Renault Megane VS Abarth 595
- Sexy looks
- You can still get a manual!
- More practical than before
- Four-wheel steering adds complexity
- Interior little differentiated from GT
- Rear legroom
- Good engine/chassis combo
- Surprising grip levels
- Terrible driving position
- Ride not great around town
- No reversing camera
More power, more wheelarches, more steering, more doors and more transmissions. Aside from possibly the doors part, it's all sounding pretty rosy for the new third generation of Renault's Megane R.S. hot hatch.
The current Clio R.S. has followed a similar formula to great effect, improving its overall sales figures drastically, but it's fair to say it's lost a certain je ne sais quoi for the purists who've grown to worship the brand.
Selling cars vs brand building is always a tricky balance for car companies, but the previous Megane R.S. is giving the new model a handy head start with Australia being its third biggest market in the world.
Wander down the pit lane at any track day or tarmac rally, and you're bound to come across a handful of previous models. Often more than any other hot hatch, which is a clear sign of approval from those in the know who work their cars hard.
Will the new model build on that legacy? We were among the first to drive the new R.S. on road and track to find out at its Australian launch this week.
|Engine Type||1.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Since 1949, Abarth has been giving the venerable Italian brand, Fiat, a patina of performance, based largely on giant-killing feats in small modified cars like the Fiat 600 of the 1960s.
More recently, the brand has been revived to boost the fortunes of the smallest Fiat on sale in Australia. Known formally as the Abarth 595, the tiny hatch packs a bit of a surprise under its distinctive snout.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The new Megane R.S. is objectively a better car overall, and will probably appeal to more people, but it's not quite as special as the model it replaces.
It will be telling if the expected Trophy R flagship retains the all-wheel steering system, but in base R.S. guise its benefits are questionable.
It's an excellent hot hatch regardless, particularly on public roads, and I reckon it's at its best with the EDC transmission and the Alcantara and Bose option boxes ticked.
Do you think the new Megane R.S. is a step forward or sideways for Renault Sport? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
It’s tough to be kind to the Abarth 595. Based on a platform that’s more than a decade old, the car has been left behind by its rivals in many ways, including basic ergonomics and its value equation.
The larger engine does work well in this smaller package, and its road-holding ability belies its size. However, only die-hard fans of the Abarth brand will be able to cope with the uncomfortable seating position and a complete lack of even the most perfunctory features that cars costing $10,000 less are able to offer.
Could you look past the Abarth 595's foibles? Let us know in the comments below.
You can't miss those bulging wheelarches on all four corners, which are needed to cover the 19-inch alloy wheels and tracks which have been widened by 60mm at the front and 45mm at the rear. They cost Renault a lot of money to change over the regular Megane, and no other current hot hatch manages to do it.
The front guards also feature functional air extraction vents and the look is capped with completely different front and rear bumpers and a central exhaust. Unlike most of its rivals, the rear diffuser is able to generate downforce in lieu of a big rear spoiler. The body kit is completed by fatter and lower sills on either side, and other dimensions are largely the same as a regular Megane hatch.
You won't mistake it for just any Megane from the outside, but the interior is a bit more subdued. If you're looking to trade up from the existing Megane GT, the only real changes you'll notice will be carbon-look inlays on the dash and doors and an R.S. logo on the steering wheel.
Aside from R.S. logos on the headrests, the front seats look outwardly similar to the sports seats in the GT, too, but have been treated to specific shaping and materials to balance everyday driving with the extra bolstering required for the track.
Despite being based on a design that’s a decade old, the Abarths still stand out. Based on the classic Fiat 500 shape of the 1950 and '60s, it’s more cute than cut-throat, with a narrow track and tall roof giving it a toy-like presence.
The Abarth attempts to beef things up with deep front and rear bumper splitters, go-fast stripes, new headlights and alternate-colour wing mirrors.
The 595 rides on 16-inch rims, while the Competizione runs 17s.
Inside, it’s definitely different to most mainstream cars, with colour-coded plastic panels on the dash and a very upright seating position, along with a dual-tone steering wheel.
It’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. There’s no middle ground here.
Unlike the last generation, the new model is a five-door hatch. This may not be as sexy as the three door, swooping coupe roofline of before, but it makes the R.S. a whole lot easier to live with.
Access is the number one benefit though, as the regular Megane's back seat is somewhat lacking in legroom, which is further compounded by limited toe room underneath the sport front seats.
The other big practicality must-haves are retained though, with two cupholders front and rear and bottle holders in each door. There are ISOFIX child seat mounts in the outboard positions, and it also gets the same 434-litre boot space as a regular Megane hatch, which is pretty decent for its class.
