Car reviews - Renault - Megane - Sedan and Wagon range
Wagon interior space and refinement, GT’s unique mix of performance, handling, style and practicality, ride comfort of Zen sedan, great drivetrains
Room for improvement
Ergonomic and usability quirks, infuriating touchscreen, Intens sedan spoiled by road noise and busy ride, sedan lacks headroom
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30 Jun 2017
RENAULT is trying desperately to edge its way into the mainstream of Australia’s ultra-competitive car market, having made a name for itself around the fringes with world-beating performance cars based on oddball hatchbacks and getting business buyers on-side with some cracking commercial vehicles.
And so here we are in ruggedly mountainous north-east Victoria battling endless rain and bitter cold with newly added sedan and wagon variants of Renault’s most mainstream-friendly passenger car in recent memory: The Megane.
Let’s start at the top, in the GT wagon that will serve as the Megane range flagship until the RS hyper-hatch arrives next year.
On this frigid morning, the GT’s heated and figure-hugging sports seats were like a warm and welcome embrace.
We spared a thought for our counterparts from other media outlets, who started this launch drive in an up-spec Intens sedan and were sitting on cold leather.
Nosing our way through the quiet, soaked streets of Albury-Wodonga the GT’s 151kW/280Nm 1.6-litre turbo-petrol powerplant felt muscular, relaxed and refined. In this environment, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission blended into the background as each ratio surfed a building wave of turbocharged torque.
Built-up areas of this regional centre rapidly dissolved into deserted suburban arterial roads where we reached for the cruise control. This quickly reminded us that Renault inexplicably places the cruise on/off switch in the centre console rather than on or near the steering wheel. Ou est la logique?Further into the journey, so transpired more reasons to say, “pardon our French”.
As the roads got twisty, requiring acclimatisation to the Megane GT’s super-keen steering, straying toward the road’s centre line resulted in a low reverberation from somewhere low in the driver’s side door trim.
We sensed a sideways glance from our co-driver, then it happened again. No, it was not a result of us digesting the rich meal Renault had put on the previous night but the new lane-departure warning system’s audible alert.
As we ascended and the road got more challenging, so did the frequency of synthesised guff from the door speakers. Nowhere on the dashboard or steering wheel was there a button to mute it, forcing our co-driver to plough through menu after menu on the touchscreen while we kept our eyes on the road.
Once the correct sub-menu was found, the touchscreen’s unresponsive nature elicited the kind or response from our co-driver that required them to pardon their French, Greek, Italian, Spanish and German as they repeatedly stabbed the icon marked ‘off’ to no avail.
Eventually we were relieved of the annoyance, but by then the mood inside the cabin had lowered significantly and the topic of conversation switched to how infuriating Renault’s R-Link 2 touchscreen interface is.
Soon these negative thoughts evaporated as the GT wagon’s gutsy grip, telepathic turn-in and precise poise became apparent. Driving home from the launch event in a Hyundai i30 SR illustrated just how sharp the Megane’s steering is, as we took time to recalibrate to the South Korean car’s slower setup.
The 1.6-litre turbo engine under the GT wagon’s bonnet never really left us asking for more in conditions that varied from damp to wet to soaked, deploying its 151kW and 280Nm assertively, accompanied by intelligent and intuitive automatic shifts or quick responses from the large paddle-shifters.
Although torque peak coming on song at 2400rpm is peakier than some rivals on paper, the way the GT wagon delivered its surging mid-range punch was more impressive than the figures would suggest. A reasonably low 1430kg kerb weight would contribute to that.
The four-wheel-steering system really is the stuff of premium cars for its ability to mask the GT wagon’s additional length over the hatch, accentuating its eagerness to get stuck into corners at speeds of up to 80km/h in the Sport mode we had activated.
In other modes, the stability-enhancing mechanism by which the rear wheels steer in the same direction kicks in above 60km/h, while the front and rear wheels turn in opposite directions at lower speeds to simulate a shorter wheelbase.
While we are talking of driving modes and features usually reserved for much more expensive metal, the Megane has a ‘perso’ option in the drive select system that enables the mixing and matching of various characteristics from each setting – another piece of trickle-down tech from high-end cars.
If all that, and a more powerful engine do not go a long way toward justifying the $6000 price premium Renault asks over the look-alike GT-Line, the suspension that has been worked over by Renault Sport certainly seals the deal.
There is clearly a sophistication and quality in the GT’s chassis setup that elevates it above all other variants bar, we anticipate, the upcoming RS flagship.
Firstly there is slick body control and the ability to keep all four wheels well planted, which was evidently efficient at finding grip on some pretty treacherous rained-on roads. A couple of mid-corner undulations would cause momentary upset, but the GT wagon quickly regained composure and course.
