The choices we make reflect like ripples from a pebble thrown into a lake all around us in life – for example the way we choose our car is actually transforming our entire life. For example – choosing a hatchback is more of a statement than anything else – a statement that you want an adaptable ride.
The European market place is vastly different – which is normal, considering the vastly varying cultures and languages we find sometimes just within a few hundred kilometers. Which is why people can have different types of cars – SUVs, sedans, station wagons and of course, hatchbacks. There’s a catch though – sedans are usually chosen by businesses due to added elegance, station wagons by families, SUVs by people who live an active life and hatchbacks by people who are adaptable. Don’t think so? The hatch has been a love affair for Europeans for decades – it’s smaller than a sedan so fits snugly in city traffic, it’s also more adaptable when transporting cargo thanks to the liftgate – and it’s also the base for that lovely niche segment, hot hatches. We may digress, considering we’re dealing here with a simple Renault Megane review, but during our test I came to realize why people have been opting for hatchbacks for so many years – especially when dealing with the compact segment.
And the compact segment is one of the biggest battlefields of the automotive industry – one that knows no limits and no honesty, honor or even respect. That’s as far as the combatants are concerned, because the auto industry is different from the classic war in one crucial aspect – they heavily praise the non-combatants and always strive to have zero collateral damage. And how do you come up on top of a segment that has countless models? You need to be an established name, first and foremost – and then you need to stand out from the crowd. And this is exactly what Renault’s been doing since they reinvented themselves in the midsize segment with the Talisman – which seeks to put behind the unsuccessful Laguna story. And while the new Megane Sedan – available across certain markets – might cover some questions, for example why it’s so close in design to the bigger brother – there’s no denying the Megane hatchback is one of the best looking models in the segment right now. The hatchback carries all the latest design cues from the corporate image, which are also present in a more “relaxed” manner on the SUV line. But here, the Megane and Talisman go full throttle in a bid to set the models apart in segments that are known for being conservative – just look at the Golf/ Passat affair.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
Introduced at the IAA Frankfurt Motor Show late last year, the Megane has reached its fourth generation, one that again completely discards the looks of the previous one. This seems to have morphed into a staple of the line, as I can’t think of another popular name in the compact segment to have varied so wildly its generations. The first one was a great starting point after fulfilling the role of the 19, the second one is well known for its polarizing rear end design and the third one again changed entirely – though some say it was too much on the bland side. Now the fourth is looking back to its predecessors, aiming to never repeat any of the mistakes. Thus, the new Megane is truly spectacular but this time around it’s not going to be a polarizing affair. This is because the rather exotic design relies on already established elements – ones that people have already come to accept. For example, they have a prominent radiator grille with a huge Renault logo, a sporty design for the front bumper and boomerang-shaped LED daylight driving lights. The latter make the Megane unmistakable in traffic – though at first glance they also look very similar to the ones seen on the Talisman. But if you know both you can tell them apart – the bigger model has smaller LEDs at the top and the vertical strip is interrupted in the middle. The side of the Megane looks already fashioned for the new RS with strong lines and at the back again the lights are the ones attracting the attention. Renault has joined the current of full width taillights – which is seemingly becoming more popular than ever thanks to the LED technology. It’s again a matter of playing out the differences with the Talisman, which in turn gains the upper hand with a complete strip of joined LEDs against a simpler geometric design for the Megane.
