Renault Megane GT: Driven

Let's be honest, it's difficult to get excited about a humble hatch. So when Renault invited PH to a very early drive of its all-new fourth generation Megane, it said we could drive the fastest GT version that's "developed by Renaultsport".

Thanks, but no thanks, we replied, we'll just wait for the actual Renaultsport Megane thanks very much.

Certainly more distinctive than previous Megane
Certainly more distinctive than previous Megane
That's not really an option though because, in a masterstroke of poor product planning, there will be an incredible 18-month gap between the final Megane RS 275 rolling off the production line this July before the all-new flagship arrives.

Until then, the new GT will hold the fort and be the fastest Megane money can buy. Best try it then.

Bucking all recent trends, the new-from-the-ground-up Megane that's based on the Renault-Nissan Alliance next-gen Common Module Family (CMF) platform isn't any lighter than the car it replaces; it's actually heavier. On paper by 4kg, in reality by a not inconsiderable 40kg (cheeky Renault's stated weight figure is without options).

In its defence, the body in white is significantly lighter than before despite the new Megane being 64mm longer, but with new equipment like autonomous braking and four-wheel steering the weight has piled back on.

Four-wheel steer with a torsion beam? It's been done!
Four-wheel steer with a torsion beam? It's been done!
Four-wheel fear
That's right, the Megane GT comes with the firm's 4Control four-wheel steer hardware. An engineering achievement, apparently, since it's not easy to make a rear-axle steer system work with a torsion beam. Renault has succeeded but that alone adds a hefty 35kg.

Having not driven a Porsche 991 GT3 RS I'm not familiar with how that car's four-wheel steer feels but, with a heavy old lump hanging over the rear axle, you can sympathise why it was needed - but for a small, reasonably light hatchback it smacks of engineering overkill, a marketing folly.

Power isn't a problem for the Megane though. It gets the 205hp 1.6-litre turbo from the Clio RS. What is a concern is that, instead of a six-speed manual, the turbo petrol is combined with a Getrag dual-clutch automatic - this time with seven speeds. Like the Clio RS, a manual is not an option.

At least the GT looks the part, adopting its lines from the handsome Talisman. Adding a dash of cool is the rear strip of LEDs lights, while a prominent 'Renaultsport' badge emblazoned on its rump tells you the Megane GT means business.

Climbing into the new cabin is a big relief. Firmly clamped into some supportive and comfortable sport seats, it feels like you're in a proper hot hatch.

In front of me, the new cabin is dominated by a huge Tesla-style 8.7-inch portrait infotainment screen. OK, there are a few dubious plastics, but the cool blue ambient lighting and full TFT dash scream a huge improvement in quality.

Talisman-esque front end works well
Talisman-esque front end works well
Mode swings
Manoeuvring at low speed, the added pair of steerable wheels instantly sees me over steering (not that kind) until, finally, my slow mind catches up and realises less steering lock is needed.

There's a choice of Perso, Neutral, Eco and Sport modes through the 'Multisense' driving mode selector, but then there's aIso an 'RS' button; of course that went on.

Exiting the airport, the little 1.6-litre is making some unusual noises; not pleasing induction or turbo noises, but weird mechanical groans and under bonnet rattles and creaks. Blame the cars being pre-production. All will be fixed before launch, Renault claims.

Flatten the throttle and the little 1.6-litre shows impressive pick-up thanks to its 207lb ft of torque from 2,400rpm. It feels quick enough for something clearly at the warm end of the hot hatch scale. With launch control activated the sprint to 62mph takes 7.1 seconds. Top speed is 145mph.

Noise continues to dominate. It doesn't take long before there's the realisation the next-gen Megane is another car to succumb to synthetic piped-in engine noise. Luckily in 'Perso' (not a brand of washing powder), you can personalise the settings and turn off the fakery.

The gearbox instantly is far smoother than in the Clio with only a little chuntering at low speed; up the pace though and it still misses the crispness, precision and reactions of the Volkswagen Group's DSG though. In RS mode, gear changes can also be over eager, but in Neutral it's too dopey. What is useful is a function that jumps more than one gear at a time on down changes using the left paddle.

At motorway speeds, the Megane is stable and quiet, save some wind buffeting from the door mirrors. But this isn't really telling us much. Time to find some corners...

Grippy when pushed, if not that involving
Grippy when pushed, if not that involving
Round the bend
The Megane and its four-wheel steer system certainly feels far more natural than the rather unnerving Laguna Coupe. Instead of the phantom oversteer of that car, you just get better turn-in and more mechanical grip, but no more than a well-balanced hot hatch.

On more challenging country roads the ride, even on smooth Portuguese roads, is surprisingly stiff. Damping, meanwhile, is excellent, the GT showing levels of composure Renaultsport models are famed for.