Secondly, ride quality. The GT wagon is undoubtedly firmly sprung, but not excessively so, and the suspension breathes with the road surface rather than riding over bumps and ripples. It didn’t pack down during repeated hits, recovered quickly from bigger impacts and let the wheels droop smoothly into dips.
Compared with the Intens sedan that similarly rides on 18-inch wheels, the GT wagon feels as though it was tuned with this tyre size in mind rather than just having some big bling alloys bolted on for looks.
For perspective, the Zen sedan we drove was plushest-riding of all the variants we drove on its 16-inch wheels and comfort-oriented suspension, while the GT-Line wagon rode less comfortably than the full-house GT despite having smaller 17-inch wheels and being less impressive as a corner-carver.
We concluded that Renault Sport had spent money on quality suspension components and spent time tuning them well. Wise people.
Despite their inherent acoustic disadvantages compared with a sedan, both wagon variants impressed us for their cabin isolation from unpleasant noise, especially given the big-wheeled Intens sedan was so grumbly inside on the coarse-chip bitumen of the country road environment in which we were driving that it was almost impossible to hold a conversation between the front and rear seats.
We drove the Intens sedan directly after the Zen, which by comparison was serene enough inside to justify its name. The Zen was also surprisingly a bit of a dynamic darling, its Bridgestone Potenza tyres clinging on for dear life in less than ideal conditions and the softer ride not resulting in excessive body roll. In fact, all Megane variants are pleasingly engaging and communicative to drive.
Other advantages the wagons had over their booted brethren were interior space, a 2.7-metre load length possible from folding the front passenger seat and additional storage beneath the boot floor including space for the cargo blind to be stowed when not in use.
Both body styles gain rear knee-room over the hatch due to their longer wheelbases, but the wagons had heaps more headroom, to the point where a 188cm-tall passenger could even sit comfortably in the central position of the rear bench.
It was impossible to repeat this in the comparatively cramped sedans, even though both wagon and sedan provided ample legroom for tall folk to sit in tandem. It was simply airier in the rear cabin of a wagon and no doubt more pleasant after being aurally assaulted by noise from the rear arches of an Intens sedan.
Not everyone can stretch to $42,490 driveaway for a GT wagon, which for us was not only the superior driving experience but the value-for-money sweet spot as well due to its fairly comprehensive equipment list, bigger engine and chassis smarts. In a Renault showroom we’d walk straight past the Koleos SUV and pick up one of these – it’s almost as spacious and an order of magnitude better to drive.
Still, we questioned the lack of electric seat adjustment in the GT, at least for the driver’s side. A Skoda Octavia RS wagon ($41,890 plus on-road costs) is the only real alternative and is faster, at least in a straight line, as a trade-off for its higher cost, inferior cabin refinement and spartan interior ambience.
Those looking at a Zen level sedan at $29,990 driveaway might agree the specification feels a little stripped bare for the money compared with, say, a Mazda3 Touring or Hyundai Elantra Elite – or at the very least specified with a different set of priorities.
For us, the combination of downsized turbo engine and slick dual-clutch transmission helped justify some of the Renault’s equipment omissions over its Asian competitors, never feeling strained or underpowered but always slick and surprisingly punchy – at least in the rural setting of our launch drive.
But the big jump in driveaway pricing to an Intens ($35,990) starts to look less appealing, especially given the aforementioned downsides of its big wheels. But those insisting on a European small sedan have only the ancient Volkswagen Jetta to turn to.
It kind of made us wish Renault had come up with a GT sedan, boot spoiler and all.
Switching to wagons, we’d be tempted to spend the extra on a just-launched Golf 7.5 110TSI Comfortline wagon ($30,490 plus on-road costs) over a Megane Zen wagon ($30,490 drive-away).
Finally, the GT-Line wagon. Being just $500 more expensive drive-away than an Intens sedan while also being roomier in the back, quieter and more comfortable, starts to look like a lot of sense.
The styling of this variant might not be to everyone’s taste, especially the boy’s bedroom/boy racer cabin style when compared against the more classically luxurious look of the Intens interior – even if that car’s brushed metal style trim inserts are less convincing than a politician’s promise.
So the case of the new Megane sedan and wagon range is an odd one. The only variant we can wholeheartedly recommend is the GT wagon, which by being the most focussed of this new crop, is somehow also the least compromised.
At least that was how it came across in the contrived environment of a launch drive.
It suffers the same ergonomic and usability disasters as every other Renault, while introducing some new ones in the shape of the Megane range’s new-found driver assistance tech.
Get used to (or get over) those and it’s an excellent car.
We will reserve judgement over the two sedans until we have sampled them in an environment more closely representing real-world usage.
These variants are key to the success of the broader Megane range, as sedans attract around a third of buyers in the Aussie small passenger car segment while the seemingly unstoppable trend toward SUVs renders wagons increasingly niche.
We think that is a shame, as among the newly expanded Megane line-up are some unique offerings, adding worthy additional diversity to a segment already overflowing with choice.
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