Moving inside, the Megane is again a complete departure from its predecessor. By the way, there’s a point to be made here – Renault isn’t offering on each version the R Link 2 infotainment system and digital instrument cluster, so if you want the full experience you need to be prepared to shell out the money for the optional pack or go for a higher specked trim version. This is rather unfortunate – because the former Megane had a better unity in that respect – and may also paint a prettier picture than in reality. That being said, we can attest the new Megane is in one way related to the old one – quality of materials and execution. Renaults of late have always been praised for their interiors – clean, simple, often minimalist in style and adept at using soft touch materials. In my experience, they had a lapse with the current Clio – but fortunately they noticed and never relapsed with the newer models. The new Megane has an abundance of soft touch materials and follows the same clean and simple styling as its predecessor – albeit with a big difference. This time around the center stack is no longer smallish – it’s actually really massive and with the R Link in its latest generations looks like a true digital command center. Essentially, the driver has to cater towards two zones – the steering with instrument cluster and the panel of the center stack – which is an 8.7 inch portrait-style touchscreen, just like in the larger Talisman or other models in the range. This is the new norm for Renaults so we’re going to have to get used to it – even though few automakers are using the portrait orientation for their infotainment displays. It’s also a clever rouse from Renault – the only other makes to use this layout are all luxury brands. Since we’re here discussing the R Link infotainment display, we can easily say it has everything you want – from apps to settings not only for the ambient light but also the layout of the digital instrument cluster (also a large, seven inch screen). Of note are the personalization options – some are mere gimmicks but others are more important, because you can turn your car into a eco vehicle at the mere touch of a few settings. It’s not going to morph into a hybrid, but you can vary lots of settings – from engine to climate. Of course, when equipped with the Multi-Sense technology, owners might want to first fiddle with the sport settings – which can impact the driving dynamics quite noticeably. We’re not adepts of the manufacturer playing with the engine sound through audio system enhancements, but since we’re not dealing with a V8 anyways having that on a diesel car can enhance the atmosphere.
In terms of dimensions, the Megane is at the upper limit of the segment, offering one of the biggest wheelbases among its rivals. As such, sitting up front is a pretty great affair – with comfortable and with good lateral grip front seats. Also, even though the console is pretty massive, it doesn’t feel you’re being boxed up in the leg area, which is mostly thanks to the good placement of the seat and controls combo – the pedals are in an optimal position and the steering fits both large and small owners. In addition, the Megane hatch offers a rather sporty position if you go for the lowest setting, which is great for the driving dynamics confidence – as you’ll see in the dedicated chapter. Sitting in the back seat has never been great when dealing with compact cars – and due to stylistic choices also present here the lateral space is getting smaller with each passing generation. The former Megane wasn’t a champion in that respect, nor is the new one. So, it’s best to carry four persons around, with the middle seat maybe reserved for a child. We also have an issue with the trunk access – which is impeded by the huge bumper. Gone are the days of upright compact cars that offered lots of head space for the people sitting in the back at the extremities, but what can we do – this is what automakers call progress. The cargo space – at 384 / 1247 liters is not the best in the class, bested by the Peugeot 308 offering at least 398 liters, but it’s certainly above most of the competition, including the VW Golf (380 liters), Opel Astra (370), Kia cee’d (380) and the Ford Focus (363).
Engine, Transmission and Handling
As far as powertrains are concerned, Renault has always excelled in the diesel department – though that might have to change in the near future if more countries and cities in Europe push for diesel bans. Anyways, the French automakers have always been great at making diesel engines – which is one of the main reasons why Ford has a partnership with PSA for the smaller TDCi engines. Renault is also well versed in this department, but this time around we opted for the Megane with the newer dCi engine – the 1.6 liter. The tried and tested 1.5 dCi is still on offer, with 90 or 110 horses, which are still great fits for the Megane if you select a more affordable version. But to enjoy the complete experience of the new Megane you need to shell out more cash for the dCi 130. The newer 1.6 liter has gone out of infancy (when it had some issues, like not so stellar fuel economy and higher noise), as Renault continues to improve them each passing year. If it’s one thing modern cars are miles away from even one or two generations ago it’s the NVH levels – meaning noise, vibrations, harshness. The dCi purrs like a far away kitten enjoying a great rest on the couch and even when throttling it you won’t be bothered with the less than elegant noise of a diesel. Of course, going all out will allow it to make its presence felt, but it’s still incredible how much even mass-market producers have progressed from just a few years ago. And in sport, let’s not forget about the audio enhancement, though we do concede it’s not as present as inside the Talisman, for example.
