Can the new Renault Megane pose a serious threat to the VW Golf?
The 2016 Renault Megane presents a pleasant mixture of French styling with ultra-efficient drivetrains that should see this small-car offering become a more serious contender in Australia.
Renault has a tough job in Australia. For every new model it introduces, its main European rival, Volkswagen, seems to respond with more force - and, so far, the Germans have comfortably won the local sales race.
From the outside, the new Megane is arguably the best-looking French car currently in production. The sophisticated but not over-styled front end houses large daytime running lights with a new signature look, while a flowing side profile meets a stunning rear that has undoubtedly seen some inspiration from Alfa Romeo. Though looks are entirely subjective, we think the new Megane sets a new benchmark in design for its segment.
The interior is a little more conservative, although the 8.7-inch iPad-like screen mounted vertically is a nice addition. We found the new R-link 2 infotainment system to be quick and easy to use, with plenty of customisation features.
The front and rear seats are also supportive and there’s enough leg (thanks to the well sculpted back of the front seats) and headroom to fit four large adults in the car. Rear passengers exceeding 185cm in height might find the low roofline slightly limiting. The 434-litre boot is large enough to store an average-sized pram, and it should have no issues carrying a week's worth of groceries or a few suitcases.
Australia will initially get three powertrains for the new Renault Megane when it arrives in September or October of 2016. The base model will be a turbocharged petrol 1.2-litre manual TCe 130 with 97kW of power and 205Nm of torque (0-100km/h in 10.6 seconds, 5.3 litres of fuel per 100km). A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission will also be available with this engine.
The only diesel in the range will be a 1.5-litre turbo with 81kW and 250Nm of torque, offered with a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission only (0-100km/h in 12.3 seconds, 3.7 litres of fuel per 100km). For more, read 2016 Renault Megane specifications.
Visually it’s distinguished by GT and Renault Sport badges on the outside, while the interior gets Alcantara seats, special GT steering wheel and even more Renault Sport badges.
Gone is the detuned Renault Sport engine of the current $35,990 GT 220 (the reason why it was available as a manual only), in its place comes a 1.6-litre four cylinder turbo with 151kW of power and 280Nm of torque coupled to a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission (no manual).
Add in launch control (taken from Renault Sport) and the GT will go from a standstill to 100km/h in a respectable 7.1 seconds. It does actually feel quicker than that and we suspect Renault may have kept it at bay to leave some room for the RS models.
Renault is quick to point out the new GT is not an RS model (though it certainly wears enough RS badging) but one that sits between the regular Megane and the RS models. The GT has been tuned by RS engineers but it doesn’t have the same hardcore factor we’ve come to expect from the race-bred models.
The Megane GT's sporting characteristics are most evident in its ride, which we found to be rather decent through Lisbon’s pothole infested outer suburbs. Though slightly on the firm side, the GT’s pseudo mcpherson (front) and semi-rigid axle (rear) suspension do a reasonable job of absorbing the bumps and quickly settling.
The Megane GT is able to switch between comfort, neutral and sport (plus there’s an individual mode that can mix and match) modes depending on the driver’s needs.
In comfort the steering is lightweight while the throttle remains lazy, to save fuel. Switch over to sport mode and the steering gains some artificial weight and the accelerator pedal comes to life. In this mode, Renault has also added an artificial exhaust note, which gets pumped into the cabin. We hate to admit it, but it sounds really good and if you don’t tell your passengers otherwise, you can claim it as real. There’s no change to the suspension.
Power delivery is smooth and linear and we didn’t feel it lacking too much grunt in the low range or on take-off. Weighing 1392kg (kerb), though, the GT could probably do with a little more torque.
Around the twisty coastal countryside of Portugal, we found the Megane GT to be deserving of its badge. The one feature that no doubt helps the French hatch turn into the tight corners is four-wheel steering. At speeds of up to 60km/h (or 80km/h in sport mode) the Megane GT’s rear wheels do an opposite turn of 2.7 degrees to allow sharper cornering, while at speeds higher than that they turn one degree in the same direction.
It all adds up to a very solid driver’s car, while keeping in mind its requirements as a daily driver. It’s hard to say whether it’s a better car than the segment-benchmark and more potent Golf GTI (162kW, 350Nm) until we’ve put them side by side, but first impressions say it’s perhaps not as refined or capable overall as its German rival.
That comes down to its steering, which seems a little vague, but more so its seven-speed dual clutch transmission, which we found hesitating at times. It can be smooth, sometimes, but around town it occasionally jerked on changes, while even flat-out it didn’t have the rapid-fire feel of its direct competitor’s DSG. It’s great, without being excellent.
What we found most trying, however, was the steering column-mounted paddle shifters that we think are just too small (unless you have giant hands). With both hands in the correct driving position, we found the reach for the paddles to be unreasonably long (and placed higher than they should be) as Renault has dropped the bottom half of the paddles out, having to save space for the myriad of other stalks that are busily buried around.
With the wheel where we like it, it mostly covered the windscreen wiper stalk and half of the audio control stalk (which the French insist on using, instead of just placing them on the wheel itself). In that regard – and much like some models from Peugeot – the French have again designed some strange ergonomic features. They are not annoying enough to put you off, however, and no doubt one can get used to it. Besides, in Sport mode the GT shifts gears rather well without your assistance.
On the open road, the Megane GT really comes to life. It begs to be driven fast as it accelerates with ease and the brakes are sensitive without being overdone. It effortlessly cruised – in the wet - well past Australia’s top legal speed limits without feeling light on the front end or unsure of itself in corners.
What the Megane GT has going for it is French style and glamour, with a drivetrain and dynamics almost as good as its main European rival. In many ways it’s the ideal choice if you’re not after something as ‘hot-hatchy’ or as common as a GTI, but still want to feel alive when the time is right.
It certainly has a lot of character and there’s a lot you get in this car that is not available on competitors. This includes simple things like being able to change the ambient interior lighting of the car (in the doors and centre console surrounds) to numerous colours, and even being able to switch the rear ambient lights off while keeping the front lighting on (if you have kids sleeping in the back).
The high-resolution digital speedometer can also be change to multiple designs, allowing more relevant info depending on your needs.
On the more tangible stuff, Renault has a host of active safety features such as adaptive cruise control (50-140kph), active braking (30-140kph), lane departure and distance warning, blind spot warning, automatic high and low beam and 360 degree ultrasonic parking sensors (still to be determined which features will be standard and which as options). All safety technologies that are usually reserved for the segment above.
The 2016 Renault Megane GT is without doubt the best car from the French manufacturer to date.
If Renault Australia can get the GT's packaging and price right (we expect $37-39,000, but it remains to be confirmed), it could represent a solid choice for buyers seeking Euro styling with more than adequate performance credentials.