If you like your hot hatch cocktail shaken and stirred, invest in a Renault Megane RS
Both RS 300 and RS Trophy versions of the Megane have been under the surgeon’s knife, highlights Iain Robertson, in the process underscoring a pair of the most focused hot hatches sold and appreciated in the UK; Honda and Hyundai ought to pay heed.
While the ‘regular’ GTi class, headed notionally by the ubiquitous VW Golf, although overtaken recently, in my view, by the tempestuously brilliant BMW 128ti, retains a high popularity status, it needs to be stated that a more specialised ‘ultra-hatch’ exists for a limited number of players. In truth, I am getting too old, too grumpy and too critical to engage with the segment. I prefer my hatches to cosset but also to possess enough character and edge to entertain on demand.
Harsh damping and stiff springing are the unforgiving stuff of the weekend ‘track day’ fraternity. I am still willing to exercise the boy-racer within my psyche but only if I can arrive unruffled enough to enjoy sipping my G&T, without nervous ticks and raised core temperature. I liken it to the ‘JB007’ syndrome; plenty of action with crisp cotton and an impeccably neat knot in the tie.
In reality, there are only three main rivals for the ultra-hatch crown: Honda, Hyundai and Renault. The AMG45 Merc is an example of excess because it can. The Mountune Fiesta and even Focus, are really externally modified machines that are fortunate enough not to lose their Ford warranties. Peugeot does a hotter version of its 308 but it is much closer to the Golf GTi with its judicious packaging. I might have included the Golf R in this reckoning, were it not for the fact that it is far too teutonically gentlemanly and it relies on 4WD, as does the M135iX from BMW.
To qualify as an ultra-hatch, the car must rely on just one driven axle, front, or rear, through which at least 300bhp is channelled. However, every dynamic element, which includes brakes, steering, gearing (and the ’box itself), suspension and even weight distribution, must be honed to near race perfection and, as in the case of the Megane Trophy, even the precise specification. Weight paring is an important side show, which can involve thinner glazing, minimal sound deadening materials, skinny race-style seats but not necessarily the removal of the rears, as in the cliché-laden Mini GP, or even the installation of a partial roll-cage. Producing a seriously focused ultra-hatch involves lessons learned from the competition arena and there is absolutely zero space for compromise.
Renault (and both Honda and Hyundai, for that matter) can boast of a broad mix of top-end motorsport experiences. The rather special buyers of the more specialised models are honouring their favourite brand and its history, when making their choices. Renault has its finger on that pulse in ways that must anger its key mainstream rivals, because the RS tag was once the sole property of Ford Motor Company, a factor that it has squandered along with its sometime Number One status in the annual sales charts.
The Mégane RS duo continue to be powered by a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine that develops a surprisingly modest 300bhp that equates to an outstanding 167bhp/litre of displacement, supported by a generous slug of nearly 310lbs ft of torque. It is the twin-scroll turbocharger that aids low-revs responsiveness, while the twin-clutch, automated-manual gearbox features multi-change downshifts and launch control. The former drops several gear ratios under braking, when the left paddle is held down, in the process delivering a more efficient and responsive driving experience. Launch control is selectable in either Sport or Race modes through the MultiSense drive mode selector.
Both versions of the Megane RS blitz the 0-60mph benchmark in just 5.4s, although the Trophy model is capable of reaching a top whack of 162mph. For cars that are likely to spend most of their time nudging the rev-limiters, fuel economy is not a typical consideration (the WLTP figure starts at 33.2mpg), although the 191g/km (RS) and 192g/km (Trophy) CO2 ratings combine with their respective list prices (£32,995 and £36,995) to warrant a first year road tax of £855 and, if selected as a company car, a whopping 37% Benefit-in-Kind rating. Owning a Megane RS is not a value proposition, even though it depends on where your values lie.
RS 300 models come as standard with the Sport chassis, while RS Trophy models feature the Cup chassis that brings stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, together with a limited slip differential for greater responsiveness. Four-wheel steering, via compliant bushes, is also standard. The RS 300 runs on 18.0-inch alloys, while the Trophy version increases the diameter to 19.0-inches. All of the latest ADAS (driver aid) technology and up-to-date connectivity are included in the package. A 10.0-inch TFT Driver Information Display delivers crisp graphics and layout flexibility, which means that full mapping can be displayed, as required. Alternatively, driver assistance, safety information, or trip calculations can take precedence, the package backed up on the equally configurable main 9.3-inch EasyLink display, in the centre of the dashboard, which is more user-friendly and logical than before.
Full smartphone connectivity using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is available, as well as direct voice recognition by which to control the radio, music, sat-nav and whichever Renault apps have been downloaded to the car. Thank heavens the daft ‘engine noise symposer’ is not included. Yet, the standard features do include front and rear parking sensors, full LED headlamps and a rear parking camera. A high-end BOSE audio system completes the package.
Needless to say, the RS can be even more costly, with optional Recaro seats clad in Alcantara that are better suited to a pert bottom, rather than one possessing two post-codes. Armed with a full complement of race-developed and purposeful spare parts, a Megane RS Trophy can readily top £50k but, then, you might also apply racing decals and go for it big-style.
Conclusion: Renault is exceptionally well-versed in racing terminology, know-how and an ability to sell its packages, as well as being better at it than Honda and newcomer Hyundai…probably. Honda has only recently tapped into its race/road car mindset and Hyundai is following suit, quickly and assuredly. Owning an ‘ultra-hatch’ is not my bag but I do know people who might.