You'll only find an inflation kit instead of a spare tyre though, regardless of whether the Bose audio system is optioned.
This is another area where the Abarth falls down. First and foremost, the seating position for the driver in both cars is utterly compromised.
The seat itself is mounted far, far, too high, and has little adjustment in any direction, and there is no reach adjustment in the steering wheel column to allow a taller (or even an average height) driver to get comfortable.
The more expensive Competizione we tested was fitted with a set of optional sports bucket seats from racing company Sabelt, but even they are mounted literally 10cm too high. They are also ultra firm, and even though they look supportive, lack decent side bolster support.
The tiny multimedia screen is okay to use, but the buttons are miniscule, while there’s a complete lack of storage places in the front.
There are two cupholders under the centre console, with two more in between the front seats for rear seat passengers. There are no bottle holders in the doors and no storage for rear seaters.
Speaking of the rear seats, they are the very definition of cramped, with little headroom for moderately sized adults and precious little knee or toe room. There are two sets of ISOFIX baby seat mounting points, though, should you fancy wrestling your wriggling toddlers through the narrow aperture.
The seats flip forward to reveal more cargo space (185 litres with the seats up, and 550 litres when the seats are down), but the seat backs don’t fold flat into the floor. Under the boot floor is a can of sealant and a pump, but no space saver spare.
In truth, it was a long day testing this car… at 187cm, I simply could not get comfortable in it at all.
Price and features
The new R.S. kicks off $1000 higher than the previous R.S. 265 Cup starting point with a list price of $44,990 with the manual transmission. The EDC auto adds $2500, but the overall price list is still among the best value in its class.
It sits below key rivals like the recently revised $45,490 Golf GTI and the 308 GTis $45,990 starting point, and significantly below the identically priced $50,990 Civic Type R and all-wheel drive Focus RS, as well as the Golf R at $56,490.
However, the Renault is still trumped by the i30 N's $39,990 starting point, as well as entry-level offerings such as the $38,990 Ford Focus ST.
Only one Renault Megane Sport trim level is available for now, with the recently revealed Trophy due to be added in around 12 months. How much it will cost is yet to be determined.
Out of the box, the new R.S. features an 8.7-inch multimedia system capable of displaying performance analytics including acceleration, braking, and wheel angle. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity is also now built in, as is GPS sat nav.
It also gains R.S. badging, sport seats, a perforated leather steering wheel and shifter, dual-zone climate control, and heated folding side mirrors.
The only performance option at this stage is the Cup pack, which for just $1490 gets you a Torsen limited slip differential, a sharper suspension tune, red Brembos with two piece rotors that lower the unsprung mass by 1.8kg per corner, and a whole bunch of little detail changes under the skin. You can pick the Cup pack visually by its black versions of the standard wheels.
You can also upgrade the standard cloth trim to Alcantara for an extra $1190, add a 10-speaker Bose sound system for $500, and a panoramic sunroof for $1990.
The new 'Tonic Orange' hero colour is stunning, but it and the now classic 'Liquid Yellow' will set you back a further $880, while other metallic hues will cost $600. The only non-metallic colour is actually 'Glacier White', with the rest of the colours made up of 'Pearl White', 'Diamond Black', 'Titanium Grey' and 'Flame Red'.
The range has been stripped back to just two cars, and costs has come down slightly, with the 595 now starting at $26,990, plus on-road costs.
A new 5.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with digital radio), a leather wrapped steering wheel, TFT dash display, rear parking sensors, alloy pedals, 16-inch alloy rims, and (front-only) adaptive dampers are standard on the base 595.
A convertible, or more accurately, a rag-top (cabriolet) version of the 595 is also available for $29,990.
The 595 Competizione is now a whopping $8010 cheaper at $31,990 with a manual gearbox, leather seats (Sabelt-branded sports buckets are optional), 17-inch alloys, a louder Monza exhaust, as well as front and rear adaptive Koni shocks, and Eibach springs.
Unfortunately, what stands out more on the Abarths is what they don’t come with. Auto lights and wipers, cruise control of any sort, driver aids including AEB and adaptive cruise… even a rear view camera is missing.
What’s more puzzling is that the Abarth’s architecture, though a decade old, has provision to accept at least a rear view camera.
Abarth’s explanation that the car’s home market doesn’t see these inclusions as important doesn’t really hold water, either.
Engine & trans
There's no point having the bulgiest wheelarches in the business if you can't back them up with actual strength, and the new Megane R.S. manages to squeeze out an extra 4kW and 30Nm over the previous R.S. 275.
