Renault has a rich history with hot hatches. The last two generations of Megane were benchmarks for performance, with the firm’s Renault Sport division creating cars that prioritised driver involvement.

After a hiatus there’s now a new Megane R.S., but while it’s not been on sale, a wealth of competitors have arrived. The Honda Civic Type R took the Best Hot Hatchback trophy at our New Car Awards and is fresh from a win against the VW Golf R Performance pack, but the R.S. is already here to challenge it.

Best hot hatchbacks on sale

As if the Renault doesn’t face a tough enough task, it will also have to rise to the challenge from the new kid on the block, Hyundai’s i30 N – in Performance trim here. Both these cars cost a similar amount and offer a similar power output to the latest Megane R.S.

So has there been a changing of the hot hatch guard, or does the Renault return to top spot when compared with its rivals from Honda and Hyundai

Renault Megane R.S.

Model:  Renault Megane R.S.280 Cup Chassis
Price: £28,995
Engine:  1.8-litre 4cyl turbo, 276bhp 
0-60mph:  6.1 seconds
Test economy:  29.6mpg/6.5mpl 
CO2:  161g/km  
Annual road tax:  £140

This Megane is the most sophisticated yet to emerge from Renault Sport’s Dieppe base in France, but is that enough to take victory here? It’s priced well, with this Cup chassis model costing from £28,995, but it’ll take more than affordability to beat the competition here. Let’s see how it fares.

Despite its slight power deficit, the Megane recorded strong straight-line performance in our track tests, sprinting from 0-60mph in 6.1 seconds. Traction off the line is strong thanks to that diff, but the Renault’s engine feels a little flat, and in Race mode the synthesised drone isn’t that appealing. The shortage of torque showed in gear, where it trailed the Civic.

But hot hatches like these are not all about acceleration. The best have to offer a chassis that rewards; and the Renault does. It doesn’t reveal its personality straight away; you have to push the car harder for it to highlight its deftness.

There’s plenty of grip, with weighty steering that offers a nice connection. In Race mode, the four-wheel steering turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at up to 62mph to improve agility, and you can definitely feel it.

But there are some inconsistencies to the way it works. Going into tight turns on the brakes, helping to turn in, the system sometimes doesn’t respond how you would expect (see Testers’ notes, below).

The damping works beautifully, though, and those hydraulic bump stops are a big factor. There’s plenty of control, which means good feedback from the chassis and, therefore, predictability. On really bumpy roads at high speeds, when there’s lots of energy being put into the suspension and the dampers are near the end of their travel, the hydraulic cushions mean the Megane stays controlled and composed.

This is what elevates the R.S. from a capable hot hatch to a good one, but the six-speed manual’s shift action – notchy and not so slick – holds it back, so questions remain over whether it’s a great one. 

Testers’ notes: “4Control sometimes feels as if it adds lots of agility. But sometimes it feels passive and doesn’t offer the same results, despite using just a subtly different driving style. It adds unnecessary complexity.” 

Honda Civic Type R

Model:  Honda Civic Type R GT
Price: £33,525
Engine:  2.0-litre 4cyl turbo, 316bhp 
0-60mph:  5.9 seconds
Test economy:  31.2mpg/6.7mpl 
CO2:  176g/km
Annual road tax:  £140

The Honda Civic Type R picked up the Best Hot Hatchback crown for the second year in a row at our New Car Awards recently. But the appetite for these cars is highlighted by the new Megane R.S., so can the Civic fight off yet another contender? We test it in £33,525 GT trim to find out.

There’s a huge level of performance on offer in the Type R. Its 400Nm of torque is the most here, on top of which it’s the lightest car here, so it was the most convincing performer at our test track.

Strong traction off the line thanks to that diff meant a 5.9-second 0-60mph sprint. In the taller gears between 50 and 70mph the Honda also held a four tenths advantage over the Renault, partly due to its shorter gearing, pulling 2,600rpm in sixth.

The gearbox is another big advantage for the Civic. It has the best shift action and doesn’t have the slightly obstructive feel of the Renault’s. Instead, it is open and mechanically detailed, which lets you shift quickly and with precision. The engine is strong, with huge punch low down, but for a turbo it revs hard all the way towards its red line.

The chassis is easily the equal of the drivetrain; it serves up a colossal level of grip. In Sport mode, the set-up is just right for typically torn British B-roads.

