Renault is not the brand that pops out of mind when you think of a great sport’s car brand. Nowadays Renaults are more attributed as medium-range automotives. But there are the RS specials, the Renault Sport class. And there is this particular car : the Megane RS. Text : Thomas Z. & Mickael B. © Images : Thomas Z. ©

At first look you may not think it’s a sports car. It differs only from the standard Megane version with its special bumpers, a central exhaust and some other details that don’t really shock, and most people will have to get a close look before spotting them. First of all, it is important to note that this car is considered one of the best FWD – front wheel drive – car in the world. Its reputation, of both incredible chassis and drive-train is established since almost 10 years, when the first Megane RS was launched, back in 2004. And it has been confirmed throughout the years as the Megane RS Trophy and R26-R are both record breakers and holders in their range on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, the green hell, for instance. To really see if it can keep its crown of the best front wheel drive car, especially against its modern hatchback competitors like the Focus RS, we went to drive one around some country roads.

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Once you step inside, the interior is pretty good, at least better than the usual cars from the French brand, but not as good as what you would get from a Volkswagen GTI for example. You get beautiful counters like a great yellow tachometer that catches almost immediately your attention, a matched yellow broaded line on the steering wheel, and matched yellow seatbelts, which reminds you that you are not in a standard Renault, but in its sport’s sister, as yellow is the official Renault Sport colour. Both the gearbox and the clutch are easy to take in hand, and you are seated in Recaro bucket seats, which maintain you really well and in every direction. You also got three real places at the back, where adults will fit without any problems, even for long journeys and all of the audio system is made by Bose which ensures good sound quality. The Megane has large windows which give you a good visibility and its global small size, because it only has three doors and therefore a short wheelbase, makes it easy to park.  Everything isn’t perfect, you have cheap plastics everywhere for example, and some fake carbon fiber elements on the dashboard, but the value for money is quite good anyway and you can feel the effort Renault has made on this car to give you the feeling of being in a proper sports car.

Megane2

Now let’s go to the essential : the driving. This is what this car is made for ! Its 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder in line engine delivers 265 horsepower to the front wheels with an aggressive sound and a very good acceleration. 0-100 km/h is dealt in around 6 seconds and the top speed is said to be over 250 km/h.  But the most impressive thing with the Megane RS is the handling. An independent steering-axis front axle and optional limited slip differential with the Cup pack gives you a fantastic grip. And what a grip ! It’s just incredible : when you take a corner, the wheels block and they literally don’t move an inch, like if they were anchored on rails. And if you try pushing the RS to its limits, you can still accelerate, the car won’t let itself oversteer, it just doesn’t move ! You sometimes get a little understeer on the entrance but still, it’s so small from what you would expect… The steering wheel communicates a lot with the driver, every move gives you a direct answer and put the Megane where you want to, in your chosen trajectory during the corner and releasing it at the end. It is very good on the track, especially with the race mode on, for having the best exterior-interior-exterior moves but it isn’t very handy on your daily drive. For instance, if you go past a bike, it is very hard to overtake it properly, the car makes you do a sort of triangle which is very unnatural. Personally, I had never felt such grip in a front wheel drive car before. In comparison with the latest hatchbacks, even more powerful or four wheel drive on the market, like the new Audi S3, the Megane RS is just in another world.

If you forget one moment about the fabulous grip, the competitors have many advantages, the Audi S3 or the Volkswagen Golf GTI have way better finition and badge than the Megane. The Audi with 300 hp and the help of the great Quattro four wheel drive transmission gives better performance in straight line than the RS too. But the Megane is the cheapest of the three, the S3 being nearly 20.000 CHF more expensive, and the Golf at a closer price but having worst performances in every domain, except the finition once more. The only comparison that comes to mind would be with the Subaru Impreza, or the Lancer Evolution which are the only two cars that offer a such level of performance for a comparable price. The Evo isn’t available in a hatchback configuration so if that’s what you’re searching, it’s not the car for you. It is though the easiest car to take in hand. The Impreza is a myth and would probably be even quicker on some twisty mountain roads than both the Megane or the Mitsubishi, but it would need much more effort from the driver. Although both of the japanese cars would give you that same grip feeling, no other FWD car would. And that’s where the Megane makes all the difference, even a more powerful Ford Focus RS wouldn’t be as efficient as the french hatchback. So if you want a front wheel drive hatchback and you care about the driving experience I would say the Megane wins, compared to most of its competitors. I clearly think that for this amount of money you won’t get something better.

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In conclusion we can say that Renault has made a fantastic car. A major point of interest in this car is that it can be both your daily driver and your weekend fun drive. You have enough space to leave your kids at school, do some shopping with your wife and go on week-end road trips. Its performances, especially the grip, gives the ability to the Megane RS to give some trouble to many other more powerful sports cars on twisty mountain passes. You can even go to some race track, as long as it is sinuous enough, and you would really enjoy yourself easily, even being able to match lap times of a Porsche Cayman or a Lotus Exige. As I said before the only negative point is regarding the interior quality which isn’t the best on the market. But what a car ! At that price, I don’t think you would get a new car with the same amount of performance. So is the Megane RS the perfect sports hatchback for everyday? I think it’s a definitive yes.