There's a new hot hatch from Renault, and it's one that brings some serious cred with it.
The Renault Megane RS265 now has a more affordable, more practical – but less powerful – sibling: the new Renault Megane GT 220.
The GT 220 was previously offered as a wagon only, as part of a limited edition, low volume allocation in Australia from mid-2013. Renault has now made the GT 220 a regular feature of the Megane range, and as such, the badge now extends to the five-door hatchback model.
The company’s local managing director, Justin Hocevar, said the wagon drew plenty of interest in its previous iteration, but that buyers were “crying out for a GT 220 hatchback”.
Hot-hatches typically attract decent volumes in terms of sales. Volkswagen has previously stated that about 25 per cent of all Golfs sold are GTIs, with that percentage growing again when the R model is taken into account.
Renault is expecting the GT 220 to have a similar effect - indeed, Hocevar suggested that RS models already make up between 25 and 33 per cent of all sales. The new hatch model is priced from $35,490, with the wagon once again available from $36,990.
There are some commonalities between the GT and RS, with the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine found under the bonnet. There’s not as much performance on offer, though, with the GT detuned from 265 horsepower (195kW) to 220 horses as the name suggests.
That equates to 162kW of power between 4750-6500rpm, while peak torque of 340Nm (down 20Nm on the RS) is had between 2400-3500rpm. As is the case with the RS, the GT can only be had with a six-speed manual transmission.
The French brand says the GT has enough poke to propel it from 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds – slower than the VW (6.9sec claim), and considerably less perky than the RS (6.0sec claim).
However, we can confirm that in the case of the GT 220, numbers aren’t everything, as it’s the way the car gets its power down that entertains most.
There’s a cacophonous snort from the engine as it sucks in air – not as violent as the RS, but still great to listen to – and the responsiveness from the engine is terrific under hard throttle. It also sidles along at urban and highway speeds quite comfortably, and without too much engine noise intrusion under lighter pedal application.
The clutch of our test car made getting off the line somewhat difficult, with a high grab point making for some clumsy changes on the move, too. However, get it right and the gear-change is quick and slick.
The car is setup on a specific chassis tune that includes extra stiffening and lowered suspension. In the GT 220 wagon of last year we found the ride quite terse, but in its updated form the suspension offered better compliance.
It is stiff, and larger bumps still cause some discomfort, but this time around there’s no jarring over sharper edges, and smaller inconsistencies are dealt with convincingly, though we didn’t get a chance to put it through its paces on suburban back streets. We'll have to reserve our judgement on its urban ride characteristics until we get a chance to navigate some bump-riddled back streets.
The steering is lively and offers plenty of feel to the driver’s hands, not to mention precise reaction and a direct nature that makes tackling twisty sections of road involving and exciting. We noticed some slight understeer in tightening bends and noticeable torque-steer under heavy throttle, but without the RS trickery of a mechanical front differential the GT offers commendable tractability through corners. There’s plenty of cornering grip and the car feels decently balanced and planted under duress.
As has been the case for the regular Megane for some time now, its interior is where it drops some points.
The rear seat is not as spacious as fellow small car rivals, with limited leg and toe space. Only one cup-holder – which is small and sits up front in front of the gear shifter – is another annoyance, too.
The dash, with its monochrome instrument cluster topper, red styling stripe, red stitching and cloth-trimmed bucket seats is simple and relatively tidy, but the carryover ergonomic quirks remain, including the oddly placed cruise control switches, hard to navigate stereo menus and a seating position that is too close to the pedals for some drivers.
The Premium model we tested felt decidedly more swanky inside. With twin glass roofs (the front one opens, while the rear is simply a window), comfortable sports seats trimmed in grey and black leather, a dark carbon design strip across the dash, and the attractive R-Link dash-top media screen, it felt more like the $39,490 price it commands.
That screen, which sits quite far up and away on the dashboard is a touch-sensitive unit, though thankfully there’s a toggle joystick controller between the front seats that is relatively simple to use.
The media system is simple to navigate once you learn the toggle switches, and we connected to the Bluetooth phone and audio streaming simply and quickly, with decent audio playback quality. However, the system did continually drop out when we tried to charge a smartphone via the USB input.
Ownership credentials for the GT are good, with Renault recently announcing that it was extending the new car warranty for all GT and RS models. That means a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, but unlike the regular Megane range, the GT requires services every 10,000km or 12 months (normal variants: 15,000km). Services are set at $299 per annum for the first three years.
There’s no denying the new Megane GT 220 lacks the overall level of polish of the Golf GTI, and there are some aged and unlikeable elements to the cabin, too. The lack of an auto could rule it out for many potential buyers as well.
But following our limited test drive of the newly added model, it is clear the GT 220 hatch is a worthy and enticing addition to the Megane range. On our loop it proved entertaining to drive, grunty and decent value, and unlike the Golf, it comes with a go-fast wagon variant to boot.