It controls the body with enough restraint that it doesn’t become unruly, like the Hyundai. Even in the +R setting it’s acceptable, cornering with less roll. Still it’s best on smoother surfaces or the track, because bigger mid-corner bumps can upset the chassis.

By contrast, the compliance in Comfort mode makes the Civic genuinely usable; much more so than its predecessor or its rivals here. It’s forgiving and rides as well as some family hatchbacks, with a plush, controlled feel to the damping.

Testers’ notes: “Looks can be deceiving. Despite the Civic’s hardcore styling, which is bound to split opinion, it’s the most usable, easy to live with and comfortable car of the three, thanks to its supple suspension.” 

Hyundai i30 N

Model:  Hyundai i30 N Performance
Price: £28,010
Engine:  2.0-litre 4cyl turbo, 271bhp 
0-60mph:  6.7 seconds
Test economy:  29.4mpg/6.5mpl 
CO2:  163g/km
Annual road tax:  £140

The Hyundai i30 N hot hatch arrived on the scene to great fanfare last year. It upset the establishment and landed some thudding blows on its rivals. Not least for price. We’re testing the i30 N Performance model here, which starts from £28,010.

On first impressions the i30 N is the most obviously aggressive car here. Start it up and in the exhaust’s loudest mode the engine blares into life before settling into an angry burble from its twin tailpipes. It sounds like a rally car.

This aggression continues on the move. In the suspension’s softest mode the i30 still feels stiff and unyielding. Over the same roads in the Hyundai you feel more vertical movement in the driver’s seat as your body is thrown more aggressively by bumps.

It doesn’t feel quite as settled as the Renault or as composed as the Honda. Stepping up to the stiffest mode should really be reserved for super-smooth tarmac or race tracks; more so than in the Civic.

As a result, the i30 isn’t as comfortable as its rivals, but nor does it inspire as much confidence because you have to make multiple small corrections to the weighty steering – which gives a nice, solid feel, even if it doesn’t offer as much feedback as the other two – to keep the car in check at higher speeds. Even though the diff isn’t as effective as either unit fitted to its competitors, traction is still okay and as long as you’re slow into and fast out of turns, the N romps on down the straights.

That engine has an effervescent character, the noise adding to the raucously fun feel. It revs sweetly and has a nicer gearchange than the Renault’s; it’s more precise, but can’t match the Honda’s delicious shift.

Performance is not in question. Despite being heavier and down on power, the i30 N still sprinted from 0-60mph in 6.7 seconds at the track. It was two tenths faster than the Renault from 30 to 70mph through the gears, highlighting its sweeter shift.

The Hyundai actually matched or bettered the R.S. in gear, too. Its 378Nm of torque on overboost comes in at 1,750rpm, much lower than the Renault’s top figure, which explains why the i30 had stronger pull.

Testers’ notes: “N Stands for Nürburgring and Namyang, where the i30 N was developed. The firm drafted in ex-BMW M Division boss Albert Biermann to head up the new N Performance model line, and to great effect.”

Verdict 

First place: Honda Civic Type R

The Type R fights off its closest challenge yet to retain its crown. Although it’s pricier, the engine and gearbox are great. The Honda’s chassis is the most capable, helped by a broader operating range at both ends of the spectrum. It offers enough practicality and a good level of kit, while it’ll be economical to run, too. The extra ability the Type R offers is worth the price premium.

Second place: Renault Megane R.S.

Renault Sport has yet again delivered a strong hot hatch, but the R.S. isn’t quite as rewarding to drive as much of the time as the Civic. It’s a little more practical and the infotainment is slightly better. While the Megane balances kit and cost, and will be slightly cheaper to run than the Honda overall, it doesn’t have the Type R’s depth or its straight-line poke, despite its solid chassis.

Third place: Hyundai i30 N

Every time we drive the i30 N we’re reminded just how good a first effort it is from Hyundai. It’s focused and visceral, but compared with its rivals it lacks that last sheen of polish in the damping. It doesn’t feel as special inside and isn’t quite as practical, either. However, if you’re on a tighter budget then it will easily cope with the daily grind, and thrill you when it has the chance. 

