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A car review that features four-wheel steering, a sometimes laggy turbocharged engine and lashings of electro synth pop? You know its either the '80s or the French.
Priced from $38,490 (before options and on-road costs), the Megane GT is somewhat of a ‘warm’ hatch. It’s a similar approach taken to fellow ami français, the $42,990 Peugeot 308 GT, which offers sporty looks and performance but not the hotter hotness of the GTI.
Going by that thinking then, the Renault Megane RS is going to be a cracker, because the GT is a real hoot.
The sportier styling elements, and Iron Blue metallic paint (a $600 option and one of eight choices) really suit the lines of the new Megane. Both front and rear LED driving lamp signatures are unique and smart looking, plus our car was also fitted with the $1990 Premium Pack which includes LED head lamps as well.
From a side profile, there is nothing too risky about the Megane. The door handles aren’t hidden, the chrome trim pieces are subtle, there’s no crazy vertical window of the ‘big bum’ of the Megane II… it’s a modern and classy Euro hatch. Even the basic, angled radio antenna is cool, in an old-school way.
A somewhat aggressive airdam at the front balances the giant chrome Renault diamond badge, and the bright rear valance and diffuser help give the car a lower stance. The 18-inch Magny-Cours alloy wheels complete the athletic looking package.
Before we unlock the door and jump in though, a quick note about that stupid key. For the unfamiliar, the key fob for the Megane is a rectangular, plastic blob. It’s just the right size to fit nowhere and be inconvenient all the time.
It’s hard to tell which button is which at night, and there’s no keyless entry (well, there is but I couldn't get it to work. As readers have noted, you have to walk away to lock the car for kelyess access. If you press the LOCK button, you have to press the UNLOCK button) so you have to drop your bags to fumble with the card to get the car unlocked.
There’s no hole so you can't clip it to your key or belt or beret. Plus there’s not even a handy place to keep it in the car.
Sure, it’s a talking piece when you slap it down next to your croissant on the coffee table – mainly because its too awkward to keep in your pocket – and the carbon-fibre looking cover is quite smart, but I found it a pain and kept losing it inside various pockets and bags over the course of the week.
Keen to hear any Renault key success stories out there though...
Once you do step inside, the sharp blue ambient lighting and trim highlights make the interior feel just as smart and classy as the outside.
The blue and black Alcantara sport seats are very comfortable and while manually adjustable, good to get into a functional driving position.
There’s blue stitching on the leather steering wheel, which is nice to hold, plus some blue carbon-fibre looking trim elements on the dash and door panels.
In the middle of the dashboard (and part of the Premium Pack) is an 8.7-inch portrait LCD display running the Renault R-Link 2 software.
Presentation on the infotainment screen is clear, but the navigation and user experience can be fiddly. Plus, I can’t stand the buttons for volume on the side of the panel. I know it looks cool and works well with the design aesthetic, but they are horrible to use on the move.
Jumping around from navigation to audio to car settings feels a little too complex, and the multiple points to access the drive modes, from the Renault RS button and little flower-mode button on the centre console had me wondering whether each had a slightly different function.
The screen can be slow to react in some circumstances, too.
Connecting a phone was easy but each time I plugged it in to charge I received a message saying the Bluetooth and USB connections were clashing. Every other car seems to manage this without issue, Renault...
The dials underneath the screen are actually for the climate control, and it took me a minute of blasting hot air to figure out why the volume wasn’t cranking during Kavinsky’s Testarossa Autodrive…
Sound comes via a 12-speaker Bose system (another part of the Premium Pack), that includes a sub-woofer in the spare wheel well, and is punchy enough, but still not as bright at the top end as I like.
Just on the boot, the 60:40 folding seats don’t offer a flat-load floor when flipped down. The regular boot is deep and the volume of 434 litres is pretty good (the same as the Peugeot and well up on the 380 litres in the Volkswagen Golf), but the full capacity of 1247 litres isn’t something we imagine you will use a lot.
The rear seats too, are comfortable, but tight. I found my knees and toes were rubbing on the back of the driver’s seat as set in my position. The outside seats continue the Alcantara theme, but the centre is a higher leather ‘bump’. You do get vents, map pockets and an arm rest with cupholders though.
