Honda Civic Type R to Ford Focus RS, via the Peugeot 308 GTI, VW Golf GTI, Hyundai i30 N and more, this is a golden era for the hot hatch buyer. But what makes this Megane Renault Sport special is that it brings yet another new angle to the hot hatch party - chiefly in the form of four-wheel steering, but also because the team behind the car has resisted being lured into a power race.
That team is lead by Patrice Ratti, formerly of the Renault F1 team back when fat slicks, big wings and 1,000hp turbos were de rigueur, and now a long time boss of Renault Sport, who sums up the former decision thus: "What became clear was that we had two choices: to make a car without four-wheel steer and to make incremental improvements in every area over what had gone before, or to make the car with it and to make a step change in terms of improvements. The benefits go across every area of the car's dynamics - we have been able to rework the dampers, diffs, steering and more." A "step change" in dynamics over the previous Megane Renault Sport? That's a statement to whet the appetite...
Those with a long memory, or a (probably guiltily secreted) love affair for Lagunas, will recall that Renault has flirted with four-wheel steering before, most recently with the Megane GT that was launched last year. The logic, say engineers, is that four-wheel steer is now greatly improved in terms of capability and cost by improvements in the electronic control of the system.
So far, so good. But can 280hp and 288lb ft of torque, all from 1.8-litres, really cut the mustard in the face of its rivals, some of which have upwards of 20 per cent more power? That, according to Ratti, depends on what you want from your hot hatch.
"Our 0-62mph time is under six seconds - fast enough, I think," he says, without being drawn on an exact acceleration figure. "Crucially, at no point has the team sacrificed fun - which means agility - for top speed. That is never our goal and we are very happy with the results. It is a fun car, I promise."
To that end, Ratti highlights the engine's key numbers - peak power from 6,000rpm, a rev limit of 7,000rpm and peak torque from 2,400rpm - and the improvements that his team has made on the basic engine architecture that was first revealed under the bonnet of the Alpine A110. Essentially the same aluminium block, it benefits from a different, larger turbo and a new cylinder head that was developed in conjunction with the Renault Formula 1 team to a timescale that Ratti says "simply wouldn't have been possible for a road car company".
As you might imagine, Sport/EDC/18s is for those who want their Megane Renault Sport to have a broader bandwidth of abilities; so while it won't be ultimately as sharp on track, it will be that bit more comfortable, refined and less demanding to drive quickly. The Cup/manual/19s triumvirate, in contrast, is tuned to deliver maximum thrills for those who like to drive on the limit. And if your inner PH alarm is sounding at this point, wondering who on earth wouldn't go for the latter option, bear in mind that Renault Sport enjoys substantial sales in non-European markets including Asia, where the idea of changing gear using synchronised hand and foot movements is in nowhere near as cool as flicking steering wheel mounted paddles like those F1 drivers you watch on television. Each to their own - and thank goodness the Renault-Nissan Alliance parts bin has the right parts to offer both options, unlike for the EDC-only Clio.
Other points of note include the widened track (the front track is 60mm wider and the rear track 45mm than the standard Megane's), consequent blistered wheel arches, complete with air outlets, the rear spoiler and diffuser, central exhaust (the noise of which can be amplified in the cabin, if you choose) and the Volcanic Orange paintwork that may have had you blinking when you last glanced at the pictures.
Sold? We can't wait to try it, although even the most eager UK customers will have to wait until next spring to order it and next summer to have it on the driveway, for an expected asking price of just over £30,000. But there's also the prospect of yet faster models still to come, as with the Trophy and R26.R models of yesteryear. "I would never swap pleasure for speed - but an RS Trophy car will come," says Ratti. Bring it on!