The 2019 Renault Megane RS hatch. Pictures/Liz Dobson
Things are heating up in the hot hatch range in New Zealand in 2019 with the introduction of Renault’s Megane RS five-door car — which is sure to put the pressure on the rest of this segment.
The Megane RS was revealed to the motoring media at Hampton Downs along with the rest of the Renault fleet, including vans. But the French hatch was the star of the event.
With a starting price of $59,990 for the six-speed manual transmission and $62,990 for the six-speed dual-clutch automatic, Renault NZ reckoned that the initial take up would be manual before automatics take the lead.
But if the first models on sale here are any indicator, autos may dominate sales. At the Hampton Downs event was a Liquid Yellow auto that Driven had dibs on for the first press drive. But it was snapped up at the track day by a Renault fan.
It’s a great-looking hatch back thanks to its wide front wheel arches, and 19in alloys; paired with the LED lights it stands out on the road.
The Megane RS takes on recent hot hatches available in New Zealand: Hyundai’s i30N, Honda’s Civic Type R, Volkswagen’s Polo GTi, SEAT’s Ateca Cupra and Suzuki’s Swift Sport.
There is an ever-increasing market for the hot hatch, with Honda revealing an unprecedented number of women buyers for the Type R, while a friend’s baby boomer partner was after a sports hatch to drive at the weekend.
But let’s get down to what makes the Megane RS a hot hatch. It is powered by a formidable 1.8-litre direct-injection turbo four-petrol engine, producing 204kW of power and 390NM of torque from 2400 to 4800rpm, making it the most powerful 1.8-litre on the NZ market. The Megane RS goes from 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds. It has five driving modes: normal, sports, comfort, race and personal plus launch mode.
The hatch also stands out thanks to 4Control, Renault’s advanced four-wheel-steer system, available for the first time in the hot hatch.
At speeds of less than 60km/h (or at 100km/h in Race mode), the front and rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to give increased agility, particularly through tight corners. At speeds over 60km/h (or 100km/h in Race mode), the front and rear wheels turn in the same direction for increased stability.
The 4Control system at below 60km/h helps drivers to position the car on the right line through corners in order to accelerate as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
The system came to the fore at Hampton Downs during a slalom test, where the hot hatch wound smoothly around the cones at speed in Sport mode on the track. The crackling of the exhaust and the smooth gear movement was exhilarating.
But what is it like as a daily drive? Driven had an automatic for three days before a longer test drive and within a few minutes it became clear the RS is a good daily commuter. But added to the practicality is the fun “pop pop” exhaust in Sport mode, making it a pocket rocket.
Comfort mode was too soft for me, so I kept it in Normal in city driving before opting for the delightful Sport on the motorway.
After the photo shoot at Maretai, I headed along the coast then inland to Clevedon with the 4Control giving control around the tight, narrow bends while Sport mode came to the fore with throttle response immediate in overtaking tourists doodling along at 60km/h on an open road.
It’s a comfortable vehicle to be in for an extended time, even on bumpy roads or stop-start motorway traffic. Inside, the cabin has a simplistic appearance with a digital instrument panel plus an 8.7in central touchscreen and Apple CarPlay. Unfortunately the menu was difficult to navigate but on the upside the RS had a large array of safety features, including a rear view-parking camera that’s part of the central touchscreen.
Even after just a three-day test, I reckon the Megane RS has to be on your must-see list if you don’t want to drive an SUV and instead prefer a pocket rocket.
Renault Megane RS
Pros: Sport mode, responsive auto
Cons: Difficult menu