But for all it’s snazzy blue bits and comfortable seats, the Megane GT still suffers from the ‘no one thinks like this’ French ergonomics, and ‘who-hand drive?’ translation from left to right.
Example one. The cruise control speed adjustment and cancel/resume functions are on the steering wheel where you expect them to be. You have to activate the cruise by a three-position rocker switch on the centre console behind the handbrake button though.
Part deux. Under the dash near your right knee is a large cavity. In the opposite spot on the left-side of the car, is a large fuse box. This takes up half the space of the glove box and is really just poorly planned left-to-right drive engineering. Either that or people in left-drive countries need more glove space. You heard it here first.
And trois… that audio stalk sits just where you can never see it while on the move. After time you do get used to button and dial placement, but surely this would be easier to just leave on the face of the steering wheel like we’ve come to expect?
But that wouldn’t be very French would it?
Under the bonnet is a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 151kW and 280Nm available. Peak power doesn’t come on until 6000rpm and when revving the Renault out, despite the aid of synthesised engine noise in the cabin, the little 1.6 doesn’t sound all that alluring.
There’s higher-pitched buzziness to the motor, which is amplified when you shift the car into its sport driving mode and let the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission manage for itself.
Like this, the Megane tends to hold gears waaaay too long, making a short urban stint in the sports setting a bit of an awkward sounding experience. Leave it in its regular setting around town then.
Shift yourself though, and things change – mostly.
Peak torque comes on nice and low at 2400rpm, but given the modest numbers it's more of a push than a shove. Push away hard in a straight line, changing around the 5000rpm mark, and the Renault is fast enough.
It has a claimed 0-100km/h time of 7.1 seconds and we measured our own standing sprint quite close to that. Nothing too scary or thrill inducing, but entertaining enough. Mid-range response isn't a stamp and shoot procedure; things move forward but there is a definite delay there, waiting to get all the numbers lined up.
Proper enjoyment then, comes up against another usability hurdle. The placement of the shift paddles on the steering wheel. Or more to the point, not on the steering wheel.
They sit just a little bit too high on the hub to be supremely comfortable with your hands at 3 and 9… but that’s neither here nor there. Where the problem lies is in their pointy ‘lapin’ ear design. The paddles extend up, but not down.
What this means is if you are in a left-hand sweeper and need to shift from second to third, you’re all good as the paddle tip extends to about the 1 o’clock position. Turn right though, and you’re stuck as the stubby end finishes just below the 3-mark, meaning if your hand is naturally down at 5 o’clock, you’re holding that gear until the road straightens out.
I know this wont come up much when making your way along Church Street in Brighton, but even on a mildly entertaining drive on a winding road, it can be a pain.
It’s a pity as the rest of the dynamic package is pretty good. The GT rides well, both in town and out, and its four-wheel steering party trick is certainly noticeable!
The rear wheels will turn counter to the front at speeds under 60km/h, which gives a pseudo-drifting sensation around roundabouts and makes parallel parking a breeze. Even lane changes become an experience as you feel the back of the car following along behind. It’s a little unsettling at first, but makes the Megane easy to deal with in urban areas.
At higher speeds, the wheels turn the same direction as the front to help with stability. The result is a car that feels more like an all-wheel drive than a French-wheel drive. The steering still feels natural, especially on lighter radius bends, but the car just feels more stable and there’s barely any torque-steer tug from the wheel under throttle load.
It's not going to unsettle the Golf GTI as the benchmark for hot-hatch dynamics, but there's a good car here in the GT and it bodes well for the more potent Renault models to come.
The 2017 Renault Megane GT is a stylish and entertaining five-door hatch. Yes, it has some frustrations, but they are the things that tend to become second nature over time, and being a little bit different always carries a cost.
It's well priced for the segment and Renault is offering low finance rates and a five-year warranty and roadside assistance package on the Megane at the moment, which helps to sweeten the deal.
The Renault isn't ideal for everyone, but for mine the classy looks and enjoyable drive make this something worth considering, especially if you don't mind being a little bit different.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.