2008 Renault Megane dCi Expression Review
An economic European for a bargain price.
European Pedigree, Great Fuel Economy, Comfortable Interior
Curious Styling, Heavy Clutch, Plastic Steering Wheel
– by Matt Brogan
Renault has been around for about as long as the car itself (1898), though in Australia at least, they’re not overly well represented on our roads. Whilst I’m sure this doesn’t exactly surprise any one, it is quite an interesting comparison when you consider that Renault is the number one selling car is Europe.
Fair enough, that’s where they’re made, it makes sense, but other than geography why aren’t there more on our roads? After all, they’re one of the world’s foremost Formula One teams and are one of only three teams who actually build and race their own cars.
A pioneer in safety too, Renault also has some boasting to do here with eight cars on their range having a five-star European NCAP rating (this one included). That’s more than Mercedes and Volvo combined!
With all this promising background evidence to behold I was eager to drive one and see if the car was really worth the hype. After all, if they’re that popular surely they’ve got to have something going for them. So it was off to Renault to grab the, err… keys and take the Megane for a week of scrutiny.
I think the bloke at Renault enjoys this bit – handing over the car – for you see, being French, everything is just a little bit different to an ordinary car. For starters, there’s no key as such. Instead you get a Renault Card, which although is a great idea in its own right, can be a little gimmicky and bewildering when you don’t know where to stick the thing (incidentally it also takes care of the boot and power windows).
After sorting that one out, and familiarising myself briefly with my surroundings, I took off for a week of diesel goodness to see just how well the Megane fares compared to similar priced rivals and if indeed the French quirkiness would grow on me.
When they say first impressions count, they’re not wrong, and my first thoughts on the Megane were an instant liking for the interior colour scheme. So many cars these days are dull, black and monotone but Renault has used pale beige and charcoal décor throughout to lift things a little, and it really does work.
There’s quite a bit of space too. The seating proportions are ample, rather comfortable as well, and up back the boot is quite adequate for the needs of a growing family. The rear seats do fold (60/40) and although not completely flat, allows enough room for occasional larger loads.
The overall exterior appearance of the Megane will probably command a love-hate relationship with most buyers and perhaps in our ‘everything is average’ society that’s a good thing. It’s different – good different. Chiselled edges, squared off lines, angular odds and ends in unusual places (centre of rear windscreen springs to mind) that add a peculiar modern character to a segment that’s become stale and familiar.
But in challenging convention you really do need some substance to back it up. Perhaps this will be Megane’s downfall? Perhaps not!
It drives well, and the speed variable power steering grabbed my attention quickly. In all honesty it is one of the best feeling variable assistance wheels I’ve driven. At car parks speeds it’s brilliantly light and makes getting out on to the road incredibly easy, though once at speed things firm up with confident surety and lovely feedback – just the way it should be. Turning circle could be a little tighter (10.7m) but otherwise no sweat.
Megane sits on the road well and uses MacPherson type struts up front and a torsion beam rear end with outboard attachment points. It is quite satisfactory and compliments the chassis, soaking up larger bumps very well, but the high riding lofty rear end and loathsome fixed rear end will make itself known once you punt through corners a little too ambitiously creating a little front end push (understeer). Fortunately the VDC and Michelin tyres should keep you from coming to grief.
At speed it is a reasonably quiet ride and aside from a slightly high seating position and some unusual symbols on certain controls, is relatively easy to deal with once you’re accustom to it. My only real concerns were a slightly heavy clutch, average feeling brake pedal and a horrid plastic steering wheel and gear knob. Otherwise it’s actually quite pleasant.
There’s the usual run of options to keep you abreast of the times, plus a few more that are usually options in Megane’s rivals. Climate control air-conditioning, cruise control and speed limiter, AM/FM audio with single CD player (no iPod connection), trip computer, ‘one touch’ power windows and power heated mirrors, 16” alloys, auto projector headlamps with level adjusters and ‘see me home’ function, fog lamps, auto wipers, chilled glove box, as well as various nifty storage compartments throughout including two underfloor and one in the rear shelf.
One other little addition to Megane that whilst only minor is immensely practical. Rear and rear side window retractable mesh sunshades. These are just brilliant and being integrated to the car means you can still use the power windows with them in place. Keeps the sun off the kids and when not in use, simply roll away. No messing about with suction caps.
Being handed a diesel car means you seldom have to put fuel in it, but as I was keen to try the ‘Clean Hands’ capless refueling system, thought we’d pull in to a servo and give it a go.
A large rubber grommet sits inside the fuel door which cups the filler to prevent a build up of dust or water. The recessed filler is then internally fitted with a stiffly sprung stainless steel flap which you push inward with the nozzle. Simple! No messy cap to drop or have blow away.
On the safety front (and aside from the five star rating) Megane offers electronic stability control, traction control, ABS with brake force distribution and emergency brake assist, and front, side and curtain airbags all as standard. There’s even additional side intrusion protection in the form of intrusion bars and honey-combed padding in the doors.
You also get the RAID (Renault Anti-Intruder Device) system which automatically locks the doors when you drive away to prevent car-jacking.
Under the bonnet Megane employs a 1.9-litre four cylinder common rail turbo diesel to get things moving which I’m pleased to say it does rather well. The 96kW developed @ 4000 revs may seem a little lean at first, but when you consider the 300Nm of torque on hand from just 2000rpm you’ll realise things aren’t half bad.
The turbo lag is negligible, in fact if you’re a little naughty with the clutch, you won’t even notice it and the torque pull after two grand is quite strong. Megane pulls rather hard for what it is though with such a narrow band of revs to play with, you’ll need to keep a little busy on the six speed gearbox.
Just to give a slight insight here on some of the tech speak surrounding diesels. The common rail system you hear so much about is nothing more than a method of fuel delivery. Think of it as being more precise. The fuel is calculated and delivered in little squirts rather than is one big spray. What this allows is for the right amount of fuel being used for each cycle which results in better fuel efficiency and fewer emissions. A neat side effect to this is less engine noise and fewer vibrations too.
Another one you may be unsure of is the particle filter. The Megane uses one of these which simply put is an additional filter fitted to the exhaust system that captures soot particles (seen as black smoke) and instead burns them off periodically, usually each 500 – 1,000kms.
Fuel consumption is claimed at a combined average of 5.8 l / 100km and as with most modern diesels, this feat is rather easily achieved. Around town I managed 7.2 which in itself is quite good but get this – on a rather straight, flat stretch of highway (Hume) when cruising for almost three hours with the cruise locked on 110km/h, the fuel consumption hovered between 2.9 and 3.5. Impressive, in fact if you do the math, my figure actually comes in under the ADR results by over half a litre.
Now I hope that in putting this review together I’ve achieved something. I wanted the article to rebel from our set formula in much the same way Megane does. I hope my words will reflect the car in that although everything is there, it’s just a little different, not where they usually are and as a result have made things a little fun, more interesting and a tad unique. If so, job done.
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