The Renault Mégane R.S. 280 from all-wheel steering for greater agility and solid body control, but its steering, interior quality and infotainment system are all average
The Renault Mégane R.S. 280 has quite a pedigree, because the previous generation was one of the best hot hatches ever made. That’s quite an accolade. This time around it’s a very different proposition, however, with a turbocharged 1.8-litre engine and four-wheel steering, in a bid to take on hot hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Hyundai i30N, Honda Civic Type R and Seat Leon Cupra.
Ultimately, it holds its own, although the Mégane doesn’t shine on the road. There’s the choice of two different chassis with the Mégane R.S. 280 – either the standard car or the Cup which adds stiffer suspension, a limited slip differential on the front axle to help the car better pull itself out of slow corners and red brake calipers. There’s also the choice of either a manual or automatic gearbox with wheel-mounted paddles, both with six gears.
There are a total of five different driving modes, including Neutral, Sport and Race which alter throttle response, steering weight and, with the automatic gearbox fitted, the aggressiveness of the gear changes. There’s also a mode which allows you to choose your favourite combination.
We’ve tried the 280 in manual Cup form and there’s no doubting its agility. The combination of great body control, the effectiveness of its differential pulling it through tight bends and that four-wheel steering means it darts into corners and scrabbles out of them again purposefully.
That said, the steering could be more communicative, the manual gear change less notchy and the aggressiveness of the car’s turn-in does take some getting used to. And we’re not convinced Renault’s new 1.8-litre engine delivers its power as nicely as the previous generation’s 2.0-litre.
More frustrating, though, is how firm the Mégane is. At slow speeds it never crashes into potholes and ruts, but it sends sharp jolts through the car, and things don’t improve with speed, either. When a Civic Type R manages to match the Mégane on body control but be far more comfortable at the same time, the Renault’s firm ride seems unnecessary.
At least the driving position is great, though; low slung but hugely adjustable so drivers of all shapes and sizes will be able to get comfortable. The Mégane R.S. 280 comes with R.S. sports seats that are figure hugging but comfortable on long journeys, too, as well as an Alcantara sports steering wheel and aluminium pedals.
Beyond that there’s more bad news. The materials used inside aren’t awful, but they look and feel markedly cheaper than those in a Golf GTI or Leon Cupra R. Even the Honda Civic Type R feels more upmarket inside.
And aside from the Honda, all of the aforementioned hot hatch alternatives have better infotainment systems. Renault’s R-Link system features a portrait 7.0-inch touchscreen controlling DAB radio, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a USB socket and aux connection. Well equipped, then, but the onscreen graphics are poor, the menus difficult to navigate and its response times pretty average. All told, if you value a good infotainment system, there are better options.
There’s lots to like about the way the Mégane handles, but if you value a premium cabin and great tech as much as outright handling then you’re better off looking elsewhere
Hot hatches need to be powerful, but also practical, and the Renault Mégane R.S. 280 does a fairly good job of the latter part. It can comfortably accommodate two six-footers in the back, but a third is likely to feel squeezed.
Smaller storage areas are abundant, so the door bins are big enough for a litre bottle of water, there are numerous cup holders and a variety of other cubbies to hide small valuables. A boot capacity of 384 litres means it’s just slightly bigger than a Volkswagen Golf GTI’s and there are various tie-down hooks for securing your luggage, although the high boot lip will make it harder to load tried items.
Still, Renault hasn’t been stingy with standard equipment. Everything from climate control and LED headlights to 18-inch alloy wheels and rear parking sensors included. On the safety front, the standard Mégane on which the R.S. 280 is based scored an impressive maximum five stars, and Renault has included automatic emergency braking as standard, as well as isofix points on the outside rear seats.
So, the Renault Mégane R.S. 280 is priced keenly, is safe, comes with lots of standard kit and offers exciting handling. But for those who want a premium feel inside, a fantastic infotainment system and comfort at a cruise, it’s worth test driving one of the Mégane’s alternatives first.