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Renault Sport has runs on the board when it comes to crafting exciting hatches, which is why the new 2017 Renault Megane GT tuned by the French company’s sports division is exciting.
Not quite a fully-fledged RS model, the Megane GT launched in Australia this week nevertheless offers a number of performance features that make it an attractive, appealing Volkswagen Golf GTI alternative for people sick of the (deservedly) ubiquitous German.
A 151kW turbo engine, dual-clutch gearbox with paddles and launch control, glamorous cabin with track-styled Alcantara buckets, rear-wheel steering to reduce front-drive understeer, and a price of $38,490 plus on-road costs all scream ‘winner’.
From Renault’s perspective, it also opens the brand up to vastly more buyers than the just-discontinued two-door, manual-only Megane RS275, which was a brilliant, razor-sharp car for purists that offered all the mainstream appeal of a hipster dive bar.
The EDC auto is what most Australians want, irrespective of purists like us stamping our feet and longing for a manual, and the extra set of doors makes it an everyday option.
Following on from our exclusive preview drive in Anglesea a few months ago, we got another quick go behind the wheel of the Megane GT at the Australian market launch this week, alongside the cheaper entry Megane variants reviewed separately here.
The questions: does this range-topping (until the next-generation Megane RS lobs in 2018) Megane GT strike the right balance between fun and liveability, and would you really opt for one over the mighty Golf GTI for reasons beyond the stunning design?
Right off the bat, the Megane GT ticks boxes. The design, penned by a French team led by Dutchman Laurens van den Acker, is about the sharpest in the segment. Looks are subjective, but it’s a damn site prettier and more adventurous than most.
The aggressive nose, sleek headlights with distinctive hockey stick DRLs, front air dam, curvaceous side, wide hips, streamlined tail lights and five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels (shod in Continental rubber) give it good presence and proportions in equal dosage.
The cabin looks the business as well, with its TFT instruments, chunky leather steering wheel with paddles on the column, and blue/black Alcantara buckets seats that are just brilliant. The blue plastic and silver aluminium highlights, and ambient lighting, add lustre.
Standard features include a rear-view camera, all-round sensors, haptic dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, satellite navigation with TomTom software, blind-spot monitoring, privacy glass and park assist.
There are grievances, however. The standard 7.0-inch landscape screen with the company’s R-Link 2 operating system is acceptable, but the flagship 8.7-inch portrait screen pictured must be bought as part of the $1990 Premium pack, which also adds a more powerful Bose sound system and full LED headlights. A no brainer.
Furthermore, while the new interior is an improvement, there are some downsides. For one, the plastics used on the lower sections of the fascia, transmission tunnel and gear shifter feel cheap. The Golf or Peugeot 308 offer more pleasant tactility by some margin.
Additionally, while the infotainment system is fast and logical to wade through (on either the landscape or portrait screen) by way of clear menus, we’ve grown to appreciate Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring software, which Renault doesn’t offer.
The other major grievance we have is the lack of autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which is offered in France but can’t be fitted to Australian cars until — in all likelihood —next year. That’s just a crap situation for a challenger brand to be in.
The fourth-generation Megane is bigger than before — 57mm longer and 29mm longer in the wheelbase — but rear seat space is middle of the pack. On the plus side, the 434-litre boot is deep and capacious, though there’s only a temporary spare wheel beneath.
If Renault Australia can get a Megane GT wagon derivative here soon, too, it’ll only enhance the unique selling point and practicality factor.
The new Megane is based on the Renault-Nissan CMF C/D platform shared with a number of cars from both brands, helping the company pare back costs through scale.
Renault Sport has fettled the car’s suspension, with the GT having different springs, dampers and anti-roll bars to base versions, though the fundamental set-up remains the badge-signature MacPherson/beam axle set-up. The electromechanical steering is also faster from centre.
The diameter of the brake discs is 30mm wider (320mm at the front, 290mm at the rear).
Under the bonnet is a 1.6-litre turbo engine familiar from the Clio RS, in this iteration offering a beefed up 151kW of power at 6000rpm and 280Nm of torque at 2400rpm (up 4kW/40Nm over the Clio). Matched as standard is the seven-speed DCT auto.
These outputs are nothing special for a hotted-up small car, given they trail the ($5000 more expensive with DSG) 162kW/350Nm Golf GTI, though it lines up well against the ($3500 pricier, and manual-only) 151kW/285Nm 1.6 Peugeot 308 GT. Power-to-price is pretty sharp.
The Megane’s engine has decent mid-range torque and is relatively responsive, and can punt the 1390kg GT from zero to 100km/h in a respectable 7.1 seconds if you use the DCT's launch control. Hit the sport button and a meaty note is pumped into the cabin, and the throttle calibration sharpens.
The DCT has a double-downshift function, but it's never as crisp or aggressive as a Volkswagen DSG, and it can hesitate at times, though it’s fine for warm hatchery. We’d love a manual, but you’ll have to wait for the next Megane RS for this.
Like the rest of the Megane range, the GT is front-wheel drive. But instead of a clever front diff or inside-wheel braking system that pulls the car around corners, the Megane has a 4Control rear-wheel steering system that pushes the car from the back, aiding turn-in and reducing understeer.
This novel approach (unless you like 1980s Japanese cars) actually works brilliantly, enhancing the already good chassis balance, and tucking the nose in aggressively. The turning circle is reduced around town, while the smaller steering inputs yielded by the quicker steering rack combine to make the GT feel very nippy indeed.
Interestingly, despite having bigger wheels and lower-profile rubber than base Megane variants, the GT actually handled our patched test roads better, thanks to the Renault Sport tinkering and higher quality dampers.
The GT still fidgets on low amplitude ruts, jars over sharp hits and feels a little brittle compared to the Golf GTI, but it’s easier to digest in a performance car.
Noise, vibration and harshness suppression (NVH) also felt middling. Renault may have added thicker window glass and better door seals, but over coarse chip roads the Megane is far from class topping in terms of refinement.
One area where the 2017 Renault Megane undoubtedly surprises is running costs. It’s frankly time to throw away the idea that French cars (albeit built in Spain, in this case) are expensive and risky to maintain.
Renault Australia gives you a five-year warranty across unlimited kilometres, full roadside assist, capped price servicing for three years (at $299 annually, which is on par with Toyota) and the best visiting intervals in market, at up to 30,000km.
Renault also subsidises the parts costs, and leverages Nissan for supply chain logistics, making components highly competitive against much larger-scale rivals, and superior to some brands with small volumes.
Renault has also spent a lot of money improving its dealer network, which now comprises 55 sites nationally, an will grow to 58 by the end of 2016. This means that it’s easier to find support and help should you need it. Renault says it covers 90 per of the population.
So that’s our first Australian road drive of the 2017 Renault Megane GT. Like the outgoing GT, don’t think of it as a Megane RS replacement, but rather a chic warmed-up hatch that'll sell on its points-of-difference.
In short, then, the Renault Megane GT isn't as good as a Golf GTI. But it's much more interesting.