Other options in this category…

Peugeot 308 GTi

Peugeot 308 GTi - front

Price: £28,595
Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 268bhp 

The 308 GTi is right on the Megane’s money. It gets a proper diff, uprated brakes and a sweet chassis. The 1.6 engine might be smaller, but it packs a punch and revs hard. The gearbox is a weak link.

SEAT Leon Cupra 300

SEAT Leon Cupra 300 2017 - front cornering

Price: £30,495
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 296bhp

With a strong engine, the Leon Cupra has performance to match its rivals. It isn’t quite as engaging, plus it’s a little pricier, but it offers similar practicality. It’s available with manual or DSG transmissions, too.

Figures

Honda Civic Type R GT Renault Megane R.S.280 Cup Chassis Hyundai i30 N Performance
On the road price/total as tested £33,525/£33,525 £28,995/£34,345 £28,010/£28,595
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000) £13,511/40.3% £12,001/41.4% £12,624/45.1%
Depreciation £20,014 £16,994 £15,386
Annual tax liability std/higher rate £2,314/£4,628 £1,876/£3,752 £1,811/£3,622
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles) £2,256/£3,759 £2,377/£3,962 £2,394/£3,989
Insurance group/quote/road tax cost 40/£443/£140 35/£534/£140 28/£395/£140
Cost of servicing £599 (5yrs) £99 (3yrs) £699 (3yrs)
Length/wheelbase 4,557/2,699mm 4,372/2,669mm 4,335/2,650mm
Height/width 1,434/1,877mm 1,445/1,874mm 1,447/1,795mm
Engine 4cyl in-line/1,996cc 4cyl in-line/1,798cc 4cyl in-line/1,998cc
Peak power/revs  316/6,500 bhp/rpm 276/6,000 bhp/rpm 271/6,000 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs  400/2,500 Nm/rpm 390/2,400 Nm/rpm 378/1,750 Nm/rpm
Transmission  6-speed man/fwd 6-speed man/fwd 6-speed man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel 46 litres/repair kit 50 litres/repair kit 50 litres/space saver
Boot capacity (seats up/down) 420/1,209 litres 384/1,247 litres 381/1,287 litres
Kerbweight/payload 1,380/380kg 1,407/498kg 1,429/521kg
Turning circle 12.6 metres 10.3 metres 11.6 metres
Basic warranty/recovery 3yrs (60,000)/3yrs 3yrs (60,000)/3yrs 5yrs (unltd)/5yrs
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos. 3rd/2nd* 24th/27th* 15th/12th*
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars 92/75/75/88/5 (2017) 88/87/71/71/5 (2015) 88/84/64/68/5 (2017)
0-60/30-70mph 5.9/4.3 secs 6.1/5.4 secs 6.7/5.2 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th 2.2/3.4 secs 2.6/3.6 secs 2.4/3.1 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th 3.8/5.7 secs 4.3/6.1 secs 4.3/5.4 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph  169mph/2,600rpm 158mph/2,550rpm 155mph/2,500rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph  46.3/31.8/10.8m 45.3/33.9/11.2m 50.0/35.9/10.8m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph 69/52/66/73dB 62/47/69/74dB 70/53/67/73dB
Auto Express econ. (mpg/mpl)/range 31.2/6.7/316 miles 29.6/6.5/326 miles 29.4/6.5/323 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined  28.8/43.5/36.7mpg 30.1/47.1/39.8mpg 29.1/49.6/39.8mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined  6.3/9.6/8.1mpl 6.6/10.4/8.8mpl 6.4/10.9/8.8mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket 209/176g/km/36% 220/161g/km/33% 222/163g/km/33%
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/camera Six/yes/yes/yes Six/yes/yes/£400 Six/yes/yes/yes
Auto box/lane keep/blind spot/AEB  No/yes/yes/yes £1,700/£250^/£500/£400 No/yes/no/yes
Climate ctrl/cruise/leather/heat seats Yes/yes/no/no Yes/yes/no/£1,200** Yes/yes/part/£300**
Metallic/LEDs/keyless go/pwr tailgate £525/yes/yes/no £550/yes/yes/no £585/yes/yes/no
Sat-nav/digi dash/DAB/connect apps Yes/yes/yes/yes Yes/yes/yes/yes Yes/no/yes/yes
Wireless charge/CarPlay/Android Auto Yes/yes/yes No/yes/yes Yes/yes/yes

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