The current Mégane RS 280 came along last year, repeating what some might consider the mistakes of the last Clio RS. It moved from a 2.0-litre atmospheric engine to a more emissions-friendly, less sweet-revving 1.8-litre turbo and also became the first hot Mégane to be offered with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox (although this time, Renault Sport didn’t forget to include a manual as well). It also became the first core Renault Sport product (leaving aside the Twingos and GTs) to be manufactured away from Dieppe, at the same Spanish factory as every other Mégane. The smart money, with the Alpine sports car story going so well and probably needing more and more space at Dieppe to expand into, would be on the next Clio RS following suit.
Despite bringing a very tempting chassis to the hot hatchback segment with both four-wheel steering and hydraulic suspension bump stops, the Mégane RS undershot on expectations in its first few big tests. It lost to a Honda Civic Type R in RS 280 Cup form in the spring of 2018 and again to the same car in RS 300 Trophy form only a few months ago. In both tests, however, the car ran with Renault’s firmer Cup suspension settings – which, as Renault Sport chassis engineers were keen to point out on the 2018 press launch, really are intended for track use more than road miles.
Our long-termer, by contrast, is fitted with the standard Sport suspension, as part of which the car’s hydraulic suspension mounts are tuned to operate quite differently from how they do in the Cup version.
Plumping for a Sport rather than a Cup chassis also means you don’t get a limited-slip differential, of course, but for a car with a more liveable ride compromise than the often tetchy, leaden-footed Cup version, that is a sacrifice that the Autocar road test jury is very willing to make.
And so a Mégane RS 280 Sport is what we’ve got. No slippy diff, no Cup chassis, no Trophy-spec engine – but a car better placed than any other, we hope, to tell us whether a hot Mégane could ever really rival a Golf GTI for overall roundedness and daily usability. Renault Sport clearly likes to think that it can.
However, after just a day and a night in our car as I write these words, and having already identified a handful of things that, I suspect, will become familiar Renault-brand ergonomic and usability bugbears before much longer, it’s fair to say I have a few doubts. We’ll cover those next time.
I’ve also yet to have my first really good B-road thrash in the car, I should add, so the Mégane’s stock has the potential to both rise and fall – and quite a long way in both cases. It should be a revealing few months.
Renault Sport’s Méganes and Clios were a dominant force in the car magazines I read as a teenager. And now that we road testers are going to run this one for the next few months, I’m looking forward to discovering if some of that magic from years gone by lives on here. One thing’s for sure: the wider hot hatch landscape has never been more competitive, so our Mégane has some serious impressing to do
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Renault Megane RS 280 Sport specification
Specs: Price New £27,835 Price as tested £29,435 Options Metallic paint (Flame Red) £650, Interlagos Black 19in alloy wheels £950