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Car reviews - Renault - Megane - Zen sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Fun and easy to drive, flexible and refined engine, interior comfort, rides well, cheap servicing and long warranty
Room for improvement
Driveline shunt, not that good on fuel, poor touchscreen, disappointing rear headroom, accelerator pedal vibration

Gallery

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Renault logo6 Oct 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Overview

THE most mainstream-friendly Renault Megane yet has spawned a sensible sedan option, tested here in Zen guise, the lower of two specification levels.

In the absence of European competition bar the Volkswagen Jetta that is now two generations behind the related Golf, Renault seems to have positioned this variant of the booted Megane against some big-name contenders from Asia.

This is good news for Australian buyers wanting something a bit different, but without venturing outside the traditional three-box format.

Even better news is that after a week behind the wheel, we reckon this Renault is worth a look because it dispatches the dull daily duties of sedan life with more than a dash of joie de vivre.

Price and equipment

The Megane sedan range skips the hatchback’s entry-level Life variant and opens with mid-spec Zen as tested here, which has a manufacturer’s list price of $28,490 plus on-road costs and is subject to a permanent driveaway pricing offer just $1500 higher at $29,990. These prices are in line with the equivalent Zen hatch.

Similarly, the Zen sedan’s equipment list mirrors that of the hatch, including as standard a 7.0-inch touchscreen providing access to the satellite navigation system, reversing camera and heaps of audio connectivity options to be experienced through an eight-speaker Arkamys stereo.

Also on-board are dual-zone climate control with air quality monitor, keyless entry and start, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, voice control, a leather-trimmed gear selector knob, an electric park brake, electrically adjustable heated door mirrors, front and rear foglights, LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights and 16-inch alloy wheels with tyre pressure monitoring.

Megane sedans also have hands-free boot opening activated by waving a foot under the rear bumper.

Our car was fitted with the $700 ADAS driver assistance technology package comprising autonomous emergency braking (AEB) that works between 30km/h and 140km/h, lane departure warning and automatic high beam.

This option debuted on the Megane range when the sedan and wagon joined the line-up in July 2017 and while it is an affordable upgrade, we would like to see AEB fitted as standard across the range.

The only European-badged sedan competitor to the Megane is the ageing Volkswagen Jetta 118TSI Trendline ($26,490 plus on-road costs) that offers more performance for the money but fails to come close on equipment. A Mazda3 Touring 2.0L ($27,290 plus on-roads) is roughly on-par for both equipment and engine outputs, but benefits from part-leather upholstery and standard autonomous emergency braking.

Not fitted to our car was the $1990 sunroof, self-dimming interior mirror and illuminated vanity mirror option pack, but it did have $600 worth of Diamond Black metallic paint.

Interior

The Megane sedan is 269mm longer than the hatch, with 43mm of this being a longer wheelbase that contributes to an extra 37mm of rear legroom.

Compared with the cramped hatch, this would in theory make the sedan much more usable for people who regularly transport adults or tall teens. Unfortunately headroom is no better, with the seemingly high-set rear bench also causing rear occupants to peer down through the side windows.

But the extra cabin length did help liberate front-seat space when a rear-facing infant capsule was installed. With one of these bulky devices in place, a six-foot front passenger does not find their knees interfacing with the glovebox lid in the sedan, which they most definitely would in the hatch.

On the subject of child restraints, all three rear seats have top tether points conveniently located on the parcel shelf, with the two outer positions also having Isofix anchorages that are easy to use due to being housed within a plastic guides.

Apart from stooping more than we would have to with a higher-riding SUV, the rear door apertures were big enough to make loading and securing youngsters in the Megane pretty easy. The presence of air-con vents in the back was welcome and they proved effective when cooling this black-on-black car during 2017’s scorching early start to summer.

Further back, cargo capacity is 503 litres with the easy-to-operate 60:40 split-fold rear seats up, 69L more than the hatch. But the 987L volume with them flat is 260L short of the hatchback, which has the ability to load up to roof height in its favour.

The sedan’s load lip is not too high, which eases the loading of bulky items, and the aperture is reasonably wide and tall. But with the rear seats folded there is a substantial step in the extended load area and the boot space itself is spartan, with no handy elasticated straps, nets or recessed areas to help separate and secure small items.

On the upside, the boot lid’s hinges do not protrude into the cargo bay and the hands-free opening mechanism was one of the most consistently effective we have experienced. Also, beneath the boot floor of our test vehicle was a full-size steel spare, whereas in hatches we have tested there was simply a puncture repair kit.

From the driver’s seat, the Megane sedan is an almost identical experience to that of the hatch. We did not even struggle for visibility, considering the high-set boot lid. An excellent reversing camera with animated guidance lines and parking sensors with a visual obstacle proximity display made tight manoeuvring a cinch.

Despite lacking driver’s seat tilt adjustment, we found the front of the Megane to be comfortable, with a good driving position easily found and plenty of steering wheel adjustment for both tilt and reach.

