Renault Megane RS 280 Cup: Hard to the core

The Renault Megane RS 280 bears all the hallmarks of a storming drive – 280hp and 390Nm, first-in-class four-wheel steering, Cup chassis with mechanical slip diff, firmer damping and lowered ride, and unusually for our times, three pedals within the driver’s footwell. And it looks the business too in this gleaming shade of orange.

That’s a manual gear knob and those aren’t twin foot rests.

If only the story ended here. The Megane RS 280 Cup (hereon referred to as the RS 280) frustrated as much as it titillated over the course of the test drive; a head scratcher of a hot hatch because we are well aware that Renault knows how to make stonking hot hatches.

Orange Tonic paintwork costs an extra RM8,000.

It starts with how it rides – the foundation which separates great hot hatches from merely good ones. Remember the first generation Megane RS? It wasn’t the prettiest, but it demonstrated how a hot hatch can coexist with crappy roads, and that you can drive one daily without periodic visits to the chiropractor. So why is the RS 280 so fidgety and nervous?

Why so hard, Renault?

My humble guess is peer pressure. With the current crop of hot hatches showing off obnoxious levels of performance and technology (we are looking at you, Mercedes-AMG), Renault probably felt it necessary to square up to the heavy hitters, and in so doing tweaked the RS 280 far more aggressively than it needs to be.

The Megane RS 280 Cup wears 19-inch Bridgestones, stopping power is courtesy of Brembo.

While the RS 280 is apparently great for track work, besting the RS 265’s best lap in Sepang by three seconds, it has become less civilised on the road. The stiff damping really does anchor the RS 280 down to the tarmac, its Bridgestone Potenzas feeling as though they would never run out of grip, but the unyielding suspension also chokes the RS 280 of feedback – something which its predecessors were articulate and generous with.

Interior quality not quite the measure of a Golf, but Renault will tell you it’s all about the drive.

Surely then, the RS 280’s trump card lies in its 4Control four-wheel steering system; where the rear wheels turns in the opposite direction at low speeds (imagine how a forklift works but more subtly) up to an angle of 2.7 degrees, and in the same direction as the fronts at high speeds (up to 1 degree). All of this is supposed to enhance grip, stability and to make the RS 280 more ‘playful’, says Renault.

Four-wheel steering is an impressive innovation, but does the RS 280 need it?

In practice, the RS 280 does resist understeer doggedly and is prodigiously planted in corners, but 4Control also introduces a sense of vagueness when turning in, as if the rack is geared too quickly, the experience not helped by the steering’s light, muted responses. Like the quiet kid in class who aces all the tests, the RS 280 is clinical and effective, just not as memorable as before.

A different kind of Megane RS

At this point, a question has to be posed as to why a hatch with only a 2,669mm wheelbase even needs four-wheel steering, particularly when Renault already bossed the class when it came to handling. The resources could’ve been better spent on adaptive dampers to calm the ride down, or just better plastics for the interior, after all, the whole point of offering the RS 280 only as a five-door is to broaden its appeal as a hot hatch that’s happy take on daily chores.

The Megane RS has a lower engine capacity than before but a higher output at 280hp and 390Nm.

It’s actually fine that the RS 280’s new 1.8-litre direct-injection turbo four-pot is slightly laggy down low, it’s also okay that the gear change doesn’t like to be rushed and is nowhere near as slick as a Type R, past Megane RS-es were great despite these imperfections.

RS 280 goes faster, grips harder, but has it become too clinical?

Don’t get me wrong, the RS 280 is a far more potent hatch than before, it has more tricks when you give it full beans, but by altering the recipe that made previous Megane RS-es so liveable and accessible, at any speeds, Renault may have bitten off more than it can chew.

(The Renault Megane RS 280 Cup is available on a subscription basis, with plans ranging from one to three years, starting from RM2,999 per month.)

Renault Megane RS 280 Cup (MT)
: RM270,088.89  Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl, turbocharged, FWD  Output: 280hp and 390Nm  Transmission: 6-speed manual  Performance: 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds; top speed 255km/h  Wheels/tyres: 245/35R19  Safety: 6 airbags, Electronic Stability Control  Warranty: 3-year/100,000km