Megane RS

I have been itching to drive the Megane Renault Sport 250 Cup ever since we knew that it was coming to Malaysia. The previous gen R26 (the one with the big booty) was a great drive, and it would be interesting to see how Renault Sport would improve on the experience with the Megane RS, if it could.

The RS 250 Cup was launched two weeks ago at Sepang, and it looks like TC Euro Cars has ticked all the right boxes and pushed all the right enthusiast buttons. At just below RM230K, this king of hot hatches comes with 250 turbocharged horses, mechanical LSD, mega Brembos with slotted discs, Recaro seats, R.S. Monitor which reads out g-force and lap times (among other figures car nuts love) and the sole option of a six-speed manual gearbox. How about that for a menu!

Let’s start by looking at where the hot Megane stands in the world of hot hatchbacks. Like the Volkswagen Scirocco, Renault calls its three-door Megane RS250 a coupe – while the new body is much more than just two doors lopped off from the five-door Megane III, few will view this alongside purpose built coupes such as the Audi TT or Nissan 370Z.

In Europe, the Megane RS fights for the same buyer as the Scirocco R and Ford Focus RS, and with 250 hp and 340 Nm, the performance on offer is one (rather large) notch up from the Golf GTI and Scirocco 2.0 TSI. In the Malaysian context, one’s bound to compare the RM229,800 Megane with the 210 PS/280 Nm Scirocco, which exposes the VW’s ambitious RM245K pricetag.

That said, Renault Sport’s “keep it true” policy of only offering manual gearboxes means that its appeal won’t be as widespread as VW’s DSG equipped sporty cars. “Just as well” and “posers apply elsewhere” will be the type of answers you’re going to get from Renault and TC Euro Cars if the auto topic is raised – like the RS models before it, the Megane RS 250 Cup is a true enthusiast machine. In Malaysia, only Honda with its Civic Type R can claim to be so focussed.

It’s a known fact that I love the previous gen R26 F1 Team to bits, but Renault Sport – an independent entity based in Dieppe, France that also builds the firm’s race cars – has managed to improved every aspect of that car in its quest to have the best FWD car in town, although the basic recipe remains unchanged.

The engine is the same 2.0-litre turbo four, but over 25% of it is new. A twin-scroll turbo, new intake ports, reinforced piston/conrods, new coolers, sodium coated valves and piston ring carriers are among the changes. The result is 250 hp at 5,500 rpm and 340 Nm at 3,000 rpm, 80% of which (272 Nm) is available at 1,900 rpm. These figures are 20 hp and 30 Nm more than in the R26.

0-100 km/h is done in just 6.1 seconds on to a top speed of 245 km/h. That’s eight tenths of a second faster than a Golf GTI although it doesn’t feel that explosive in action. The big boost wave kicks in when you approach 2,500 rpm and it’s willing all the way to redline, which is about 6,500 rpm (there’s a customisable sound and light shift warning in the tacho).

The Megane RS 250’s engine doesn’t sound spectacular, but there’s a blare at high revs that’s more audible from the rear seats than the fronts. I also love the way it pulls from low speed in high gears – this flexibility allows you to short shift your way up, stick it in fifth and drive it like an auto when you’re in a mood to relax.

The ‘Cup’ in the name is from Renault Sport’s Cup chassis, which is 10 mm lowered with uprated springs, specific dampers and thicker anti roll bars. Compared to the standard chassis, suspension flex has been reduced by 35% and 38% respectively for the front and rear. Aluminium pivots and lower arms reduce unsprung weight while ball joints are used in place of bearings for less friction.

With so much power going to the front wheels, torque steer is sure to be an issue. The R.S. Performance Hub front suspension allows for a steering axis that’s completely separated from the damper, unlike the typical MacPherson strut setup where the steering axis is attached to the ball joint of the lower arm and upper damper mounting. I still remember driving the Megane 225 F1 Team and wrestling with the wheel under full load, which was fun for awhile but a distraction thereafter. Only small hints of such drama exists in the 250.

Although some might scoff at the rear torsion beam suspension, let’s just say that sometimes it’s not what you have, but how you use it that counts. We don’t care, as long as it works well, and with their track record, I believe in those guys from Dieppe. What also works well are those brakes – four-pot Brembo fists gripping huge 340 mm diameter slotted discs. And boy, don’t they look sexy under those black 18-inch wheels!

It doesn’t take long to feel a difference between this and the R26, just easing out of the parking lot will do. The clutch pedal is much firmer than before, and is now a potential muscle builder. It doesn’t like all footwear too – my long tipped leather shoes got stuck behind repeatedly so make sure you’re suitably equipped. Not too friendly in those jams where you inch along as well. Stalled it? Just push the start/stop button to resume play.