With 131 hp and 320 Nm we can tell you from the start the Megane is playing it outside the VW Golf course – the German contender has the 110 hp TDI and then jumps directly to 150. The French are upping the stakes here because the latest version for the GT on the Megane now also ahs the 165 hp engine from the Talisman. This is not something we’re not used to, because most of the other rivals are also trying to deliver a bit more power for about the same money you would get a 110 TDI with the Golf – the Peugeot 308 and Ford Focus share the same 120 hp engine, the Astra has even more at 136 hp and fights for supremacy with the Kia cee’d. In terms of performance, the Megane is again not the top contender – though it’s immediately behind the Opel Astra. As such, the German rival will hit 100 km/h in 9.6 seconds and top out at 205 km/h, followed by the Megane with 10 seconds and 198 km/h, the 308 with 9.6 seconds and 196 km/h, the cee’d with 10.2 seconds and 197 km/h, the Golf at 10.5 seconds and 195 km/h and the most relaxed of all – the Ford Focus at 11.7 seconds and 193 km/h. In terms of official fuel economy, the Megane is in the middle of the pack – 4 liters on average, to the Golf and 308 with 3.8 liters, the Astra with 3.9 liters, the cee’d with 4 liters and the Focus with 4.3 liters. We don’t know about the Golf with the Dieselgate shenanigans and all, but in the real world we can attest the Megane is actually very close to the official statement – we averaged a little more than 5 liters with heavy city trafficking, a track drive and a good chunk of motorway use. Which is close to amazing but not entirely surprising – for example the rivals at PSA have been showcasing for some time results in real world conditions and they are also very close to the official figures.
Thanks to the Multi-Sense technology and its companion button on the center console delivering fast access to its five different driving modes – Sport, Normal, Comfort, Perso and Eco, the Renault Megane is again jumping away from its predecessor. Save for the acclaimed RS, the third generation Megane was universally considered bland and uninspiring to drive – but now, if you have enough money for the higher trims, that can be easily changed. The driving dynamics of the Megane are truly adaptable – just like the hatchback body style we’re so fond of (this is of course, a personal opinion). Let’s forget that using the button and different driving modes you can change the interior light ambiance or instrument cluster layout (even control the massage function), it’s more important that you can personalize the driving experience by modifying accelerator pedal and engine response. If you feel like being eco you can select the mode and fight with the driving score – 100 being the highest (while not being overly patient, I did manage to take it in the high 80s). You can also hate the outside air indicator – because in our case it was mostly showing polluted or very polluted when driving in a crowded metropolis. But change to sport and you’ll get a livelier car, with quicker acceleration and better sound. Throughout our test, we constantly used the Eco setting in town, the comfort (with the massage activated) on the highway and went for the Sport setting whenever curvy roads were involved. I also had the chance to try out the Megane on a small circuit – where it proved nimble and very easy to understand at the limit. One note is the ESP system is very discreet and lets you understand the car is reaching its limits ahead of any intervention – but if needed it will act swiftly and promptly if human input won’t be enough. The six speed manual gearbox is not really sports material though – it has rather long gear knob travel – but fortunately at the limit it won’t have a tendency to scramble the gears. Meanwhile the steering is heavily assisted in normal driving conditions – but fortunately using the sport mode it will gain some “awareness” as to what the driver wants and the what the car can actually deliver. All the while the chassis feels nimbler than with the predecessor, even though the Megane is actually one of the heaviest in the segment – 1393 kg compared to the 308 (1260 kg), Focus (1269 kg) or the Astra (1350 kg) and cee’d (1364 kg). This is mostly due to one of the Megane assets of tradition – safety. It has almost everything you need, from blind spot detection to lane keeping assistant, forward collision warning and auto brake to speed limiter.
Pro: stylish and outlandish exterior design, great engine with low NVH levels, huge array of technologies – from massage to Multi-Sense.
Against: price has gone up if you want all the bells and whistles, concurrently the affordable versions don’t get important perks – digital cluster, R Link infotainment, not to mention Multi Sense or the entire safety pack.
Starting Price – Renault Megane Life SCE 115 – 14,800 EUR
Tested Version – Renault Megane Intens DCI 130 – 20,400 EUR
Engine: 1.6L four cylinder, diesel, turbo, VGT, intercooler, start/stop (1598 cc)
Power: 131 HP (96 kW) / 4000 rpm
Torque: 320 Nm / 1750
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Dimensions: length – 4,359 mm, width – 1,814mm, height – 1,447 mm, wheelbase – 2,669 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 47L
Trunk Capacity: 384/ 1247 liters
0 – 100 km/h: 10 s
Top Speed: 198 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 4,7L/100 km, highway – 3,6L/100 km, average –4L/100 km
Rating: 4.1 / 5