Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 July 2019

The new Renault Megane RS: sporty success or hampered by history?

Much like the Renault Formula One team's upturn in fortunes, the new RS is a hot-hatch contender again

In the contrast with how Ford has teased us with the Focus ST while refusing to sell the higher-powered RS in the UAE, when we covered Renault’s visit to the Dubai Autodrome last summer, it was for hot-weather testing of its Megane GT. But now, I’m at the city’s premier motor-racing circuit to drive the new incarnation of the more-potent Megane RS variant. That noise? That’s the sound of things being turned up a notch.

It’s almost certainly because souped-up versions of past Renaults such as the mid-1990s Clio are to this day held in such fond regard that the French manufacturer faces an uphill battle nowadays to exceed even its own history.

That reputation means that I clamber behind the wheel of the Megane RS with an above-average level of ambivalence. Initial visual impressions aren’t overly positive, either, with its bulbous front end looking a bit bulky for a true hot hatch. But then I’m always happy to be proved wrong – and, frankly, I am.

This isn’t a road test per se, then, because I don’t actually take the fourth-generation RS out on a public highway during the entire day piloting this bright-orange mini monster. That’s OK, though – because the RS is almost too wild to genuinely put through its paces in public.

The new turbocharged 1.8-litre engine belts out 280hp, which compares favourably with the Focus ST’s 250hp from a 2.0-litre EcoBoost unit – and is even 15hp up on the outgoing generation’s racy Trophy limited edition. Compare that to the 225hp engine that fed the first Megane RS when it hit the roads in 2004 and you can see it has come a long way. The torque figure isn’t tiny, either: 390Nm kicks in from a relatively low 2,400rpm.

It does all this while offering stellar fuel consumption (6.9L per 100 kilometres) that will ensure you aren’t nervously eyeing our News pages at the start of each month to see when the UAE’s petrol prices are announced.

A smattering of seasonal overnight rain has almost literally dusted the Autodrome track, such is the sand content of precipitation in this part of the world, which is actually the best thing that could have possibly happened to my testing session.

The FIA-approved circuit becomes a veritable go-kart track, with endless slip-sliding enjoyment on the chicane and tighter corners – even a novice would be able to swing the Megane RS around like a drifting champion in these conditions.

That is aided by Renault’s clever 4Control four-wheel steering system, which its maker claims as a first in this segment. It certainly turns in on the proverbial sixpence, and when the nose of the car is this close to the front wheels, and said wheels are those doing the driving, the sensation of sitting on top of exactly where you want to point the RS is absolutely accurate.

The last time we wrote about a Megane – the 2018 version of the basic 1.6-litre small family car – we slightly unkindly suggested that Renault might be wise to stop associating its road cars with its floundering Formula One team.

The Megane RS, however, is much more in line with the F1 outfit’s consistent performance in the 2018 season, when it finished fourth in the constructors’ championship behind the almost-impenetrable top three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. And much like how Renault will be real ones to watch from here on in the world’s premier motorsport championship, the Megane RS is coming up on the rails again as a car you really should consider if your tipple is hot hatches – not least now that the Focus ST is leaving our shores.

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Updated: December 20, 2018 04:09 PM

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