There's more than meets the eye when it comes to the new Renault Megane, as Matt Campbell finds out.
The updated 2014 Renault Megane has received a big cosmetic change, but the changed look is just the beginning for this revision to the French brand’s small car.
That’s because the run-of-the-mill petrol versions of the updated Megane, there’s a new, smaller 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine in place of the existing 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol.
The updated Renault’s tiny powerplant produces 97kW of power at 5500rpm and 205Nm of torque at 2000rpm – down in terms of power compared to the old 2.0-litre (103kW), but up in terms of torque (195Nm).
The engine was previously available as part of the pre-facelift range in the base Expression model, but it is the only petrol engine available in the new standard Megane range. The update has also brought a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, while the previous model was only sold with a six-speed manual transmission.
Fuel use for the new engine drops by 28 per cent, with the manual retaining its claimed 5.6 litres per 100km rating, which is mirrored by the auto despite the manual being the only model with engine stop-start.
We tested the new petrol in two different trims – the newly added Authentique (previously Expression) base model hatchback with the manual ‘box, and the GT-Line wagon with the dual-clutch auto.
We previously stated the base model Megane manual was arguably the pick of the standard model range, and it’s fair to say that’s still the case.
The engine is perky and responsive, with smooth power delivery and a terrific light and smooth gearshift action. Only steep hills called for some downshifting, and the off-the-line speed was exceptional for an engine with these power outputs.
Riding on 16-inch steel wheels with 55-profile tyres, the ride comfort of the Authentique hatch is impressively smooth, even over pockmarked, rough back roads. The car’s steering is light, but it turns quickly at higher speeds and while there’s a bit more arm-twirling to be done at parking speeds, it reacts well to driver inputs.
The interior doesn’t exactly fizz in terms of presentation of specification, and there are some notable ergonomic quirks that may put some buyers off – the stereo and cruise controls, for example, not to mention that the base car only has one cup-holder (and you need to spend quite a bit more to get extra cup holders, as they're fitted only the GT-Line Premium versions). It's not the most spacious in the back seat, and taller occupants will feel cramped for leg-room.
But the interior doesn’t feel cheap, which is a credit to Renault, and we connected quickly to the Bluetooth system and had no issues with the audio quality over streaming or USB.
The GT-Line version lifts the cabin ambience somewhat, with a colour touchscreen media system and some extra trim niceties, such as part-leather seats, a leather gearknob and steering wheel, and a different dashboard design. The bigger, more attractive and more user-friendly media screen is a nice touch, but we did have issues with the USB playback.
The version we tested was the wagon, which has a considerably larger boot – 524 litres compared to 372L. The biggest benefit is the lower load lip, which helps when you’re heaving heavy or awkward items in.
GT-Line models also see changes underneath, with stiffer springs and dampers front and rear. Renault says the car’s centre of gravity has been lowered by 112mm.
It certainly feels more nimble and direct in terms of cornering ability, with plenty of cornering grip and responsive and predictable steering.
That sporty nature comes at the cost of ride comfort, which is firm and sometimes jiggly. We found it quite uncomfortable over porous road surfaces, and it never felt as settled as we’d perhaps like it to be for cruising purposes. We found the GT 220 hot-hatch – which features a different chassis tune again – to be a more competent and compliant drive.
The automatic transmission, on the other hand, is quite well sorted. It shifts between cogs almost imperceptibly under light throttle, and during our time in the car it didn’t choose the wrong gear once, even up steeper hills and under hard braking into corners. We did notice it could stumble somewhat under heavy acceleration, though.
What did dull the appeal of the auto was the fact it felt less oomphy than the manual. Even when the extra 47 kilograms the auto wagon adds was taken into account, the gearbox felt like it didn’t allow the engine to rev as freely, which is a shame because that’s one of the 1.2-litre’s most enjoyable characteristics.
The only other engine option in the standard Megane range is the 1.5-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder, which retains the same outputs of 81kW and 240Nm. This version is only available with a dual-clutch automatic, with fuel use rated at 4.5L/100km.
We tested this in the GT-Line wagon and, as we’ve found in the past, the diesel is somewhat underdone when it comes to grunt.
While 240Nm is a decent amount of torque, it runs out quickly as the peak torque is hit at 1750rpm. What that means in real terms is that it feels quite prompt from a standstill, but under harder acceleration – towards the red-line – it feels a little breathless.
The six-speed dual-clutch isn’t at its best in the diesel, either.
It isn’t a terrible diesel engine – indeed, the power delivery is quite smooth, and there’s not too much audible clatter inside the cabin - but it starts to look less and less convincing the more you look at rival oil-burners like those seen in the Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai i30 and Honda Civic.
As was the case with the previous Megane, all models in the five-door hatch and wagon ranges are covered by a three-year capped price service program ($299 per year, services every 12 months or 15,000km), and a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
The updated Megane is more than just a new face. While there’s no hiding the fact that this car isn’t as new as many of its impressive rivals, it still stacks up to be one of the more competitive small cars in the class – particularly in its most basic form.