Cheeky styling charm includes fog lights inspired by a chequered flag. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Cheeky styling charm includes fog lights inspired by a chequered flag. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

After a fairly quiet period there’s suddenly been a lot of action in the hot-hatch world.

Hyundai launched its i30N in SA in February as the Korean brand’s first contender in the segment, while Volkswagen unveiled its new eighth-generation Golf GTI to the world overseas.

While all this was happening, Renault sent us its Megane RS 280 Cup for road-testing, just to remind us of the French foothold in this go-fast sector.

The rapid Renault Sport model is available in two versions both priced at R589,900: the “softer” and more commuting-friendly RS 280 Lux automatic, and the more hardcore RS 280 Cup, which is more of a boy-racer special with its six-speed manual transmission, 20% stiffer suspension and traction-enhancing limited-slip differential.

It sets an aggressive visual presence with its widened tracks and lowered ride height, with front fog lights inspired by a chequered flag. Red Brembo brake calipers peek out from behind the 19-inch wheels and, combined with a prominent rear diffuser and centrally mounted tailpipes, the racy Renault is all hissing intent.

Not quite in Golf R territory, but a 5.8 second 0-100km/h sprint is pleasingly rapid. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Not quite in Golf R territory, but a 5.8 second 0-100km/h sprint is pleasingly rapid. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Like a pet dog, the car greets you as you approach by flashing the lights (and unlocking the doors), and charms you into the cabin by playing a heartbeat sound through the speakers.

RS-branded alcantara bucket seats bring motorsport flavour into the cockpit, and the racy scene is further enhanced by red contrasts and the obligatory aluminium pedals.

The 280 in the badge refers to the power output in old-fashioned horsepower, which translates to 205kW in the newspeak. Along with a gutsy 390Nm of torque, the Megane makes impressive figures for a 1.8l turbo petrol engine in a segment mostly occupied by 2.0l turbo rivals.

The French car doesn’t quite reach the lofty power levels of hot hatches such as the Golf R, BMW M135i and Civic Type R, but it outguns the Golf7 GTI and the i30N.

The Renault’s 0-100km/h time of 5.8 seconds won’t trouble the Golf R and BMW 135i with their sub-five-second sprints, but it’s still entertainingly quick. I like the nature of its power delivery. It’s a free-revving engine that gets going without any significant turbo lag, a factor helped by it being a manual, which means that deft clutch work can get it past any dead spot.

One-piece sports seats are body-hugging and the grippy Alcantara prevents you from sliding around. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
One-piece sports seats are body-hugging and the grippy Alcantara prevents you from sliding around. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Modern fast cars are usually automatics and somewhat sanitised in their ability to deliver high performance without much driver effort, but operating a manual shifter makes this Megane RS a more hands-on, visceral drive.

It’s an agile handler too, assisted by a limited-slip diff and four-wheel steering system that turns the rear wheels slightly counter to the direction of the fronts in corners. Why? To reduce understeer, old sport, that bane of the enthusiast driver. And it works. The front-wheel drive Megane tucks into turns without prematurely running wide and sniffs out apexes with great accuracy, all without being unnervingly twitchy or tail-happy.

At higher speeds, front and rear wheels turn in the same direction to give the Megane solid directional stability. You get the best of both worlds.

Some torque steer rears its head when you accelerate hard; just enough to keep things interesting without wrenching the Renault’s wheel about in an alarming manner.

It’s all part of the boy-racer appeal. The car’s wilder nature can be summoned by selecting the Sport or Race modes via the “RS” button on the dashboard, which quickens the throttle and steering responses, blurts a racier engine sound and also minimises the intervention of the stability control (in Race it’s disabled completely).

Switching between the five driving modes (there’s also one you can personalise) changes the look of the digital instrument panel to match the mood.

The milder Comfort and Normal modes switch the car to a more commuting-friendly nature, with a more progressive throttle and lighter steering, though firm suspension is a constant presence. The ride quality isn’t spine-crushingly jarring, but it’s best to avoid potholes and gravel roads in this firmly-sprung Gallic sportster.

Overall, I think it’s money well spent. Even though it’s not the quickest in its league, the French car does the hot-hatch shuffle with plenty of charisma, both in looks and driving character. And at a very keen price too.

It will remain as a more affordable alternative to the more powerful 220kW/420Nm Megane RS 300 Trophy being launched in SA later this month.


Renault Megane RS 280 Cup

WE LIKE: Visceral performance, price

WE DISLIKE: Firm ride

VERDICT: The hot hatch for true boy racers

Motor News star rating

Design * * * *

Performance * * * *

Economy * * * *

Safety * * * *

Value For Money * * * *

Overall * * * * 

Tech Specs

Engine

Type: four-cylinder petrol turbo

Capacity: 1.8l

Power: 205kW

Torque: 390Nm

Transmission

Type: 6-speed manual

Drivetrain

Type: Front-wheel drive

Performance (claimed)

Top speed: 255km/h

0-100km/h: 5.8 seconds

Fuel Consumption: 7.2l/100km (claimed); 

Emissions: 163g/km

Standard features

ABS brakes, stability control, four-wheel steering system, Multisense system with five driving modes, six airbags, hill start assist, climate control, remote central locking, cruise control, keyless operation with push-button start, electric windows, electric mirrors, alcantara-covered sports seats, touch screen infotainment system with USB and bluetooth connectivity, TFT colour instrument cluster, tyre pressure monitor, LED daytime running lights, automatic wipers, rear parking camera, 245/35 R19 tyres.

Ownership

Warranty: Five years/150,000 km

Service plan: Five years/90,000km

Price: R589,900

Lease*: R12,628 a month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

Competition

VW Golf GTI, 169kW/350Nm — R568,600

Hyundai i30 N, 202kW/353Nm — R679,900

VW Golf R, 228kW/400Nm — R684,400

Honda Civic Type R, 228kW/400Nm — R699,900

BMW M135i xDrive, 225kW/450Nm — R711,452