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Car reviews - Renault - Megane - range

Our Opinion

We like
Comfortable, spacious and very good looking, GT has the performance chops as well
Room for improvement
Initially misses out on important safety tech, lower grades lack suspension sophistication


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13 Oct 2016

IT IS tough in the local car market at the moment. With so many vehicles clustered into each segment, a player only has to be slightly off its game to be gobbled up in the stampede of value-driven competition.

The previous Megane suffered for its age and its price, and slid a long way down the pecking order of a group that includes the likes of the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf. Now, though, the fourth iteration of the car is here, and it looks pretty darn good.

The design was sketched up under the leadership of Dutchman Laurens van den Acker, and manages to be sufficiently different, ruggedly handsome, sleekly feline and non-confrontational, all in the same mix. Its signature rear LED running lamp swoop gives the Megane real road presence, while the bold front end allows it to stand apart from the crowd without looking like a concept car gone wrong.

Inside, it’s a similar story, with seats based on the French brand’s luxury Talisman saloon and an airy, roomy, feel that’s let down a little by a swathe of hard, off-shade black plastic around the passenger-side lower dash.

The second car in the range, the Zen, still manages to carry off the look, despite its smaller rims and lack of LED headlights. Behind the wheel, the 97kW 1.2-litre engine combines well with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, resulting in a drive that’s sufficiently urgent, surprisingly refined and very seamless.

Tested over a set of rough roads that only dynamite could fix, the Zen’s suspension tune and tyre package isn’t to the same level as the GT-Line and GT cars tested over the same stretches of pockmarked tarmac, but the Megane’s new, stiffer and larger bodyshell does a great job of isolating the occupants from the worst of it.

The similarly powered GT-Line is going to win a lot of hearts, with a look that shouts style and substance and a driving demeanour that will please the majority of people for the majority of the time. It’s a not-insignificant $6000 cheaper than the more powerful and sophisticated GT, and for a lot of folks, looks count for more than performance.

Those who do step up to the range topper certainly won’t begrudge the extra money on the 151kW 1.6-litre engine that also serves in the Renault Sport Clio, nor the clever and effective rear-wheel steer system.

The interior is certainly a huge step up over what was a ten-year-old car, as well. A large central TFT screen in front of the driver replaces the traditional dials, with all pertinent info prominently displayed, including speed limit, gear position and distance to the car in front.

The large vertical centre console screen houses navigation, climate control, car adjustments and more, and is simple to use, if a bit laggy. Renault says the system won’t be modified to accept either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is a pity.

The fake blue carbon trim pieces in the GT’s dash and doors aren't convincing in the least, but the comfort and fit of the seats, leather wheel and shifter paddles certainly are. The bolstered seats in particular – unique to the GT – are supportive and comfortable.

The GT rides very well in most situations, though it can crash across sharp breaks in the road thanks to low-profile 18-inch tyres. Its ability to shrug off broken roads and crater-sized holes is very impressive for a smallish hatch, too.

In all, the suspension package is very well resolved for local conditions and well thought out it’s a step above a standard car, but it’s not as taut as, say, a VW Golf GTI.

The GT’s rear-steer function adds a layer of seamless ability to the car’s talent, too, allowing more direct steering inputs with less adjustment needed at the wheel.

Steering feel from the electric system is very accomplished, with a decent amount of resistance and precision. It also changes weight and feel when the driver mode button is used.

The Megane’s 1.6-litre turbo engine, too, is willing, progressive and offers lots of low- and mid-range torque. First and second gears in the dual-clutch gearbox can feel a bit short, but the drivetrain is well behaved otherwise.

If Renault can get bums on seats, the Megane will do a good job of convincing people that it should be regarded as a viable, practical, good looking alternative to more mainstream products in the small hatch sector.

It’s a pity that internal wrangling means that the Megane misses out – at least initially – on key safety gear like autonomous emergency braking and radar cruise control, but Renault assures us it’s coming. When it does, it’ll add another layer to what is already a pretty convincing package.

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