Before we get on to the myriad of differences in the Mégane RS range, let’s start with the one constant: the 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine under the bonnet.
The ‘regular’ Megane RS gets 276bhp whether you opt for the Cup chassis or not . That’s fractionally more power than the Hyundai i30N Performance can muster, although the Mégane RS still looks positively weedy next to big hitters in this price bracket, such as the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf R. And, while the Trophy 300 gets closer to the pointy end of the pack with its 296bhp, that’s still some way short of the Type R.
Acceleration isn’t just about power, of course – it’s also about weight. And there’s better news in that department; although the Mégane RS does tip the scales at more than the Civic Type R, it’s lighter than the Hyundai i30N or Golf R, the latter of which has a heavy four-wheel drive system to lug around. The Trophy 300 shaves off a whopping 18kg thanks to lighter brakes that prove exceedingly fade-resistant, and a lithium ion battery rather than a much heavier lead acid unit. Lightweight wheels are on the options list and shave off another 2kg per corner.
The Megane RS is no slouch (0-60mph took 5.9sec in our tests) but, compared with other hot hatches in this price bracket, acceleration isn’t exactly eye-widening – especially in the higher gears. And the noise? Well, the Mégane RS’s throaty burble is certainly more theatrical than a Civic Type R’s mechanical shriek.
Jump up to the Trophy 300 and you’ll find a little bit more ferocity to the acceleration although the difference isn’t exactly night and day. Indeed, official figures place it 0.1sec quicker from 0-62mph, with its top speed raised by a heady 4mph. The way it sounds is changed noticeably, however; a valve in the exhaust system adds even more aggression to the soundtrack, resulting in plenty of snap, crackle and pop when you come off the accelerator in Sport and Race modes.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox is pleasant enough to use, if not as slick or precise as a Civic Type R’s. It makes the optional EDC twin-clutch auto seem unnecessary, although the latter is quick to respond to paddle tugs in Race mode – far more so than the EDC ’box in the cheaper Clio RS. That the Mégane RS is available with an automatic gearbox at all means it appeals to a wider section of buyers than the Civic Type R or i30N.
So far, we’ve driven the regular Mégane RS (badged Sport) only on the roads around southern Spain, but that’s enough to tell you it’s a very fine hot hatch. The standout quality is undoubtedly the way it rides nasty bumps and broken road surfaces, in part thanks to that clever suspension that uses hydraulic bump stops to keep the tyres in contact with the road.
That four-wheel steering (called 4Control) is no gimmick, either, because you can really feel it helping the rear of the car turn in to bends – particularly the sort of tight hairpins that front-wheel-drive cars usually struggle with. It takes a few twists to fully trust that it won’t cause the car to swap ends on you when braking hard into corners, but it makes the Mégane RS feel incredibly light on its toes.
That’s especially true if you flick it into Race mode as it ups how quickly the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction to the fronts from 37mph to 62mph. Yes, it does feel a little nervous at first, but once you learn how small a steering input you need, it’s one of the most agile and exciting hot hatches out there.
The only real drawback is the absence of a limited-slip differential (LSD); this limits how much power you can transfer to the road on the way out of slower corners – even on optional 19in alloy wheels and grippier Bridgestone rubber. You either have to be patient with your right foot or accept that some wheelspin and the tendency of the nose to run wide of where you’re aiming it are part of the fun.
Better still, fork out a bit extra for the Cup chassis or go the whole hog and buy the Trophy 300. This throws a much-needed LSD into the mix, allowing you to use much more power when accelerating out of corners, coping well with even the maximum 296bhp power output. You also get stiffer (though not lower) suspension to help the Mégane RS control its body movements even better through quick changes of direction. We have tried the Cup and Trophy versions on UK roads and the ride is definitely much firmer than the Civic Type R’s or Golf R’s, but still acceptable for such a focused machine.
The other drawback of the Cup and Trophy model’s super-aggressive natures are that they follow ruts and cambers in the road as if there’s a poltergeist trapped in the steering rack; the wheel tugs left and right in your hands – especially when accelerating hard. You do at least get a good sensation of what the front wheels are doing and on smooth roads it’s easy to place the car where you want it through bends. That said, there’s more precision in a Civic Type R, whose steering is more precise and less prone to corruption from road surfaces and hard acceleration.