January 25, 2017 @ 02:47 PM

Review: Renault Megane RS 265 Sport - Craving the French connection

The French don’t often get many things right and cars are one of them but if there’s something they’re perfected, it’s an utterly brilliant hot hatch recipe

We’re pretty smitten by the charms of the Renault Megane RS265 Sport. The allure it elicits include the desirable characteristics of neutral handling, negligible torque steer, a punchy turbo engine and the crowning glory of a proper manual; perfect wife material then if you were looking to settle down to matrimonial bliss with a hot hatch.

The Megane RS is quite the powerhouse within its segment although more of than not, the initial introduction can hardly be described as getting on like a house on fire. Like most French, it takes a while to acquaint with the Megane and its unmistakable French eccentrics; referred to as French flair by the natives.

Nonetheless, it’s a formidable, record-setting hot hatch and the last of the Mohicans in its segment here; that being the derivative that comes with a proper manual and three pedals.

Since the discontinuation of the Ford Focus ST here, the Megane remains the only hot hatch that can be had with a manual. Don’t you dare invoke the likes of the Fiesta ST and Peugeot 208 GTI, those do battle a rung below.

Much of the accolades that pads the Megane’s curriculum vitae stem from the variant underpinned by the Cup chassis that is has a stiffer shell, more track focussed suspension, chunkier roll bars and a slippy differential that is the steroid to front end grip.

Logically, the differential should be the most pined for absentee in the Sport version but the question on everyone’s lips is by just how much the heart will yearn for the mechanical diff.

That heart remains the same though, the turbo 2.0-litre, inline-four that churns out a creamy 262bhp and 360Nm of torque. Power reaches the front wheels via a six-speed manual, geared to hit the century mark in a haste-making 6.0-seconds.

If you’re aroused by aural innuendoes such as a whisper in the ear, the Megane RS delivers quite literally. The engine note isn't as apparent or lacks the right octaves that some of its peers sing but prod the throttle hard enough and it does croon the right tunes. Nail that heel-and-toe downshift and you’ll be rewarded with the right crackle and pops out the exhaust but generally, the exhaust note isn't as inspiring as other hot hatches.

That’s all shooed away as water under the bridge as the engine revs effortlessly to the redline, albeit a slightly low one. Nonetheless, the torque ploughs in early on and punches all the way to the end with the hardest uppercut delivered smack in the middle of the powerband. Keep the revs there and you’ll soon forget the lack of an orchestra in the rear as you hunt down corners.

Turbo lag is almost negligible except for that split second off idle but once you’re on the move, it keeps revving and moving.

Power delivery is just one feather in the Megane’s hat. Playing a pivotal role in its handling is the brilliant Renault Perfohub steering and front suspension system that practically dials out torque steer, the immortal enemy of powerful front-wheel drive machines.

It functions by separating the steering axis from damper travel to minimise torque steer. Completely eliminating it would require some witchcraft and wizardry but the torque steer experience only manifested itself during hard launches in straight lines. Gunning out of corners, the steering never attempted to break free of the hands.

Devoid of torque steer, the Megane is a delight at corners. The Renaultsport ride and handling gurus have tuned some mind-boggling neutrality into the Megane that would make the Swiss cower away in shame.

Attacking corners presents the Megane’s neutral stance with no understeer on turn in and a tease of oversteer at the exit. Pick your line, hard on the silver Brembos up front and stay committed. The hatch corners like it’s on rails and rips through the corner. Get on the power a little early and the rear hints at its playful nature but there’s barely a pinch of drama as the Dunlops bite in and pull you out.

That mechanical diff? Not missed one bit on the streets but the yearning might come crashing back once the Megane RS Sport hits the track.

Complementing the handling and power delivery is the six-speeder with the ratios spaced just right for a broad scope of abilities. The powerband gives plenty of juice up front for brisk acceleration and the cruising gears are tall enough for some high speed shenanigans on the highways. Clutch bite is perfectly positioned with the bite point where you feel it should be.

Fitting in like a glove is crucial to enjoying and maximising a car’s potential. No matter the power or grip, if you’re not seated properly the experience is sullied a little. The Megane’s downfall stems from seat and steering adjustment that leaves you having to pick between your hands or feet.

Adjust appropriately for the right distance to the pedals and your hands are too near the wheel, prioritise your paw and you’ll find yourself with an outstretched left leg at every gear shift. Perhaps the French are blessed with longer legs.

It’s a real pity too as the Megane is essentially a beautifully crafted hot hatch. Everything feels right, from the shifter’s throw, the clutch’s pick up point, the steering’s weight and neutral driving dynamics. We’re not just painting a pretty picture given its default position as the best new manual hot hatch money can buy, it genuinely is a no-frills, fuss-free scorcher of a hatch with the simplicity and involvement of its forefathers from the 80s.

As the icing on the cake, the Megane also makes for quite a capable daily driver, as all hot hatches must be. The interior emanates a calming sense of quality with those bucket seats providing enough support although if you’re after the Recaros, the Cup is the only way to have them.

Long drives, the daily grind and just about anything else a hatch is supposed to accomplish, the Megane does just as well or better. Creature comforts aren’t a highlight here with a basic head unit offering USB connectivity and not much else apart from the dual-zone climate control. Rear legroom is sufficient and can easily fit two adults even for long distances.

Being French however, the interior isn't without its quirks; or character as the French insist. The handbrake is angled awkwardly towards the passenger and the cruise control button is inexplicably located next to it, not anywhere near the steering wheel or on the dash. Want to adjust the radio? That’s on a fumbling stalk behind the wheel and out of sight.

These are however not reasons you purchase a Megane RS. They’re minor annoyances at best and immediately disregarded as you flog it on the streets. The Megane is a hot hatch that harks back to the days of intelligible, accessible performance and zero distractions.

Sure, the argument that the Volkswagen Golf GTI comes with more kit and two extra doors as well as the universally applicable DSG persists but some driving enthusiasts still crave the unadulterated bond between man and machine; and that’s where the Megane shines.

Renault Megane RS 265 Sport
Engine: 1998cc, DOHC 16V, direct injection, turbocharged, variable valve timing, 262bhp @ 5500rpm, 360Nm @ 3800rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 6.0sec 0-100kph, 250kph, 8.2l/100km
Dimensions (l/w/h): 4299mm, 1848mm, 1435mm
Weight: 1374kg
Price: RM197,888

Connect to Car Magazine : Malaysian Edition! Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram.