Subaru WRX VS Renault Megane
- Huge AWD fun
- Signature turbo engine
- Still decent safety
- CVT auto. Really?
- Feeling old inside
- Rough around town
- Sexy looks
- You can still get a manual!
- More practical than before
- Four-wheel steering adds complexity
- Interior little differentiated from GT
- Rear legroom
For many folks around my age, the Subaru WRX holds a special place in the heart.
This is because those of us born from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s are the so-called “PlayStation generation.” Growing up at a time where videogames bridged the gap from 2D to 3D leads to a lot of imprinted memories, a lot of digital firsts, which wowed and inspired, and a lot of rapid-fire nostalgia as hardware advancements left once-thriving game franchises in the dust.
It was also high time for the World Rally Championship's well-regarded Group A rally category, which forced manufacturers to make cars much closer to their production counterparts. It was frequently dominated by none other than the Subaru WRX.
Combine these two worlds and you end up with a lot of kids feeling like they could do anything in Subaru’s newfound performance hero from the comfort of their bedrooms, many of whom would go on to buy a second-hand one to slap P plates on as soon as they could.
Read more about the WRX
It was a perfect storm and made the WRX the right car at the right time to put a previously small-time brand well and truly on the performance map.
The question with this test is: Should those kids, now in their late 20s or 30s, still be considering Subaru’s halo car? Or, now that it’s the oldest product in Subaru’s catalogue, should they wait for the imminent reveal of the new one? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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|
Although it's now the oldest car in Subaru’s catalogue, there’s nothing really quite like the WRX on the market. This is a car which is true to its roots, a rugged performance stalwart that comes with dollops of fun and compromise in equal measure.
Thanks to Subaru’s updates over the years, it’s fared better than some when it comes to technology and safety, but I’d still implore you to pick the manual to truly experience this car as nature intended.
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.
I think Subaru was gunning for subtlety with the non-STi WRX. For a performance car, the design is a little sedate, with the WRX looking perhaps a little conservative to really stand apart from its Impreza sedan sibling, despite diverging from it some years ago.
There’s no mistaking the rally profile of the full-fat STi, with its huge wing and even bigger wheels, but here in the WRX premium it’s all a little toned down. Still, fans will love the absurd bonnet scoop, angry-looking alloys and quad exhaust. It’s stanced out a little by some flared bodywork, but the tiny lip spoiler at the back robs it of a bit of street cred. Perhaps it's to encourage you into the significantly more expensive STi…
Despite its relative age, though, the WRX still fits into Subaru’s lineup nicely. It has all the hallmarks; the small grille, the angled LED headlights, and the signature tall profile. The chunkiness is all there, too, both on the outside, with its flared bodywork and exaggerated scoop, and on the inside, with thick leather clad seat trim, and a chunky, satisfying steering wheel.
The abundance of red lighting in the dash cluster is reminiscent of the heyday of Japanese performance cars of years past, and while it’s not as plush on the inside as Subaru’s newer products, it’s not disappointing either, with nice use of soft trims.
The plethora of screens feels unnecessary, and the 7.0-inch multimedia unit is feeling very small now, compared to most more recent cars. At least the software has been updated since 2018 to have the more recent system used in the Impreza, Forester, and Outback. It’s simple and easy to use.
Compared to those Subarus, though, the WRX’s interior is feeling a little tired. It’s a bit small, and things like the CD drive and nastier plastic trims smattered around remind of days past for Subaru. It's a good thing the new WRX is coming soon.
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.
Compared to the more forward-thinking designs in Subaru Global Platfrom vehicles, the WRX is feeling a little claustrophobic on the inside. Still, you could do much worse in a performance car.
Front passengers get nicely trimmed bucket-style seats with good side bolstering. Like a lot of Subarus, the seating position isn’t exactly sporty. You sit quite high, and for someone my 182cm height, it feels as though you’re peering down over the bonnet a little. Aside from that, height adjustability is pretty good from the electric seat, and there is a small bottle holder in the door, plus dual cupholders in the centre, a small centre-console box, and a small tray under the climate unit.
Overall, the dark trims in here conspire to make the WRX’s cabin feel a bit tight. This continues for rear passengers. The WRX really is a small sedan and room isn’t great for me behind my own driving position, with my knees touching the front seat. I have to duck a little to get under the sedan’s roofline to get in, and while the decent trim continues, the seat feels a little high and flat.
Rear passengers get pockets on the backs of the front seats, a drop-down armrest with two cupholders, and a decent bottle holder in the doors. There are no adjustable rear air vents or power outlets, however.
Being a sedan, the WRX has a rather deep boot, coming in at 450-litres (VDA). This rivals some mid-size SUVs, but it’s worth noting the space isn’t quite as usable, with a small loading aperture, and it’s a little tight when it comes to the available height. Still, it consumed our largest 124-litre CarsGuide suitcase with ample space to spare.
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.
Price and features
The WRX Premium auto tested for this review is a sort of mid-spec variant. Wearing an MSRP of $50,590, it sits above the standard WRX auto ($43,990), but below the more hard-core WRX STi ($52,940 – manual only).
