The Renault Megane is one of the newest entrants into Australia's diesel-powered small-car market.
Launching locally in September 2011, the Renault Megane diesel joins the three-pronged petrol range, which arrived on our shores around one year earlier.
There are two diesel models to chose from: the entry-level Dynamique ($27,490 before on-road costs) and the more luxurious Privilege ($32,490).
That pricing puts the Megane diesel around the middle of its direct competitors (small diesels under $35,000), which spans from the $23,090 Hyundai i30 SX CRDi to the $34,490 Volkswagen Golf 103TDI Comfortline. Also available in that range is the Australian made Holden Cruze ($25,240) and the impressive Ford Focus ($30,500), and the Megane’s traditional French rivals, the Citroen C4 ($26,990) and the Peugeot 308 ($29,990).
Renault Australia’s current emphasis is on offering well-equipped, competitively priced cars, moving away from its premium European pricing of the past and resisting the temptation to offer cheap but sparsely appointed runabouts. Fortunately, the latest Megane diesel is a devoted disciple of the philosophy.
Crucially for some drivers, the Megane diesel comes standard with a self-shifting gearbox, making it one of the most inexpensive automatic-style diesels on the market. The six-speed EDC (Efficient Dual Clutch) works much like the Golf’s DSG transmission and the Focus’s PowerShift unit. Renault Australia does not offer a manual option with its diesel engine.
The Dynamique dCi is tremendously equipped for the price. Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels (with full-size steel spare), automatic headlights and wipers, fog lights, hands-free entry and push-button start, cruise control with speed limiter, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, height and reach adjustable leather steering wheel, and a four-speaker audio system with CD player, AUX/USB ports and Bluetooth with audio streaming. Metallic paint costs an extra $800 while satellite navigation will set you back $1490.
With all that kit, the Megane Dynamique dCi is a close competitor for the Golf 103TDI DSG, yet costs $7000 less.
Your other option is the Privilege dCi. For an additional $5000, you get larger, 17-inch alloys (again with a full-size steel spare), rear parking sensors, sunroof, leather upholstery, satellite navigation and an upgraded sound system. It’s another generous package that puts the Megane at the top of its class for standard features and value for money.
Additionally, the Megane scored the maximum five-star safety rating when crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2008, and all models sold in Australia are equipped with six airbags (dual front, side and curtains) and electronic stability control.
And any fears of that infamous French unreliability should be put at ease by the five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and five-year 24-hour roadside assistance, which is a level of aftersales protection unsurpassed by any other manufacturer in Australia.
So the Renault Megane diesel is the perfect car? Well, no, not exactly.
Let’s begin with the engine. It’s a particularly rattly 1.5-litre turbocharged unit with 81kW of power (at 4000rpm) and 240Nm of torque (at 1750rpm). A clattery sound invades the cabin when the revs climb above 2000rpm, making the engine sound exasperated and slightly agricultural. There’s some lag when you step on the throttle, although you’re rewarded with a surprisingly throaty tone when you reach the higher realms of the rev range. In terms of refinement the Megane diesel is off the pace of segment leaders like the Golf and Focus, and rougher still than others like the 308 and C4. The cabin is otherwise quiet, with no disturbing road or wind noise.
The transmission is a smooth shifter and exhibits little of the low-speed uncertainty common among some other dual-clutch units. It has a peculiar tendency to hang onto gears longer than it needs to, however, almost as if a ‘sport mode’ has been selected, which is somewhat counterintuitive for a diesel targeting maximum fuel economy.
Regardless, the Megane diesel’s fuel consumption is officially rated at 4.5 litres per 100km, putting it among the most efficient cars in its class. We achieved 7.5L/100km over a week of almost exclusively city and suburban driving – a commendable result considering the lack of freeway kilometres.
The steering is generally light and has a lack of feedback and feel. There’s an inconsistency in the steering weight around corners – sometimes light, sometimes heavy – and this unpredictability is exacerbated on inclines and downhill sections. Positively, the electric power steering lightens up at low speeds, making parking and tight spots easy to negotiate.
The suspension doesn’t quite spring back quick enough, leading to a bouncy ride over imperfect surfaces. The C4 is also guilty of this, while cars like the Golf, Focus and Mazda3 are far better at absorbing the bumps and producing a sturdy ride.
The cabin has a high quality, refined feel. Soft-touch plastics are used across the dashboard and doorsills, while the hard plastics on the centre console have a nice smooth texture. The layout is clean and ergonomically sound, and the large digital speedo is good for quick glances. The TomTom sat-nav is among the more user-friendly integrated systems on the market.
The driver’s seat is comfortable and most should find their sweet spot easily. Visibility is good enough although the rear pillars are quite thick and the back windscreen is rather small.
The back seat is not as accommodating as some other small hatches. Those above 5’10’’ will struggle for head room, while knee room also becomes an issue with taller occupants in the front.
The boot floor is flat and wide, and its 360-litre capacity is about average for its class. The 60:40 split rear seats fold forwards to expand the boot but are quite limited in their movement and don’t come close to folding flat.
If you’re in the market for a small diesel hatch with strong driving dynamics, you will be better served looking beyond the Megane to the Golf and Focus. For those who place more emphasis on high equipment levels, fuel efficiency and a long warranty, however, the little Renault diesel makes a strong case.