Technically this new model is the R.S. 280 after its power output in metric horsepower (hp), but the output figure nomenclature seems to have taken a step back this time around in favour of just R.S..
Either way, the new totals are 205kW and 390Nm, with the former reached at 6000rpm and the latter available from a higher than usual 2400-4800rpm.
A twin scroll turbocharger is once again utilised, but the new engine drops from 2.0-litres to 1.8 and is shared with the new Alpine A110 sports car. The Alpine tune is just 185kW/320Nm though, and Renault claims the Megane R.S. spec is the most powerful 1.8-litre motor on the market.
The base engine has been co-developed with Nissan as part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, but features a specific cylinder head design in Renault form, with a reinforced structure and redesigned cooling passages. It also features plasma-lined cylinder bores like the Nissan GT-R. Previous Megane R.S. owners will be glad to learn that the new engine uses a timing chain instead of a timing belt.
Perhaps the biggest surprise with the new Megane R.S. is that it retains a six-speed manual transmission as its default choice, even though a six speed dual-clutch (EDC) automatic is now available as an option for the first time. This conflicts with the Clio's EDC-only specs these days.
The Megane's EDC is a tweaked version of that used in several other Renault models, but with bespoke gear ratios, shift tuning and strengthening to suit the R.S.'s high torque loads. The weight penalty over the manual is just 23kg.
Gears can be manually selected via the shifter or shift paddles behind the steering wheel, and shift times get faster as you move between 'Comfort'/'Normal', 'Sport' and 'Race' drive modes.
One unique feature is 'Multi Change Down' mode, which will automatically select the best gear for a corner if you hold down the downshift paddle when in Sport or Race drive modes.
The EDC transmission also has 'Launch Mode' to optimise standing start acceleration.
Drive is still sent through the front wheels, but the R.S. now scores four-wheel steering to help with slow speed agility and high speed stability.
The '4Control' system is also seen on the Megane GT, and steers the rear wheels by up to 2.7 degrees to tighten the turning circle at slower speeds, and transitions to follow the front wheels in parallel to effectively extend the wheelbase at higher speeds. This transition generally happens at 60km/h, but moves to 100km/h when Race mode is selected.
The Abarth 595 pair use the same 1.4-litre 'MultiJet' four-cylinder turbo engine in differing states of tune. The base car makes 107kW/206Nm, while the Competizione makes 132kW/250Nm, thanks to a freer-flowing exhaust, a larger Garrett-branded turbocharger and an ECU re-tune.
The base car can do 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, while the Competizione is 1.2 seconds quicker; the optional 'Dualogic' automatic is 0.2sec slower to the mark in both cars.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and neither car is fitted with a limited slip diff.
Renault claims an eight per cent fuel consumption improvement over the previous generation R.S., which leaves the new model with official combined figures of 7.4L/100km for the manual and 7.5 for the EDC.
As you'd expect with such a specific output, top-shelf 98 RON unleaded is needed, and the 50-litre fuel tank suggests a theoretical range between fills of at least 666km.
Over 150km of testing, the Competizione consumed a dash-indicated 8.7 litres per 100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 6.0L/100km. Our brief test of the 595 revealed a similar number, against the same claimed figure.
The Abarth will only accept 95 octane fuel or better, and its small 35-litre tank is good for a theoretical 583km between fills.
Now for the important part.
I always felt the previous Megane R.S. was as if Porsche had been involved, and an assurance that if the Zuffenhausen brand does end up building front-wheel drive models it wouldn't be the end of the world.
It was so direct, tight as a drum and predictable. What you put into it is exactly what it gave back, so the new one has big shoes to fill.
We drove the standard car with the EDC transmission, as well as the Cup pack with the manual transmission around town, and put the R.S.'s money where its mouth is on track with the Cup pack at the Norwell Motorplex in Queensland.
Beyond those fantastic looks, the seats, the steering wheel and the raspy exhaust note are spot on for an R.S.
The steering itself is quite nice, too, no doubt due largely to the front suspension's specific 'independent steering axis' steering knuckles, which move the steering axis 13mm closer to the hub face on each side to reduce torque and bump steer.
You'd expect it to ride like a rollerskate based on the 35 series rubber at each corner, but the ride comfort is actually quite livable.
This continues right through the spectrum of road conditions, with the crashiness that some hot hatches suffer over big bumps absent. This is likely due to its hydraulic compression stop dampers, which effectively puts a dampening bump stop within each shock absorber to create second stage dampening instead of a sudden thud. The new R.S. is proof that you don't have to be harsh to be fast.