The attractive contrast-stitched fabric seats are supportive for long journeys, with enough bolstering to hold occupants firm during hard cornering but not intrusive for the more relaxed driving this easy-going sedan encourages.

Once in motion, cabin quietness is of a decent standard and road noise is well suppressed even on coarse-chip bitumen. But our test vehicle suffered from intrusive wind whistle around the driver’s door that could have been an ill-fitting window or door seal. And like all 1.2-litre Meganes we have tested, an unpleasant vibration could regularly be felt through the accelerator pedal.

Similarly unpleasant was the optional lane departure warning’s alert sound, a low buzz that could easily be mistaken for the digestive process of fellow occupants. As such, it was as ineffective as the bass note emitted by early Mazda lane departure alert systems. Thankfully its volume can be adjusted, but unfortunately not the nature of the tone itself.

Apart from a few foibles such as the cruise control switch being in the centre console beside the electric park brake, the Megane sedan’s dashboard is as well presented as the hatch, logically laid out (for the most part) and constructed using well screwed-together plastics that appeared to be of decent quality, at least within the driver’s line of sight.

Some cheap looking and feeling surfaces are present on the lower dash and centre console, but nothing worse than the majority of small-segment contenders and we could see no obvious differences in this regard between the Turkish-made sedan and Spanish-sourced hatch.

Interior storage is pretty good, with all four door bins being generously wide and deep, with the ability to store 750ml drinks bottles at an angle. A common affliction with French cars regardless of brand is a glovebox with at least a third taken up by a mysterious plastic box and the Megane is no different. But at least the remaining space is tall and deep, with a useful extra pocket on the inside of the lid itself.

Beneath the sliding central armrest is a substantial storage bin, in front of which is another lidded compartment that can be converted to a pair of cupholders by sliding an unconvincing plastic sprung bracket to its centre. Our fears about this were confirmed when a fresh coffee tipped over as we accelerated away from traffic lights. No harm done, but now the centre console smells like the inside of a barista’s knock box.

Thankfully our smartphones avoided this coffee wash, as they were stored in a tray in front of the gear selector, beneath a pair of USB sockets and the auxiliary audio input port.

Which brings us onto perhaps the Megane’s weakest link: Its R-Link 2 touchscreen. Having now spent plenty of time in Renaults with this system, we are becoming accustomed to its ways and are in admiration of the sheer depth of functionality it offers. The sat-nav works pretty well, too, once you’ve confirmed your address entry in triplicate.

The fact remains that its illogical user interface requires too many steps to perform basic functions and it is simply too difficult to use safely while on the move. This is not helped by laggy responses, an occasional refusal to respond to inputs and generally fuzzy display quality.

Renault seriously needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a simpler, more efficient system. Or just integrate Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so people can use their smartphone interfaces instead.

When it comes to R-Link 2, less is more and we by far prefer the smaller 7.0-inch unit fitted to lower-spec vehicles such as this Megane Zen than the ill-conceived big portrait version of more expensive variants with their poorly designed split-screen layout and inferior reversing camera display.

For example, it is easier to operate the dual-zone climate control system while driving using physical buttons than attempting to do so through the touchscreen, as users of the bigger display are forced to.

Still, even with the small screen, the air-conditioning fan speed is adjusted by swiping a finger left and right along a touch-sensitive surface that is all too easily done by accident. Confusingly, there are also ‘soft’ and ‘fast’ physical buttons for controlling fan speed. Technology for the sake of technology? Just give us a rotary dial!An interesting and quirky feature of the Megane’s climate system is an air quality monitor that can be displayed on the touchscreen, buried in a haystack of sub-menus. We assume that if the car knows when the air is bad outside that it is managing airflow to keep occupants breathing easy, but it was good to watch air quality deteriorate in traffic jams and on busy motorways, then freshen up again on the open road.

Our Zen spec test vehicle lacked the excellent digital dash of more expensive Megane variants that was clearly designed by a totally separate team to R-Link 2.

As such, the Zen’s analogue instrument pack has a pretty basic trip computer display that can only show one type of information at a time, so the digital speed readout must be deactivated in order to view fuel consumption for example.

That said, the touchscreen does have a comprehensive fuel consumption display option that provides a full analysis of fuel usage once the engine is shut down at the end of a journey.

Overall the Megane sedan’s interior is a mixed bag, but if you’re looking for something quiet and comfortable, this car fits the bill. We’d avoid the temptation of a more expensive Intens variant, which suffers for both ride comfort and road noise due to its much larger alloy wheels, and has the even more frustrating portrait touchscreen.

To overcome the Megane sedan’s lack of rear headroom, we can recommend paying a little more for the much airier – and arguably more stylish – wagon.

Engine and transmission

We are fans of Renault’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, its respectable power and torque outputs of 97kW and 205Nm delivered smoothly and willingly. It even emits a pleasant throaty note at low speeds while remaining refined and quiet to the redline.

