First Drive: Renault Megane

The best-selling hatchback has seemingly always been the Volkswagen Golf, but what do you think the second best seller across Europe was back in 2005?

In fairness, you probably have a clue having clicked on the link to get here, but it was the Renault Megane. Ten years on, sales aren’t what they once were and life hasn’t been too kind to Renault – sales plummeted, entire models were cut from the range, and the Megane was some distance from being best in class.

Now Renault is trying to capture some of that original lustre with an all-new Megane that represents something of a fresh start for the brand. Sharing much of its underpinnings with the Espace and Talisman (both cars we won’t be getting here in the UK) it’s an all-new model that is unlike any Megane before it.

Wider than anything else in its class, the designers have masked the bulk and created something both dramatic and distinctive, thanks mainly to bold light signatures at the front and rear. A Renault diamond the size of a dinner plate sits in the centre of the grille to remind everybody what you’re driving. It’s certainly a more visually appealing prospect than the usual same-again hatchbacks from Germany, France and the UK.

A similar level of attention has been paid to the interior, with a centre stack reminiscent of the Tesla Model S. While it doesn’t have the XX-inch screen of the Tesla, a nearly nine-inch touchscreen is mounted vertically in the dashboard, bringing a sense of premium style to proceedings. That’s backed up by chrome surrounds scattered around the cabin, colour changing ambient lighting and a digital instrument panel that can provide the driver with an array of information and even styles.

Despite that, it doesn’t quite work together. The instrument binnacle looks a little small, while the surround for the touchscreen feels particularly cheap. The screen itself is also often slow to respond, requiring multiple and ever-stronger finger jabs to get a reaction. It’s also likely to be a cost option on all but the top spec model, the rest making do with a more basic seven-inch horizontally mounted screen.

The rest of the cabin is pleasant enough, with those chrome flourishes and lighting creating a pleasant environment. Accommodation for five adults is also possible, and probably quite comfortable, while large door bins take a good-sized bottle and there’s a bigger boot than you’ll find in the Golf, Astra or Focus.

Renault has fitted the 1.6-litre diesel under the bonnet that’s been found in all manner of cars for a few years, but it’s a refined unit that produces its power in a linear fashion while maintaining decent economy. The 0-62mph dash takes exactly ten seconds which makes it sound a little pedestrian, but in-gear acceleration is good thanks to 320Nm of torque.

Ride and handling are both better than you might expect, at least on the standard model. Smoothly absorbing most road imperfections, the new Megane also clings on through the corners. There’s nothing very exciting about the way it does it, but it inspires confidence and is ultimately entirely predictable when things get pushed too far.

The same can’t be said of the sporty GT model. Powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine and mated to a twin-clutch 6-speed gearbox, it’s every bit the precursor to a full-blown RenaultSport model, but with 202bhp it’s probably best described as a warm hatch for now. With launch control as standard, the 0-62 sprint takes 7.1 seconds, but the throttle response and gear changes aren’t as sharp as you might like from a GT.

The headline is its four-wheel steering system that, combined with a faster steering rack, makes the car feel more agile. However, on the open road it’s a little unpredictable and feels slightly loose. At higher speeds there’s virtually no effect, but the back end wobbles around far more than you might like at lower speeds.

It all feels a little like an unfinished project, but with six months of fettling time before the car arrives in the UK, there’s time to make some changes and get the GT performing as it should.

The surprising result of all this is that the diesel option is the more enjoyable car of the two to drive. It’s also the choice for those wishing to save a little money as 70.6mpg is promised. CO2 emissions of 103g/km will leave private buyers with a car tax bill of just £20 a year.

On what I’ve experienced, it would be easy to recommend the Megane. It’s got some uniquely French traits without being too outlandish for the more reserved amongst us, while it also drives very well and marks a noticeable step up in quality for Renault. That it’s more spacious than any of its rivals is an added bonus.

However, we’re so far from launch that there are no prices available and no equipment levels have been confirmed. Prices could start as low as £16,000, which would make it a very good buy, rising to £20,000 or so for the diesel model tested here, but that’s specualtyion.

If the pricing is right, the Megane could be catapulted back to the heady heights of 2005.

Model Tested: Renault Megane Energy dCi 130
Price: TBA
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo diesel
Top speed: 123 mph
0-62 mph: 10.0 seconds
Power: 130 PS (128 bhp)
Torque: 320 Nm (236 ft-lb)
Official fuel economy: 70.6 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 103 g/km
VED Band: B / £20 per year
Car insurance group: TBA
Kerb weight: TBA
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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