The EDC transmission's tune is much nicer than in any other Renault I've experienced, regardless of drive mode, with responsive automatic shifts and quick manual shifts when needed. The manual is also fine, but the fat gear lever doesn't feel as mechanical as I'd like in a driver's car.
The new engine's smaller capacity makes itself known around town, with max torque not available until 2400rpm. Most current turbos manage this sooner, but it's worth noting that the new engine does manage to deliver peak torque 600rpm earlier than the previous 2.0-litre. Once you're underway though, it feels every bit of its 205kW/390Nm.
The 4Control all-wheel steering is largely undetectable under general driving conditions, but when it does become apparent (when you're having fun), it's pros also bring a few cons.
If you're heading through a bunch of corners of varying speeds, which let's face it, most twisty roads do, it's mildly annoying how the all-wheel steering shifts between modes, particularly if it happens mid corner. Think of it as a variable wheelbase and you'll get an idea of what I mean.
The torsion beam rear suspension on the other hand feels fine, and a more complex independent set-up would certainly push the new model's 34-57kg weight gain much higher. For the record, the manual weighs 1427kg, while the EDC is 1450.
The Norwell Motorplex circuit may be dead flat, but its surface is quite bumpy and therefore handy for performance testing a road car.
Once again, the new R.S.'s fundamentals seem fine, and the Cup's stiffer suspension didn't make it skittish on the circuit.
It puts the power down brilliantly through the Torsen diff and 245-section tyres, allowing you to get on the power much earlier and its amazing how it hauls for a 1.8 litre in a near-1.5 tonne car. The official 0-100km/h acceleration claim with either transmission is an impressive (for a front driver) 5.8s, which is also in line with the previous generation's Trophy R ultimate incarnation.
Those 355mm front Brembos reign it in nicely too, retaining a consistent feel after five or so laps of Norwell where we saw 155km/h along the back straight.
The all-wheel steering's effects are more obvious on the track, with quite a few of the corners straddling the 60km/h transition point in all modes aside from Race. The long sweeper straddles the 100km/h transition point in Race, so that's hardly the solution. You're effectively switching wheelbase lengths depending on which corner you're in, and often mid-corner.
It isn't drastic or dangerous, but it adds another dimension to your judgement of corner speeds that would take some getting used to.
Salvation is likely at hand though, as I learned after our drive that it's possible to turn off the 4Control system via the Perso drive mode that allows elements to be adjusted independently. We can't wait to give that a crack.
Ergonomics aside, the combination of torquey engine and lightweight car is always a good one, and the 1.4-litre turbocharged four is a good match with the front-drive Abarth.
There’s always enough mid-range urge to give the Abarth the hurry-up, and the longer-legged five-speed gearbox is a good match for the engine.
It also grips and turns surprisingly well, despite the Sport button adding too much artificial weight to the Abarth’s steering feel.
That same button also firms up the front dampers on the 595 and all four on the Competizione, which works well on smoother terrain, but stiffens it too much over more undulating surfaces.
Around town it can be hard to strike a good balance between ride and comfort. The difference between soft and firm is much more pronounced in the Competizione, but it will still get tiring if your commute is a bumpy one.
The turning circle, by the by, is ridiculously large for such a small car, making u-turns - already compromised by the lower front bumper - unnecessarily fraught.
The Monza exhaust on the Competizione gives it a bit more presence, but it could easily be louder (or at least more crackly) again; you’re not buying this car to be a wallflower, after all.
All variants are equipped with front, side and curtain airbags that extend to the back seat, plus the usual suite of stability and traction control functions and front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
Despite a lack of electronic safety aids – and, somewhat amazingly in the current age, a rear-view camera – the Fiat 500 that forms the Abarth's basis still carries the maximum five-star rating from ANCAP it was awarded in 2008, by dint of its seven airbags and bodyshell strength.
It wouldn’t have the same luck if it were judged under new ANCAP regs coming into force in 2018, though.
One detail you should be aware of is that Renault Sport models have dropped back to a three year warranty as of May 1, 2018. Kilometres are still unlimited, but all other Renault passenger models carry a five year term.
Service intervals are a decent 12 months or 20,000km, and the first three services are capped at $399 each.
If any reliability issues arise, you'll likely find them on our Megane R.S. problems page.
A three-year/150,000km warranty is offered as standard on the Abarth 595 range, with a suggested service interval of 12 months or 15,000km.
Abarth importer Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia offers three fixed-priced services for the 595 range at 15,000, 30,000 and 45,000km, with the first costing $275.06, the second $721.03 and the third $275.06.