FAST and French, as before, the new Megane RS adds family-friendly to Renault's established hot-hatch recipe. It's much more than a soupçon, too.
Where the previous Megane RS had three doors and came only with a manual gearbox, the new one has five doors and an automatic option.
Scheduled to arrive in Australia in about August, the new Megane RS brushes aside the usual cautions about having a hot hatch as your only car.
Choose the six-speed double-clutch auto and the Renault can be shared by a couple, even if one of them can't drive a manual. And its five-door body makes it practical for anyone who needs to transport children, something that couldn't be said about any previous Megane RS.
Obvious performance and price rivals that share the Renault's front-wheel drive format - including the Honda Civic Type R, Peugeot 308 GTi 270 and soon-to-launch Hyundai i30 N - come only with manual gearboxes.
So, too, do the all-wheel drive Ford Focus RS and more desirable STI versions of the Subaru WRX. This leaves the Golf GTI, a front-drive five-door with manual and auto options, as the Megane RS's only direct competitor (at least until an auto version of the i30 N arrives, most likely some time next year).
The French car will be a little more expensive but it's also much more powerful and comes with some technology its German rival doesn't have.
Renault Australia plans to price the Megane RS at about $45,000 for the six-speed manual version and $47,500 with the six-speed auto the company calls EDC (efficient dual clutch).
Both variants are powered by a new 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo. It delivers 205kW, a healthy 36kW more than the Golf GTI.
Renault also developed electric rear-wheel steering for the Megane RS, a feature it says is unique in the hot-hatch class.
In 2019 the Megane RS range will expand. The Trophy model will come with an even more powerful 220kW engine, firmer Cup chassis instead of the launch version's Sport set-up, a limited-slip differential and upgraded brakes.
These will add thousands to the prices.
The three-door Megane RS, introduced back in 2009, set the benchmark for hot-hatch handling and performance through much of its long life. The new five-door isn't going to ruin its ancestor's reputation …
Thanks to a little more power than the 2.0 turbo in the old Megane RS, acceleration flows strongly anywhere above 2500rpm on the Renault's tachometer. The new engine is also smooth and quiet.
The six-speed manual gearbox is a delight to use, which will make hard-core lever-lovers happy.
Less satisfying is the double-clutch auto. This transmission's control software could be improved - it sometimes hangs on to a lower gear when it should shift up.
Manual shifting is an alternative but the column-mounted paddles are set too high for comfortable use. It's better to use the gear lever instead (this is the preference of Renault Sport's test drivers).
For everyday driving, the double-clutch isn't bad. Its shifting is generally jerk-free when driving at city speeds and it moves smoothly and promptly from standstill, something that can't be said of every other double-clutch on the market.
The RS's rear-wheel steering - Renault labels the tech 4Control - makes it feel very agile. It turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the front wheels at under 60km/h but in the same direction as the fronts above that speed, which aids stability.
Switching to the car's Race mode increases the switchover speed to 100km/h. Sensitive drivers may find this feels as if the rear of the Renault is sliding at higher speeds but in its other driving modes the Megane RS simply seems to steer very sharply … just as a hot hatch should.
Ride comfort is outstanding for something that steers, brakes and corners like the Megane RS. Its shock absorbers have built-in hydraulic bump stops - an idea first developed for rally cars - and they work well, blunting even the sharpest road shocks.
The quality of the interior plastics isn't a match for anything Mazda or VW make, though the Megane RS's interior is pleasant. The sporty front seats are comfortable and very supportive, and the steering wheel, RS-specific gear knob and aluminium pedals add to the high-performance ambience.
But the car looks even better from the outside. The Megane RS wears wider guards front and rear than the standard model. It has a new front bumper, improved lights and a big central exhaust outlet behind.
Hunkered down on its big wheels, this Renault looks seriously speedy but not stupidly impractical.
Renault expects sales of the new Megane RS, now with auto and five doors, to easily outstrip the three-door manual it replaces.
It's not hard to see why.
Designed and engineered in France, the Megane RS isn't as French as you might think. The car is assembled in Spain and the 1.8-litre turbo comes from a Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance factory in South Korea.
RENAULT MEGANE RS SPORT
PRICE From $45,000 (est)
WARRANTY 5 years/unlimited km
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINE 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo, 205kW/390Nm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed dual-clutch auto, FWD
SPARE None; inflation kit
0-100KM/H 5.8 secs
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