Hot-hatch pace with wagon space doesn't equal what you may expect...
On paper the Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon looks like an ideal blend of performance and practicality.
Up front there’s a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 162kW of power and 340Nm of torque. Out back there’s 524 litres of boot space, or 1600L with the rear backrest and front passenger seat folded.
Cloaked with a sports bodykit and black 18-inch alloys wheels, and equipped with dual-zone climate control, cruise control and heavily bolstered seats, the $36,990 Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon – of which only 220 are coming here – also has few rivals. Only the $39,990 Skoda Octavia RS or $40,190 Holden Commodore SV6 Sportwagon comes close.
In terms of its body, the Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon is pure Megane wagon. The plastics quality is quite good, there’s a medium-sized amount of rear legroom and the body hugging sports seats are superb.
Tick the optional ($5000) Premium pack and the pews are wrapped in leather, the fronts are heated, the roof is covered in glass and front parking sensors join with a rear camera. The downmarket-looking black-and-white central screen is replaced by colour satellite navigation, but the Renault Monitor 2.0 that displays lateral G among other functions is lost. The sat-nav also looks aftermarket.
The longer wheelbase compared with the hatch makes for impressive rear legroom. Further rearward, the low loading lip makes picking up and putting in large items a cinch.
In terms of mechanicals, Renault has essentially taken the Megane RS hot hatch then made it less hardcore – the suspension is softer, the engine has been detuned, the steering isn’t as sharp and there’s no front limited-slip differential to assist with power down out of corners.
Although we’ve already driven the Megane GT 220 in an overseas first drive, this is our first local steer of the car that has since been re-named for this market from its native ‘Estate’ to ‘Sport Wagon’.
In that overseas first drive, the Megane GT 220 presented less like a perfect balance between hot hatch heroics and wagon sensibilities and more like a slight compromise.
Despite being detuned by 33kW and 20Nm compared with the RS, there is still spirited performance from the turbo engine in the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon.
The six-speed manual is slick and tight, and the clutch and brakes feel natural. The 1499kg wagon is 125kg heavier than the RS, however, and a claimed 7.6 second 0-100km/h is fully 1.5 seconds slower. It also feels less brisk than an Octavia RS or Commodore SV6 Sportwagon.
Stop-start technology is standard, though, helping the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon score a 7.3L/100km official combined consumption figure.
Although the performance is slightly reduced, and economy enhanced, the engine remains a noisy companion; the thrashy, slightly grainy soundtrack is arguably more appropriate in a hot hatch than a family chariot.
Likewise the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon isn’t a quiet companion on coarse chip roads, with plenty of roar thrown up from the 225mm-wide tyres – much more than in the Megane GT-Line wagon driven before it, which wears 205mm-wide tyres.
Particularly for a car stretching towards $40,000 the refinement level in the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon is lower than might be expected.
Although the Megane GT220 Sport Wagon gets a ‘Sport’ chassis straight from the Megane RS265 that isn’t sold here – we only get the harder ‘Cup’ chassis tune – it remains way too hard to be considered comfortable.
The constant restlessness, banging and thudding over rough country roads is more obvious on local bitumen than it was on smoother French roads, and along with the cabin noise can make the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon a tiring companion.
Much of the noise and control-focussed ride can be forgiven in the Megane RS 265 because it offers superb steering and delivers enthralling handling. It’s here, however, that the Megane GT 220 also feels compromised.
Without the limited-slip differential that allows effortless power down out of corners in the Megane RS 265, and contributes much to its dynamic repertoire, the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon is left hamstrung.
The stability control light now works overtime trying to restrict torque to the front wheels out of bends, and the GT 220 doesn’t feel as though it has even an electronic differential – which essentially brake a spinning inside wheel – found in the Golf GTI and Focus ST to name two.
Without the clever steering system found in the Megane RS 265, which separates the hub from the front strut, the Megane GT 220 also suffers torque steer in a straight line. Yet the steering itself is also slower – 2.8 turns lock-to-lock compared with 2.6 – and far less incisive. Indeed, the steering in an Octavia RS and Commodore SV6 – not to mention Golf GTI and Focus ST – also feels superior.
When bends turn from tight and narrow to wide and flowing the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon lifts its side skirts, offering the dynamics to match the straight line speed.
Simply, it grips, points and goes, in a way that more mundane mid-sized wagons competing in that price bracket, such as the Mazda 6, cant.
Curiously, however, the lesser grip found in the Megane GT-Line wagon makes it feel more throttle adjustable and balanced on the limit than the more planted, stolid Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon.
Arguably, too, the Mazda 6 offers a broader skill set; likewise with the more expensive Octavia RS and Commodore SV6 that are also just as speedy.
Being a more practical, less hardcore version of the Megane RS, the Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon could have retained the superb steering and limited-slip differential from its hot hatch sibling, but offer softer suspension and more noise insulation to make it more liveable.
Instead, the steering has been changed and the front LSD ditched, yet the suspension remains hard and the cabin noisy. It’s still a fast and desirable performance wagon, the Renault Megane GT 220 Sport Wagon, but it is also flawed in key areas.