Talk about polarising. I love the look of the 2017 Renault Megane sedan, particularly in Intens specification as you see here.
I think it does exactly what a Renault should do – be different but not overtly extravagant, stylish but suave. But my mates – who aren’t car guys – said they hated the look, that it was “too busy” and “just ugly”.
I guess that’s going to sum up a lot about the Renault Megane sedan range – you’ll either like what it’s all about, or it won’t do anything for you at all. And, to be honest, the car industry needs more models like this, more vehicles that divide opinion and get people talking.
Obviously Renault will be hoping there’ll be more than just talk, with the Megane being the only small car line-up currently on sale with a sedan, wagon and hatchback in its range, all under the one nameplate. That should see its sales numbers jump in the crowded small car segment, where the hatch – released in 2016 – has struggled for market traction.
The struggle has been great enough for Renault to adjust its approach, offering drive-away pricing on the Megane line-up, be it the hatchback, sedan or wagon. It’s a good move, by our measure.
And that brings us to this Intens model, the flagship sedan because there is no sporty GT variant in this body shape (bummer, right?), which is positioned relatively aggressively from $32,990 plus on-road costs. Read the 2017 Renault Megane sedan pricing and specs story.
That may seem a big sum for a small sedan, but the Megane sedan is a little larger inside than you might expect – the boot, for instance, is 503 litres, just 12L less than a Toyota Camry.
And unlike a Camry at this price-point, you’re getting a vehicle packed with goodies.
Standard is a comprehensive list of safety items including autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and distance warning, front, rear and side parking sensors, a rear-view camera, and LED headlights with auto-high beam. There are six airbags (dual front, front side, curtain), stability control and hill start assist.
There are also those lovely LED daytime running lights, auto lights and wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels, semi-automated parking, an electric sunroof and rear privacy glass.
As we said at the beginning, the Renault looks stylish outside, and its interior is certainly distinct and characterful compared to its rivals, due primarily to its portrait-oriented 8.7-inch media screen, which is teamed to an eight-speaker Arkamys audio system.
That system takes some time to get used to, with the lack of a hard-button to go to the home screen the main issue. The graphics are all pretty smart, and we like the transition screens, but the load times can be a little slow, and the edge buttons (they don't push in, rather they are touch-sensitive) show up oily fingerprints within seconds of being cleaned.
The Renault’s screen layout with its rear-view camera display on top and parking sensor illustration below makes it a bit hard to actually see what’s on the top display, too.
That said, phone connectivity is well sorted, with easy Bluetooth functionality and a pair of USB ports that are easily accessible, plus a further two in the glovebox. We reckon the digital instrument cluster is a really nice touch, one that furthers the flair of the cabin and makes it easy to see your speed readout – no matter which of the drive modes (eco, neutral, personal, sport and comfort) you choose.
Triggering different modes also changes the ambient lighting, with strips on the doors and console enhancing the special feel of the cabin – which is brought back down to earth by the hard, shiny plastics nearby.
We reckon the Renault’s glovebox could be the most useless in the world, and we continue to be mind-boggled by the insistence on having the cruise control switch between the seats. And yes, because French car the cupholders are a bit shallow, too. But the loose item storage is otherwise quite good, including fine door pocket storage.
The occupant space in the back is not exemplary, but it is certainly adequate, with fine legroom and enough space for two adults in the back, so long as they aren't too tall – headroom can be tight for those above six-feet. There are rear air vents, and the usual child-seat attachments (dual ISOFIX and three top-tether).
And, of course, there’s that huge boot – though it doesn’t have flat folding rear seats, so when loading in long items you’d want to be wary of the potential for snags.
Because it’s a modern European car, the engine has been downsized to meet strict emissions regulations, with a teeny-weeny 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged mill under the shapely bonnet of the Megane.
It’s the same powerplant seen in the hatch models in the lower grades, and has a small-by-class-standards 97kW of power (at 5500rpm) and 205Nm of torque (at 2000rpm). Taking care of gearshifts is what Renault labels an EDC – electronic dual-clutch – seven-speed automatic transmission.
That transmission… well, when a fellow tester, who spent a night with the car (thus an hour in peak traffic to home and then the office), returned the next day with the description “I think it must be broken”, you know it’s not the ideal situation.
And the reasoning behind that assessment was the fact the dual-clutch isn’t as precise or rapid-fire in its shifts as we’ve come to expect from that type of transmission. In fact, it can slur its shifts, and it is particularly lurchy, verging on unlikable, at low speeds in stop-start traffic, with some noticeable turbo lag before you push away from a stop sign or red light. The wheels will easily spin if you've got steering lock applied, too, but the Megane is not on its own in that regard.
That said, at higher speeds – say, during off-peak commuting or country driving – the transmission is really well sorted. It deals with hills (and a relatively lack of pulling power) by cleverly and quietly shuffling between gears to maintain good pace.
Still, we expected better fuel use than we saw. The claim is 6.1 litres per 100km, and ours managed 8.6L/100km with limited, snarly stop-start stuff.
As for the amount of enjoyment behind the wheel? Well, it’s not a thriller of a car, but nor is it terrible to drive. That is to say, it’s no Fluence (the car that preceded the Megane sedan, and it was truly yuck).
The suspension is soft, designed to deal with cobbles and the like, and to a degree it does manage to isolate those in the cabin from the road beneath, but big high-speed bumps unsettle it and you can feel the big 18-inch wheels dropping into potholes and the like. The low-speed ride is soft and supple, comfortable in the way it disposes of ripples and jitters at lower speeds, and well sorted over speed-humps.
The steering is perhaps the Megane's biggest let down. It doesn’t have the innate connectedness you get in many of its competitor cars, with some strange differences to the weighting and reactiveness at speed. It is light and twirl-able around town, though. Or you could just let it do its own twirling by using the semi-automated parking system.
Renault offers a strong long-term ownership plan, with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and five years’ roadside assistance included, and it could prove a good option for distance commuters, with maintenance due every 12 months or 30,000km.
It’s funny that – those long intervals – because it’s fair to say I was considerably more impressed with this car as a freeway commuter than a corner-carver or peak-hour punching bag. If you’re in the market for that kind of car, this could well be worth a look.
And if you’re not? Like we said, it won't appeal to everyone, and yeah, there are more rounded offerings elsewhere in the market – but there might not be many more stylish than the new Megane sedan.