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Car reviews - Renault - Megane - range

Our Opinion

We like
Entry-level price, styling, comfort, equipment, luggage capacity, extra rear-seat practicality, driveability
Room for improvement
Mediocre handling, lazy automatic transmission, springy steering

Renault logo31 Mar 2004

By MARTON PETTENDY

ON the surface, it would appear Renault’s latest addition to the controversial Megane range should attract the sort of popularity that was expected of its more gregarious hatch stablemate, but which it has so far failed to emulate.

First, the four-door is now the least expensive 2.0-litre Megane at $29,990. Priced a whole $2000 below the similar-engined and similarly equipped Megane five-door Dynamique, the exclusively 2.0-litre Magane sedan represents better value.

Throw in a longer wheelbase that delivers an abundance of extra rear legroom compared to the majority of small sedan rivals – most of which are based on the same wheelbase as the hatch - and the four-door’s practicality begins to reveal itself.

Other added convenience features offered by the sedan include a split-folding rear seat (which is also reclined further back for greater comfort), a fully enclosed boot that’s bigger than both the Mazda6’s and Accord Euro’s with hinges positioned conveniently outside the illuminated load space, and longer rear doors for easier entry/exit.

In statistical terms, Australians buy small hatches and sedans in similar numbers, with only the most popular models - Corolla, Astra, Focus and Elantra – proving more popular in sedan guise than as hatches.

But the other models are more popular in sedan form, with the established small sedan leaders, Pulsar and Mazda3, selling enough four-doors to make them as popular as hatches in the small car market overall.

This suggests Megane sedan should also be as popular as its hatch cousin, which has so far failed to match Renault’s own expectations of between 125 and 150 sales per month. And that, along with the fact there’s no 1.6-litre sedan, could explain Renault Australia’s conservative projection of between 50 and 60 sedan sales per month.

However, traditionally, sedans comprise some 80 per cent of the medium passenger car market, two of which are claimed to be the Megane sedan’s most direct rivals in base versions of the Mazda6 and Honda Accord Euro - both of which it undercuts on price.

Describing it as a key player in increasing Megane sales, Renault Oz says Megane sedan has even greater sales potential than the (2.0-litre) Megane hatch and is quietly hopeful of emulating the Megane sedan’s sale in the UK, where it’s been widely embraced. Combined with hatch, it’s hoping for 200 Megane sales per month, totalling half of all Renault sales here.

But enough of the theory: Megane sedan’s most obvious attraction – and why we think it has the potential to match or even better the hatch’s sales performance – is the fact it dispenses with the three/five-door’s most distinctive and controversial feature, the distinctly vertical rear-end.

Even for those, like me, who like the Megane hatch’s unique styling, the fact is peer pressure – or simply the desire for others to admire one’s choice of vehicle, too – plays a part in most automotive purchases and, for some, the hatchback simply polarises opinions too much to gamble on it.

For many, the more understated Megane sedan will be an easier decision.

Styling aside, Megane sedan presents much the same package as Megane hatch.

There’s the same solid feeling chassis, the same well-insulated cockpit and the same European-style ride quality.

There’s also a spritely 2.0-litre engine that, while lacking the outright peak performance of other small sedans (despite its PULP dietary requirements) - notably the 104kW Mazda3 – offers excellent bottom-end torque delivery and gives it the sort of low-speed tractability and driveability most European cars are famous for.

However, they’re also famous for below-par automatic transmissions, and Megane is no exception, offering a lazy-shifting four-speed that never quite kicks down soon enough and changes ratios without a lot of decorum. Take our advice and opt for the much slicker, sensibly-geared six-speed manual.

Also transferring is the Megane’s average electric steering, which feels springy and never quite weighted correctly away from centre. Both response and feedback are also only average, and this is perhaps the biggest giveaway this is no Audi A4, Alfa 156 or Saab 9-3, much less a BMW 3 Series.

The other factor that can’t hide the fact this is a mass-market French car and not the product of German engineering is the Megane’s suspension. Lacking in rebound damping and body control, both the spring-strut front and torsion beam rear suspensions lose composure on less-than-smooth surfaces, sapping driver confidence as the car bounces and shimmies disconcertingly over mid-corner bumps.

Straightline stability is never in question, however, and away from corners Megane sedan presents all the hallmarks of a well built, well finished small European sedan.

There’s no questioning its safety credentials, the sedan rear-end being adapted to the hatch’s proven design, which scored a maximum five-star European crash test result and with which it shares 80 per cent of components.

Convenience features include rain-sensing wipers, light-sensing headlights, anti-dazzle rear-view mirror, front and rear armrests, two-way adjustable steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, LCD information display and hard but supportive seats, including a neat height-adjust function and lumbar on the driver’s side.

There are also clever lidded bins in both front door armrests, a deep centre armrest and (small) compartments concealed in both front footwells and in the parcel shelf, but the glovebox is not lockable. Another nice touch is the rear and rear side sunblinds that retract fully away.

Minor niggles include the lack of a visual redline on the rev counter and sharp-edged door linings that cause elbow pain in a short time for those who like to rest elbows on window sills.

Those who choose the more upmarket Privilege model may feel short-changed with its lack of differentiation, which comprises only leather trim, alloy wheels of the same 16-inch size and subtle exterior highlights such as chromed – instead of body-coloured – door handles and rub strips.

There’s no denying Megane sedan is an expensive small car, but Renault is right in claiming it offers a clear price advantage over premium medium sedans like Mazda6 and Accord Euro – cars with which it has much in common.

Indeed, Megane sedan stacks up well against these highly regarded Japanese sedans in terms of size, space, performance, equipment, comfort and safety.

But Renault is also right in failing to mention handling as one of the Megane sedan’s unique selling points.

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