At 1321kg, the Megane sedan is a fair bit heavier than the equivalent hatch but the extra heft barely troubled this sweet engine’s nippy responses, linear power delivery and eager flexibility. This engine, and the sedan’s loping ride, contributed to an easy-going character befitting the Zen badge Renault has chosen for this spec level.

Shame then, that the dual-clutch transmission would regularly get confused on low-speed hills or when manoeuvring on sloping driveways and often exhibited some alarming driveline shunt that sent a shudder through the cabin when making small speed adjustments.

Gear changes are not as quick or crisp as from a Volkswagen Group DSG transmission, but apart from the above drawbacks it did intuitively select the right ratio most of the time and its generally smooth operation only made its hiccup all the more glaring.

Enthusiasts reaching for the manual selector will find its orientation logical: Forward for downshifts and backward for upshifts. Relatively short gearing meant we covered a lot of the fast and twisty section of our road test route in third and fourth gears rather than second and third, testament to an engine that is gruntier in its torque delivery than bare figures would suggest.

The Megane sedan’s official combined fuel consumption figure of 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres seems unachievable given that after a week of mixed driving we averaged a disappointing 8.8L/100km of the Megane’s favoured tipple, 95 RON Premium Unleaded. However, on a 90-minute motorway journey we equalled the official highway consumption figure of 5.3L/100km – with the air-con cranking.

But none of this should have come as a surprise as the hatch exhibited similar urban thirst and open-road thrift.

Ride and handling

It may seem odd, but we enjoyed punting the Megane Zen sedan around even more than the sporty looking GT-Line hatch we drove a year ago. Our only real gripe was noise from the suspension, particularly the way it thumped over expansion joints.

The smaller wheels and longer wheelbase compared with the aforementioned hatch not only improved the already comfortable ride but also enabled the sedan’s tyres to find grip and the car to maintain course in adverse conditions and on poorly maintained roads that could cause jittery and wayward behaviour in the hatch.

It was these qualities, combined with a sense of agility, that added to the easy-going driving experience we mentioned earlier and they shone through regardless of whether we were diving through city traffic or giving it some on a twisty back road.

Renault has managed to engineer in a sense of enthusiasm to the Megane driving experience from the engaging way it turns in, to the surprising level of steering feedback, but without feeling nervous or frenetic.

But at the same time, the compliant yet controlled suspension makes for pretty relaxing progress – a pleasing balance that made the Megane Zen an easy and confidence-inspiring car to drive in any situation.

Finally, this character extended to the brakes, which unlike many French cars had a great pedal feel and a perfectly progressive action. We wouldn’t, however, describe breaking performance from high speeds as outstanding. It was merely adequate.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP is yet to rate the Megane sedan, but continental counterpart Euro NCAP gave the hatch a maximum five-star safety rating.

Dual frontal, side chest and side curtain airbags are standard, along with anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control and seatbelt reminders for all seats.

Renault Australia provides a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assistance for the duration and a three-year capped-price servicing plan costing $299 per interval, which are 12 months or up to 30,000km apart (the latter dependent on the car’s in-built condition monitoring that automatically determines when it is due some maintenance).

Verdict

During the week we had this Megane, we never thought of it as anything special and even discussed how it felt a bit like a rental car.

But by the time we gave it back, we realised the Zen was like a comfy pair of shoes. This was brought into sharp focus by how jarring we found the transition to a subsequent test vehicle. Having taken the Renault for granted, we missed it once it had gone.

And believe us this was everything to do with the Renault’s subtle qualities, for all its minor and not-so-minor annoyances, and nothing at all to do with the quality of the car we drove next.

Furthermore, the Megane sedan almost occupies a class of its own, being a small sedan wearing a European badge. It is much more modern and better equipped than its only real rival, the Volkswagen Jetta.

Apart from the Megane, for those seeking a classy small car with a boot sticking out the back, only a Mazda3 really rates. And Renault appears to have priced and specified the Zen sedan tested here squarely at the Japanese car’s Touring trim level.

Both are satisfying cars to drive, with the Renault being more spacious than the Mazda and with a much quieter cabin, plus that long warranty with roadside assistance, cheap-as-chips servicing and sharp driveaway pricing. So it scores well for both heart and head.

And if you like comfy shoes, you’ll probably unknowingly fall in love with the Megane, just like we did.

Rivals

Volkswagen Jetta 118TSI Trendline from $26,490 plus on-road costs
If the Megane is comfy shoes then the Jetta is sensible shoes. There is a difference. Practical, spacious and with a punchy drivetrain but cannot hide its age, miserly spec and low level of on-board tech. Drives pretty well, but feels aloof compared with the Renault.

Mazda3 Touring 2.0L sedan from $27,290 plus on-roads
The Mazda3 sedan is a hoot to drive, but is let down by a number of shortcomings, being particularly noisy and disappointingly cramped. Shame, as this is otherwise a slick package that is ageing very gracefully indeed.

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