Phase two of Renault Australia’s new product assault has arrived, in the form of the fourth-generation Renault Megane hatch. Launched hot on the heels of the Koleos SUV, the French-branded small car shapes up as a huge improvement.
To make its small car staple a legitimate Volkswagen Golf rival, Renault has given the Mk4 Megane new architecture, a sexier body, completely revised cabin with the latest infotainment, punchy turbo-petrol engine and plenty of standard features.
We attended the Australian launch this week, spending a few hours behind the wheel of three of the four variants to be offered here in Oz. Here we cover the mid-range Zen and GT-Line. We’ll report on the exciting Renault Sport-tuned Megane GT tomorrow. Stay tuned.
As you can read in more detail, the 2017 Renault Megane line-up kicks off at a competitive $22,490 plus on-road costs for the Life with a manual gearbox, climbing to $24,990 for the Life with an EDC dual-clutch automatic.
The Zen with EDC is a walk up to $27,490, the GT-Line EDC is $32,490, and the hotted-up GT EDC is $38,490. These figures all line up relatively well against equivalent Golf, Focus and Mazda 3 derivatives, albeit without their brand recognition.
The most arresting element of the new Megane is the design, penned by a French team led by Dutchman Laurens van den Acker. The bold nose, curvaceous profile, wide hips and lean tail-lights give the car an elegant and dynamic stance and strong proportions.
Looks are subjective, but if there’s a sexier mainstream small car out there than this one, it’s hiding in plain sight.
The interior also marks a step up for Renault, with all base versions offering a 7.0-inch touchscreen with updated R-Link 2 infotainment, a clean and uncluttered fascia, modern instruments and contrasting trims, to keep things engaging.
The seats — be they the base car’s offerings or the sculpted buckets with dual-density foam higher up the range (lifted from the much more expensive Talisman) — are also comfortable and supportive. The driving position is good, with ample wheel adjustability.
Read the full specifications breakdown, but highlights on the Life beyond those mentioned include keyless entry, a rear-view camera, reversing sensors, a tyre-pressure monitor, eight-speaker audio, USB/Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, leather steering wheel and dark cloth seats.
The $2500 more expensive Zen adds LED daytime running lights, satellite-navigation, front parking sensors, electric parking brake and 16-inch alloy wheels. A sunroof on this variant is an option.
The GT-Line adds a body kit, sunroof, five driving modes, multi-coloured cabin ambient lighting, electric-folding door mirrors, black Alcantara seats, sports bucket seats, blind-spot monitoring, park assist, rear privacy glass, 17-inch wheels and chrome body trims.
This version offers the GT’s show, without the extra ‘go’. On this version you can also have an 8.7-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen as part of the $1990 Premium Pack (that also adds Bose audio and LED headlights).
While the new interior is an improvement on the old car, 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, and 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, especially one that has long taken pride in its safety credentials.
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.
Under the bonnet of all variants tested here is a familiar engine — the company’s direct-injected 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol unit with deceptively strong outputs of 97kW at 4500rpm and 205Nm at 2000rpm.
The torque figure is key, with the peak arriving early in the rev band, giving the car a strong mid-range and more effortless punch from even moderate throttle than the uninitiated might think.
Matched to the base car is a Paris-chic six-speed manual gearbox that will be brought by precisely (almost) nobody. The main transmission choice is an EDC dual-clutch automatic with seven ratios, sending torque to the front wheels.
It’s a little fussy and indecisive at times, notably if you have a point-and-shoot driving style around town, while the shifts aren’t as crisp as you’ll get in a Volkswagen DSG. But most drivers won’t notice a thing, and we’d take it over the Koleos’ dreary CVT.
Claimed combined-cycle fuel economy is 6.0 litres per 100km, giving you a theoretical range of more than 800km. We don’t have scope to test the economy on these launch previews, so our real-world figure will instead come over the next few weeks.
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.
In terms of suspension, Renault has rejigged the front wishbone bushings, the rear suspension joints and the rear beam axle (a Megane staple), allowing more small steering movements of the rear wheels.
The turning circle is 11.2 metres, and the rack has 2.9 turns lock-to-lock. The electric-assisted system is light from centre but typically direct and precise (there are no rubber mountings between the sub-frame and body), which makes up for the lack of feedback, though Renault has not ironed out kickback over mid-corner hits.
Turn-in is commendably sharp, giving the car a pleasantly dart-like character tipping into corners, while the body control remains sufficient under lateral loads mid-corner and when recovering from steep and rapid undulations.
On a side note, the Megane GT not covered here has a four-wheel steering system that turns the back wheels minutely in the opposite direction to the fronts at low speeds and the same direction at high speeds, making it more nimble and reducing push understeer. Neat.
Letting the team down a little is the ride, despite the revised dampers and bump stops, which degrades markedly when the road surface is short of pristine. Even the non-GT cars (on higher-profile tyres) felt fidgety over small bumps and crashed over sharper hits.
The one caveat we’d add is that the roads on the launch were like a lunar scape, so we’ll cut the Megane some slack until we drive it on roads that we know better and are more relatable for urban dwellers
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 cabin environment could be more refined.
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 uses partner Nissan for its supply chain logistics, making the component prices competitive against larger-scale rivals, and superior to some.
Renault has spent a lot of money improving its dealer network, which now comprises 55 sites nationally, and 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 its dealer network covers 90 per of the population.
There's little doubt the Megane hatch is a superior choice for prospective small car buyers compared to what it was before, while the Megane wagon and Megane sedan versions that'll launch in about six months will further broaden the scope.
The ride quality on test, lack of AEB and some low-grade plastic quality in the cabin are sore points, but the Megane is beautiful to behold, fun to steer, pokey, decent value and surprisingly cheap to own.
In other words, you should put Renault's new Volkswagen Golf, Peugeot 308, Mazda 3 and Ford Focus rival on your shortlist if you’re serious about finding a small car with a big point of difference.