In an ideal world, cars would be made with no time or effort spared and the best components possible. In reality, however, car makers need to satisfy conflicting demands and they don’t exactly have a bottomless pit of money to do so. Compromises often need to be struck, and the results are often derided and dismissed.

Take the Renault Megane for example. First introduced in the mid-1990s to replace the old 19, it is Renault’s C-segment representative and covers bodystyles ranging from hatchbacks to estates and even coupes and cabriolets. Evidently an important player in the line-up and yet, over four model generations, it is noteworthy as being intriguingly styled, but distinctly average as a product.


Renault Megane R.S. 280

How imperfect ingredients are made to add up perfectly.

Words: Kon, Pics: TJ

Beneath the quirky looks breathe a variety of uninspiring four-cylinder engines and the dreaded torsion beam rear suspension – not the kind of stuff you’d associate with exuberant driving. In its home continent, critics consistently rate the Megane as a mid-table offering within its segment.

Things get quite a bit more interesting, however, when the car goes through the hands of RenaultSport’s specialized engineers in Dieppe, where humdrum transforms into sublime. It is when its utterly unremarkable starting point is put as context that one truly appreciates the engineering magic that goes into creating the Renault Megane R.S.

We don’t have many units of the regular Megane in Malaysia – only a handful of the first two generations made it here – but the Megane R.S., on the other hand, has accrued quite a cult following. Renault’s local distributor TC Euro Cars have dutifully played their part too, over the years forming a close-knit bond with the owners club, keeping them active with regular track days.

Whilst it is not without its share of French car quirks, the Megane R.S. is loved as a car of considerable charm. For starters, it looks like nothing else on the road – Renault actually marketed it as a coupe, even though it is often thought of as a hot hatch. Then, it is also how, despite making do with only a torsion beam, it convincingly outhandles many a car with supposedly superior and more sophisticated rear multi-links.

Big shoes, then, for the new Megane R.S. to step into. Christened as the R.S. 280, to denote its power rating, the new Megane R.S. steps into the field much changed from its predecessor. Its output jump was achieved in spite of an engine size reduction from 2.0 litres to 1.8, and those without the appetite to manage three pedals in traffic jams now have the option of ordering one with a dual clutch transmission. Renault, in their infinite wisdom, keeps the manual option alive, however, God bless them.

Underneath, the platform is all new, although the basic layout is essentially the same. Drive still goes exclusively to the front wheels and the rear remains propped by a torsion beam. In the face of rivals that are all independently sprung and are increasingly resorting to deploying power on all fours, it seems like a handicap on paper, though the engineers of RenaultSport have a couple of aces under their sleeves.

Firstly, the Megane R.S. is the only car in its segment to steer four wheels. It is one of those systems that turns the rear wheels by only a couple of degrees at most – same direction at the front at high speeds, and opposite direction when slow. You can Google how it works in detail, but we’ll tell you the result – this car responds very quickly to steering inputs. The front end is astonishingly agile, almost excitable, as if asking you when is the next corner coming? Is it now?

Then, there are the hydraulic bump stops. Driven back-to-back with its predecessor, it is very obvious that Renault dialled up the new car’s suspension stiffness up several notches. The old car, as a matter of fact, feels plush in comparison. Over patched up town roads, you feel the surface acutely, but just as you anticipate that sharp jolt of the pothole, the suspension dampens that final tenth of movement.

It is, in short, a masterful setup, one that lets you feel fully connected to the road, but just about keeps it bearable. It is not a ride for the faint-hearted, but if you’re an enthusiast shopping for a no-compromise option, this emerges as a positively pleasant surprise. The best way to describe its ride relative to the predecessor is that it is harder without being harsher.

In fact, the Megane R.S.’ ride neatly sums up its entire preposition. This is a car that seems to demand a great deal of commitment and compromise from the driver’s part. Unlike many recent generation hot hatches, it doesn’t allow you to settle in quickly; it forces you into a learning curve, to live with its stiff ride, to master the bite point of its clutch, and to be delicate with your inputs.

Indeed, your first acquaintance with the Megane R.S. is unlikely to be as flattering as it would be in a Golf R, Civic Type R, or any member of the Mercedes-AMG 45-series triumvirate. Any of these cars will immediately feel faster off the mark and seem easier to live with. If your concern is to go fast with as little fuss as possible, these then, are very valid choices.

The Megane R.S., on the other hand, takes you on a very different journey. It invites you to learn and grow with it, and enjoy the satisfaction of charting your progress as you familiarize with yourself with the car and incrementally extract bits of its wide-ranging talents. If you want your performance handed to you on a silver platter, look elsewhere, but for those who enjoy the challenge of taming a beast, this is your car.

Motorsports in its genes.

4CONTROL Technology.

A sporty cockpit.