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First Oz drive: Renault builds up for Megane

French invasion: The Renault Megane will arrive in Australian showrooms in September and could prove problematic for some of the big hitters in the small-car segment.

GoAuto drives the next-gen Renault Megane in pre-production LHD guise

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Renault logo13 May 2016

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

RENAULT has imported a small number of pre-production left-hand-drive Megane hatchbacks into Australia in a bid to raise awareness of the crucial fourth-generation model ahead of its September on-sale date.

The French car-maker has brought the cars in for a number of internal, media and fleet buyer evaluation drives in advance of the Australian launch as it looks to do better in the super-competitive small-car segment against some seriously big hitters.

Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar said near-depleted supplies of the outgoing Megane – as well as the Koleos mid-size SUV – has provided an opportunity for a long-lead introduction campaign for a vehicle expected to be one of the company’s best sellers.

“Today was a preview event to give the media an opportunity to get a feel of the vehicle ahead of its launch,” he told GoAuto at Anglesea this week.

“We’re involved in a longer pre-launch activity than we have had in the past because we’ve had a very clean run-out of Megane and Koleos, and therefore we wanted to really focus on positioning the new cars right, that they could be experienced in Australian conditions and we wanted to do that with selected press.

“And tomorrow we’re going to do this with key fleet management organisations as well as companies in residual setting and leasing.

“We’re laying the foundations for a good launch for the Megane. And that’s something you don’t always get the luxury of, when you’re busy running out a car and trying to keep sales to the maximum before introducing the new model.” Assessed at the Anglesea Proving Ground near Geelong in Victoria, the five-door hatchbacks were represented by two high-series variants that are expected to occupy the $30,000 to $40,000 bracket – the mid-spec GT-Line TCe130 and GT TCe205 EDC warm hatch.

The drive involved four high-speed laps per vehicle, as well as two handling/ride and manoeuvrability/braking exercises in a specially prepared test area, supervised by a company representative in the passenger seat at all times.

The main aim is to broaden the Megane’s brand recognition. Renault says that internal research shows that a large proportion of people consider only one alternative when shopping for a car in the small-car class, so the pre-launch activity is an attempt to “energise” the market in putting the French brand on more shopping lists.

“It’s a car to change peoples’ opinions of the brand,” according to one Renault spokesperson.

Renault is keen to point out that both variants are only “indicative” of what the final specification would be, meaning that the pricing announcement is still months away.

Despite this, the GT-Line and GT were chosen because the former is expected to be the best-seller while the latter will be the halo Megane until the eagerly awaited Renault Sport RS version lobs in sometime in 2018.

The corresponding current versions start at $27,000 and $37,000 plus on-road costs respectively.

“People shopping for these cars aren’t looking for the lowest price,” the spokesperson added.

While GoAuto assessed the very promising GT at the international media launch in Portugal last December, the cheaper GT-Line has never been driven.

The media event has giving us an opportunity to sample the revised 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that will be the mainstay of the completely redesigned and re-engineered Megane range.

Dubbed the TCe130, it delvers 97kW of power and 205Nm of torque, while also being capable of returning 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres, for a carbon dioxide emissions rating of 119 grams per kilometre. In Australia, it will be offered in both six-speed manual and seven-speed EDC dual-clutch automatic guises.

These figures are about on a par with two of the Megane’s closest competitors, the Volkswagen Golf 92TSI and Peugeot 308 97kW e-THP.

Keeping in mind that the LHD hatch was not the final production version for Australia, the GT-Line’s performance and refinement bordered on spectacular for something so small in capacity, providing far stronger acceleration than expected.

The flat environment probably flattered the dual-clutch transmission’s showing, since it felt slick, fast, and lag-free. That would be a first for this transmission if a similar trick is pulled around town or in hilly areas.

If anything, however, the handling and ride circuit proved more revelatory, thanks to sharp steering, keen handling and planted road-holding, highlighting the new and lightweight platform lurking beneath the Megane.

Additionally, the serene and supple ride quality on the standard 17-inch wheel package further boosted our hopes that Renault has at last broken into the pointy end of the small-car segment.

As with the Peugeot 308, this certainly appears to be a lesson in French engineering prowess while the MacPherson strut-front and torsion beam rear suspension systems may not be as complex and glamorous as the VW Golf and Ford Focus’ sophisticated multi-link alternatives, the newcomer really does seem to excel at the fundamentals. The brand’s 117 years of experience is showing.

As for the spacious interior, with its Tesla Model S-style central touchscreen, striking analogue/digital speedo combo, and stylish trim detailing, the outcome all feels two generations ahead of the previous iteration.

Superb sports seats added to the pleasure, although some of the plastics quality were not quite in the same league as a Golf’s, for example. Time, again, will tell.

The overall feeling is that the TCe130 powertrain combined with the GT-Line packaging should rattle the segment leaders. With anticipated keen pricing and a better-than-average five-year warranty and aftersales program behind it, the new Megane ought to be big.

We also drove the GT, again in LHD guise, and with a Clio RS-based 151kW/280Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol unit with the seven-speed EDC.

While Renault says a 6.0L/100km and 134g/km CO2 average in Euro testing is possible, it is the sheer mid-range power delivery that leaves the most lasting impression, resulting in very rapid acceleration across the rev range.

Near-200km/h (indicated) speeds were reached in short order, with the GT being rock-solid steady in the process. Again, rivals ought to take this one seriously.

But the most enjoyable aspect of the GT is its 4Control four-wheel steering system, that has the rears turning opposite to the fronts at speeds up to 60km/h in normal mode, or 80km/h if the Multi-Sense driving mode (that alters the steering, engine, throttle, and transmission settings) is moved from Auto to Sport. The upshot is effortless high-speed stability, incredibly nimble low-speed manoeuvrability and a general sense of dynamic security.

Based on an extremely controlled drive exercise, the handsome next-gen Megane has raised expectations immensely, impressing with its quality, packaging, design, performance, refinement, poise, control and comfort.

We eagerly await being let loose in both the GT-Line and GT variants, in right-hand drive guise, come September.

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