When you look for rivals, it’s a harsh reminder of the distinct lack of small performance sedans in today’s market. You might consider Subaru’s hero against the front-drive Golf GTi (Auto -$47,190), Skoda Octavia RS (Sedan auto - $51,490), and Hyundai i30 N Performance (manual only - $42,910). There’s a more direct rival coming soon in the form of the i30 N Performance sedan, which will also be available with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto, so look out for that in the near future, too.
While it's now the oldest Subaru on sale by quite a margin, the WRX has been augmented in recent times to offer more up-to-date features.
Standard are mean-looking 18-inch alloys clad in skinny Dunlop Sport rubber, full LED lighting, Subaru’s typical assault of screens, including a smallish looking 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (mercifully with updated software since I last drove this car), a 3.5-inch multifunction display in the instrument cluster, and a 5.9-inch dash-top-mounted display screen, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a CD player (how quaint), leather-accented interior trim, eight-way adjustable power seat for the driver, heated seats for front passengers, dual-zone climate control, and privacy tint for the rear windows.
The continuously variable automatic makes up the majority of WRX sales, so I’m told, which is particularly disappointing to hear. Especially given it’s a $3200 jump over the manual, and tarnishes the drive experience. More on this in the Driving section.
The WRX also comes with a safety suite that is impressive for a car of its vintage, which we’ll look at in the Safety section. Getting on it may be, but the WRX is surprising in how well it holds its own on the value front.
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'.
Engine & trans
The WRX’s engine is a tuned-up version of Subaru’s signature horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder. In this case it’s a 2.0-litre turbo unit (FA20) producing 197kW/350Nm, ample for a little sedan like this.
Disappointingly for me, our particular WRX premium was an automatic, and it’s not a great one. While most performance cars will drop in a lightning fast dual-clutch, or at least have the decency to offer a classic torque converter with clearly defined ratios, Subaru falls back on its rubbery continuously variable automatic, as derided in the rest of its mainstream range by enthusiasts.
We’ll explore this more in the Driving section of this review. It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, but it still doesn’t belong in a car like this.
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.
Fuel consumption is likely to be at the bottom of your list of concerns when it comes to a small performance sedan, but on the official/combined testing cycle, this car will consume a claimed 8.6L/100km of mid-shelf 95RON unleaded.
Over our week of mostly urban testing, our car produced an unsurprising 11.2L/100km, which is actually under the official urban number of 11.8L/100km. Not bad for a performance car, really.
The WRX has a relatively large fuel tank for its size at 60-litres.
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.
It truly pains me that this car is an automatic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with an automatic performance car. Dual-clutch iterations of cars like the Golf R are great, but the WRX automatic is a CVT.
This transmission isn’t great in the brand’s regular range, let alone in a performance application, where snappy response and a predictable, linear riding out of the rev-range are really necessary to extract maximum enjoyment.
I was surprised to find the CVT isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps through sheer torque, the WRX does hammer into its 2400rpm peak torque band rather quickly, for an immediately impressive 0-100km/h sprint of around six seconds, but it’s beyond this point where you’ll start to get dull, rubbery, and occasionally hesitant response from the accelerator. Not particularly appealing attributes when you’re carving up a few corners.
Handling-wise, the WRX is excellent with its robust all-wheel-drive system and firm-to-a-fault suspension. This makes it a true joy to fling around bends, with equally firm and rewarding steering giving you a truly organic and controlled handle on what’s going on at the wheels.
Subaru’s boxer engine gives the WRX a signature gruff sound under acceleration, with some turbo noise to boot, but with this particular transmission you won’t be getting the satisfying turbo blips you can extract with a swift kick of a clutch pedal in the manual.
Driving it around town every day is a little rough, with a brittle and busy ride, while the heavy steering will get on your nerves when you’re just trying to park the thing.
The firm ride, large wheels, and slim tyres makes the cabin noisy at all speeds, and occasionally sends shockwaves through the front of the car if you’re unfortunate enough to hit a pothole. It’s hardly the most pleasant companion to have on a freeway.
Honestly, if you’re after an automatic performance car, there are better options out there both in terms of response and everyday comfort, although none are quite like a WRX. I’d implore you to pick the manual if you can, it’s a better, more engaging experience in every way.
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.
In good news for the WRX, Subaru’s signature EyeSight suite is mostly present here, albeit a slightly older version than the one that appears in its newer products. Regardless, key active items include auto emergency braking (works to 85km/h with brake-light recognition), lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.
It misses out on reverse auto braking from more modern Subarus but features active torque vectoring to add to the standard suite of electronic aids like traction, brake, and stability controls.
The WRX has a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, although it dates way back to 2014, well before active safety items were even considered.
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.
Annoyingly, the WRX requires six-monthly or 12,500km service intervals, a hold-over from Subarus past. It’s not cheap, either, with each six-monthly visit costing between $319.54 and $819.43 (ouch) for the first 10 visits covering five years of ownership. It averages out to $916.81 per year for the first five years. These are numbers which rival some premium European options.
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.