The light and floppy gearchange in the R26 was quite out of sync with the rest of the car, but now that’s gone, replaced by a lever that requires more effort and a firmer action. It’s short, precise, doesn’t snag and much better this way, as we would later find out in hard driving. Still not the sweetest in town, but good.

Many presume that the Megane RS is is too hardcore for urban roads and as a daily drive (as proclaimed by some in the comments section of previous posts). Perhaps it’s the serious sounding Cup chassis or the looks of the car, but that can’t be further away from the truth. The R26 was so good because you can extract its performance and handling on poor B-roads (only masochists should attempt in a Civic Type R!) and the 250 is similarly usable. It’s stiffer than before, but rough surfaces and bumps are sufficiently damped; I can think of less sporting hatches with noisier, less compliant suspension.

The Megane’s high speed primary ride is also very calm – the only time I encountered choppiness was on the ELITE highway stretch from the KLIA exit to Putrajaya. Speaking of cruising, the engine settles down quietly (110 km/h is done at around 2,300 rpm in sixth, if memory serves right) and wind whistling only starts from 170 km/h in certain situations. The dominant noise is from those fat 235-section Pilot Sports, but it’s not hair pulling annoying.

The decent ride is already an achievement in itself, and that’s before discovering that the 250 Cup has tighter body control and rolls noticeably less than the R26. It’s agile with quick reflexes and the controls are intuitive. The brakes feels natural and is easy to modulate while the heavier than before steering is slack-free and precise, although an extra dose of feel would be welcome.

All of the above makes for a great driver’s car, but we haven’t even got to the Megane’s ace card – the LSD. This mechanical limited slip differential from GKN Driveline is the defining part of the RS’ dynamic repertoire, endowing the Renault with serious country road pace. One can power out of corners much earlier than you normally would in a FWD hot hatch.

Do this, and instead of the nose pushing wide, you’ll feel the LSD “dig its heels in” and drag you out of the corner. The car is also very responsive to mid corner throttle inputs. One needs to experience this to believe – I really hope those lucky owners do so and not “waste” this ace card.

On top of it all, and perhaps the most valuable, is the fact that the Megane RS gives the driver the confidence to push all out. I took it up to Ulu Yam, then snake up Gohtong Jaya and down again, passing the Batu Dam before ending my back road afternoon at Selayang. It was great fun and I would have gone further if I had more time.

Never drove so hard before in recent memory and yet there wasn’t a moment where i doubted myself, grit my teeth and uttered “I hope it sticks”. The ESP – set at Sport, which allows for some slip before intervening – wasn’t even needed throughout.

As a memento, I immortalised the g-force meter reading from the session. As you can see, me and my weekend girlfriend Megan(e) breached 1g of lateral acceleration while doing the tango without us realising. It isn’t F1, but not too bad when you consider that a Bugatti Veyron is pulling 1.18g when accelerating from 0-100 km/h in 2.4 seconds.

Besides the gees, R.S. monitor can also show real time power, torque and boost readings, plus lap times and acceleration figures. You toggle the pages via a multi purpose stalk that also controls the stereo. Tyre pressure readings are integrated in the trip computer.

Inside, forward and side visibility betters the Scirocco, although rear vision is useless and parking involves guesswork (can’t have it all). Cabin quality and materials are improved over the previous gen Megane although not all will like the curved dash design.

Few enthusiasts will argue with what’s central to the business of driving though. The Recaros look great (much firmer than those in the R26) and hold better while the leather steering feels right in the hands. The yellow theme (rev counter, seats, seat belts, stitching) makes the cabin feel a bit more special, as do those studded aluminium pedals. The RM10K GT Pack adds in leather and a big moonroof.

And if the need arises, the rear seats can take in two adults with ease, or even baby chairs thanks to ISOFIX mounts. Although it’s hard to believe from the outside, rear headroom isn’t an issue, although the frames of those Recaros block legs from tucking under; I didn’t get comfortable back there because of this. The boot is a decent 344 litres and the rear seats can be split folded, but the load lip is rather high. At least you know that practicality doesn’t need to go out the window!

Equipment wise, our Megane RS is fully specced, with only the 19-inch Speedline rims not making the trip from Spain, which can only be a good thing considering the quality of our roads. Front, side and curtain airbags (37/37 max score in Euro NCAP), bi-xenons that swivel, keyless entry and start, cruise control, dual-zone air con and auto lights/wipers are among the standard kit.

The Megane Renault Sport 250 Cup is worth every Ringgit in my opinion, not because of all that kit, which is a bonus, but for the unique driving experience and blend of talents. It’s not for everyone, but those who get the appeal will always take the long road home.

Click here for the launch story and here for a video of the Megane RS on track