kilometres per hour.

So the Renault was stopping its clock at 97km/h (according to satellite timing), while our timing device was still counting until we reached a real 100km/h.

Further, given that the Megane tops out in second gear at 97.8km/h, you need to grab third to get to 100km/h. So that's another reason for the discrepancy.

What does all this mean? Well, it means the Megane RS is still incredibly quick for a front-drive car and, in real world driving, it is actually quicker than its official 0 to 100km/h suggests. There is at least 0.3 to 0.5 second waiting to be trimmed simply by fitting a twin clutch gearbox (fingers crossed, one day).

In-gear acceleration is breath-taking -- and addictive. Even on bumpy roads, in the right gear (second and third are favourites), the Megane RS finds a way to put the power to ground via its limited slip front diff. You can really feel it wriggle away at work. Not intrusive, but reassuring.

Reports that Renault has softened the Megane RS to appeal to Golf GTI customers are unfounded; the Reggie is still as sharp as ever.

Such big brakes on such a small car means they can nearly put you through the windscreen. What's also amazing is just how much energy the Megane RS seems to have on tap. You will wear out long before the car will.

It is still true that the Golf hot hatches are easier cars to live with every day, but that is largely because of their bigger cabins and cargo areas and overall refinement. When you study them closely, however, the Megane RS comes out on top as the driver's car.

And you can live with a Megane RS every day, the only question is: can you live with the weak resale values? Answer: don't sell it in the first three years and you'll soften the blow.

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Published : Thursday, 28 October 2010
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