Equally odd are the car’s part-analogue, part-digital instruments, which consist of a square digital screen made up mainly of differently themed combinations of analogue rev counter and digital speedo. The system’s available screen space, however, is drastically curtailed by oversized analogue fuel level and water temperature gauges on either side of it. One bigger screen, with temperature and fuel information you could call up when needed (or at least scale to your preference), would have been a much more intelligent layout.
Details, perhaps. Still, they matter – especially since details also initially prevent you from enjoying the driving experience of the paddle shift-equipped car. The positioning and action of the shift paddles for the Mégane RS 280’s EDC gearbox are – by my reckoning, at least – plainly at fault here. Oh dear, I know: same record. But having been criticised so strongly for the Clio RS 200’s cheap and flimsy-feeling paddles, it’s amazing that Renault Sport should have repeated almost exactly the same offence with that car’s new bigger brother.
The Mégane’s shift paddles have better haptic feel than that in the Clio; the ‘crushed cornflake’ action is notable by its absence. But they remain awkwardly placed on the car’s steering column (displaced upwards by Renault’s trusty old column-mounted audio remote control) so they’re a slight stretch for your fingertips every time you need to grab a gear. They also lack that solid, defined action that’d tell you beyond question when you’ve successfully selected the next gear. They feel light and woolly, so it’s easy to half-pull one, then tug it again just to be sure, only to find you’ve accidentally upshifted twice. Annoying.
The EDC gearbox itself does a respectable job of managing the car’s gear ratios and gives you something more like that close, instinctive control over the driving forces going into the car’s front wheels than the Clio RS 200’s 'box ever managed. It’s much quicker on the upshift than on its way down the box, though, and nothing like as smooth or judicious with its shift timing in D as the better 'flappy paddle' hot hatches you might compare it with.
The Mégane RS 280’s six-speed manual gearbox is a much simpler, more intuitive and more satisfying thing to interact with, thankfully. Shift quality is well-defined and the car’s pedals are sufficiently well placed that most drivers who want to will easily be able to heel-and-toe their way down the ratios. There’s no ‘synchro rev-match’ function that’ll do it for you – but I don’t mind. Can’t heel-and-toe? Then learn to drive properly, numpty.
And what about that critical new mechanical oily bit that gearbox is connected to: the new Mégane RS engine? On this evidence, I’d say it’s strong enough; competitive with the prevailing standard for the average full-sized hot hatchback, certainly. But as a replacement for the old Mégane 275’s blown 2.0-litre engine, I’m not sure ‘better than average’ makes it worthy, actually. Because while the Mégane RS 280 has abundant real-world on-the-road performance, it’s not thanks to its engine. The motor’s torquey and free-ish-revving, but also sounds a bit ordinary, suffers a bit with iffy throttle response throughout the accelerator pedal travel and doesn’t breathe in and keep hauling with anything like the high-range urgency of a Civic Type R’s 2.0-litre engine. As hot hatchback engines go, it’s just alright.
Now, guess what’s better than alright? The chassis. Yup, better than alright. Balls to understatement – it’s sensational. The car steers faithfully, with useful weight and plenty of feel. But the deftness, suppleness and fluency of the ‘sport’-suspended car’s ride is outstanding on bumpy roads and is somehow set off against first-rate, progressive body control in a combination that no other hot hatchback in the class could match, I’d wager.