Ever since the 1970s, hot hatches have soared in popularity by creating a homogenous relationship between performance and practicality. But what about compact wagons such as the 2017 Renault Megane GT that tones down the former and dials up the latter?
The French brand first explored this niche in 2013 with the Megane GT220 Sport Wagon, slotting it between the bread-and-butter Meganes and the hardcore RS, fettled by sporty sub-division Renault Sport.
With the chassis and (detuned) 2.0-litre turbo engine from the RS265 hot-hatch – but with two extra doors – it was no surprise when the GT220 quickly turned from limited edition to permanent addition. A hatch version was added a year later.
The wagon variant follows this time, bringing a familiar specification to the GT hatch released in October 2016, but with the requisite longer dimensions and bigger boot.
The extra dose of practicality costs just $1000 over the $38,490 hatch (the same premium charged for the Zen and GT-Line trim grades that complete the Renault Megane wagon line-up).
That additional grand buys some extra metal and space. The wagon is 27cm longer than the hatch, helping to boost luggage capacity by a third – from 434 litres to 580L. When dropping the rear seats, Renault says the wagon offers a total of 1504 litres, compared with the hatch’s 1247L (up 21 per cent).
The maximum loading length in this scenario also stretches from about 158cm to a more IKEA-friendly 175cm – though the cargo floor isn’t as flat as the Swedish brand’s ready-to-assemble furniture owing to a prominent step where the seats fold. At least the wagon’s sill height is lower than the smaller five-door’s – by 15cm – to make loading/unloading easier, and seat-release levers in the boot are standard.
Look under the cargo floor of a Megane GT fitted with a $1490 Premium Pack, as our test car was, and at first glance you might think BOSE had diversified into temporary spare wheels – such is the size of the audio system’s sub-woofer. It means making do with a tyre repair kit.
There’s no change to the wheelbase, yet Renault has managed to liberate nearly four centimetres of extra rear legroom with the wagon’s packaging. Sounds small, yet it’s enough to upgrade knee space from “so-so” to “pretty good”.
Three adults across the back is still a squeeze and forward vision is partially obscured by the broadly shouldered sports front seats. The outer rear seating positions are comfortable, and there’s also a nice detail with slots into which you can tuck the outer-rear seatbelts.
Up front is identical to the new Megane fascia introduced in 2016 and a much-needed advance over the predecessor’s rather bland dash.
There is a key change, though. Renault has used the introduction of the wagon (as well as a sedan) to upgrade the touchscreen from 7.0-inches to the 8.7-inch version that was previously optional on the hatch. Renault used the wagon’s release to apply the bigger display across the Megane board, along with various driver aids on higher-spec models, though there’s still no smartphone-mirroring tech such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
As with similar portrait-style infotainment screens from Volvo and Tesla, it’s an effective format – especially for navigation maps. The main screen is arranged neatly into blocks of icons, the screen is sufficiently response, and there are shortcut touch symbols for likes of Home, On/Off, and audio volume to the right of the screen.
It plays a pivotal role, along with the 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster, in ramping up the interior presentation of the Megane. It’s now a far more inviting cabin, even if some mismatched plastics ultimately mean it’s not quite able to match the quality-perception highs of either fellow Frenchy, the Peugeot 308 or the segment benchmark Volkswagen Golf.
The GT version of the Megane benefits from trim elements combining metallic-style plastic in silver and blue, blue Alcantara and blue stitching. There’s a GT badge on the steering wheel and, as with the GT220, Renault Sport badging features on the tread plates and dash. A Renault Sport badge didn’t feature on the tailgate of the GT220, however, where it does here – and that arguably raises expectations for the successor.
A genuine RS engine again sits under the bonnet – this time the 1.6-litre turbo from the Clio RS200, teamed with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. The positive is that the GT gets a slight kick in outputs over the Clio, to 151kW and 280Nm; the negative is that power and torque trails the 162kW/340Nm of the old GT220.
Still, it’s quoted to be two-tenths quicker from 0-100km/h than its (manual only) forebear, even if a time of 7.4 seconds is hardly rapid – and slower than expected than the hatch (7.1 seconds) that’s only 38kg lighter.
As we know from the Clio RS, the 1.6-litre isn’t as characterful as the brilliant normally aspirated 2.0-litre that once propelled that car. A change of vehicle doesn’t change that. Even if you select the GT’s sportiest setting via the RS Drive centre stack button, a thrilling engine note never materialises.
Throttle response could be sharper in this mode, too, though in spirited driving the GT’s dual-clutcher compensates for some off-the-mark hesitancy with its speedy gear changes.
The paddle-shifters are an ergonomic faux pas, though. Not only are they positioned too high in relation to the driver’s hands at the quarter-to-three position, but they’re also fixed to the column, making for awkward pulls of a lever with any lock wound on.
The gearbox can also be reluctant to downchange from third to second for tight corners, while equally frustrating is the GT’s refusal to hold gears even if the driver has selected Manual mode – compounding the annoyance by shifting up before its 6250rpm redline.
The absence of an RS-style limited-slip diff also means you must endure some wheelspin out of hairpins under hard throttle.
In more relaxed driving scenarios – i.e. most of the time – there’s much to appreciate about the turbo engine’s smooth, gradual power delivery.
The 2.0-litre’s refinement complements limited wind noise, as well as the suspension’s ability to provide adequate comfort despite its Renault Sportified firmness. In this respect, it’s a marked improvement over the GT220.
The GT gets bouncy over big dips but is settled enough across smaller country-road irregularities, and along with good brakes creates plenty of driver confidence. Well-contained body roll and the stability-enhancing 4Control system that moves the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts at high speed don’t hurt, either.
4Control is also handy around town, where at slower speeds the rear wheels turn in a counter-direction to the fronts to cut a full metre off the GT’s turning circle compared with the Zen and GT-Line wagon variants.
Aluminium pedals, Nappa-leather steering wheel, launch control, GT front bumper, bigger brakes and bigger (18-inch) wheels are also exclusive to the GT along with the Renault Sport chassis tune and engine.
We think that’s sufficient to justify the GT’s $6000 premium over the GT-Line, even if the mid-spec model counters with heated front seats and a panoramic electric sunroof (part of a $1990 Option pack for the GT).
And the more people/luggage on board, the more the GT’s bigger engine will be of benefit. Its more effortless nature in comparison to the 1.2-litre turbo powering the other wagons also seems to be borne out in official consumption – 6.0 litres per 100km versus 6.2.
All Renault Megane wagons are standard with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, distance warning, and auto high/low beam. There’s also a higher-than-average factory warranty of five years (unlimited kilometres) and an affordable $299 cap on Renault’s recommended annual servicing (or sooner in the rare case of exceeding 30,000km before 12 months are up).
With the next Renault Sport RS set to be a five-door rather than three-door, the GT’s practicality advantage isn’t quite as big as the one the GT220 enjoyed over the RS265/275. And if you consider yourself a Renault Sport kind of driver, but are now considering something a bit more sensible and a bit cheaper, there are some aspects of the GT that will disappoint. A Golf GTI wagon would have the edge – if Volkswagen built one.
For those more likely to explore the limits of boot and passenger space rather than tyre grip, however, the Renault Megane GT is an appealing blend of practicality and civility in a sporty package.
Click on the Images tab for more photos by Sam Venn.