What isn't anywhere near as good is the GT's steering. At just 2.3 turns lock-to-lock it's 40 per cent quicker than the standard rack. Commendably, it doesn't feel overly quick but is numb, uninvolving and unpleasantly weighted off-centre.

In tighter turns, front-end grip is mighty but, ultimately, it's just grip. As a keen driver I can't help but miss the addictive feel of balancing and adjusting a car's attitude on the throttle, and feeling the rear axle help through bends too. It seems 4Control is an effective alternative but a less engaging one.

At dinner I speak to Renaultsport's technical boss, Thierry Landreau, to ask him why 4Control was considered necessary for the GT. Quick to admit real enthusiasts might not appreciate it, he points out the majority who buy it will and notice the added agility. Like the Clio RS, Landreau says Renault's aim with the fast fourth-gen Megane was to broaden its appeal.

Clio's engine and gearbox work well here
Clio's engine and gearbox work well here
Believe it or not, the current Clio RS200 EDC has outsold its predecessor by almost 40 per cent. The secret to its success? The reasons diehard fans have been chastising it for. Landreau says people who buy the hot Clio actually love its dual-clutch box, its practical five-door shape and added usability. In other words they don't miss the mini-Porsche 911 GT3 feel.

"From day one we had fantastic reviews for the old Clio 3, but these positive write-ups never translated into real sales. It was far too focused for that."

So does that mean the next Renaultsport Megane will lose its teeth? Landreau immediately clams up, not even confirming if the 4Control is destined for the RS - but did admit the system's weight is a big issue for a faster RS.

Transmission choice also remains undecided. Renaultsport's tech boss said the obvious choice would be to offer the Megane RS with both a manual and dual-clutch, but adds that Renaultsport needs to continue to act like a business. I'm not the only one to leave the table feeling worried about a future Megane RS with "broad appeal".

Interior a real step on in quality
Interior a real step on in quality
Diesel dream
The next morning we drove the 130hp 1.6-litre diesel and I'm glad we did. The steering is better, more linear, if still uncommunicative - but the balance and handling characteristics on the smaller 17-inch wheels (the GT rides on 18s) was far more involving.

At the limits, lifting off easily neutralises any tendency for understeer. As previously suspected, there's little need for 4Control other than its marketing appeal. We did miss the GT's dampers but buy the diesel if you're after the most engaging Megane. Really. And if all that hasn't put you off the fastest Megane GT, the price will.

It's expected to cost Β£25,000. For that money it's almost impossible to justify over the faster, better handling Ford Focus ST that's priced from Β£23,000. If you want an auto, both the Seat Leon FR and Skoda Octavia vRS DSGs are more enjoyable alternatives, which leaves the GT out in the wilderness for enthusiasts like us.

So what about the next Renaultsport Megane? As a building blocks go the stiffer CMF platform, despite its weight increase, must be a better foundation for a hot hatch than previous RS models. However, this shift in Rensultsport's philosophy is worrying; the pressure to chase sales by creating a less focused, better all-rounder with broader appeal makes it impossible not to conclude we're nearing the end of an era.

One thing's for sure, the current three-door Renaultsport Megane 275 has never looked so desirable. But be quick, you've only got until July 2016 to buy one.

: 1,616cc, four-cylinder turbo
Transmission: EDC seven-speed dual-clutch, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 205@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 207@2,400rpm
0-62mph: 7.1sec
Top Speed: 145mph (limited)
Weight: 1,392kg
MPG: 47
CO2: 134g/km
Price: Β£25,000 (est.)

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (16) Join the discussion on the forum

  • bimbeano 14 Dec 2015

    So the 275 will be the very last of the real Renaultsports, i even have a feeling the upcoming 2016 Alpine will be a car that has to be drivable for a lot of people ... better take my name of that list and start looking out for a 275 Trophy then ... .

  • mikebradford 14 Dec 2015

    I think overall the shape is a slight improvement (coupe excluding)
    In a rather bland segment this could be one of the visually more exciting options.

  • Hellbound 14 Dec 2015

    'The pressure to chase sales...'

    I'd wager it's the pressure to turn a profit and keep their workforce employed. Also the pressure to keep selling the Megane in the UK market and not withdraw another model.

    I was genuinely surprised the latest RS Clio has outsold its predecessor by 40%. Definitely a brave move by Renault. All of the negative reviews and comments I've read on forums matter for naught it seems. The market clearly wants one thing, while a tiny yet vocal minority crave something altogether more hardcore.

    Well done Renault and RenaultSport. The new car looks better to my eyes and will no doubt push those sales figures northwards.

  • burningdinos 14 Dec 2015

    What's with the headlights? Is the car crying?
    A decent looking hatch ruined by too many small details.

  • Alucidnation 14 Dec 2015

    Like that.

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