THE 2016 RENAULT MEGANE HATCH RANGE IS STILL A FEW MONTHS AWAY FROM AUSTRALIAN SHOWROOMS. But four pre-production Meganes - all left-hand-drive, and all European specification - have arrived down under, and TMR was invited to drive them.
We put them through their paces on closed roads at the Australian Automotive Research Centre at Anglesea in Victoria. The demanding conditions gave us a glimpse of what to expect when the new model finally arrives here.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
TCe 130: 97kW/205Nm 1.2 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp manual
TCe 205: 151kW/280Nm 1.6 4cyl turbo petrol | 7sp automatic
Despite arriving late in 2010, time hasn’t exactly been kind to the current Renault Megane.
A sea of new and very impressive small cars has since swamped the market, and the underwhelming styling and out-of-touch interior layout of the outgoing model are now starting to feel very tired.
That’s certainly not the case with this new fourth generation model.
Renault has struck a bold new styling language that gives its vehicles muscular definition and unmistakable LED-lit visual identities.
The once ho-hum hatch is now quite striking - that look is further enhanced on the Megane GT and the Megane GT-Line, and those were the only vehicles Renault provided for us.
Australian specification is likely to differ slightly from the cars we drove, and pricing is yet to be announced, but if the balance of those two things is right Renault may have a runaway success on its hands.
On the inside, both the GT-Line and the GT variants are almost identical, with deeply bolstered sports seats and suede-like velour cloth 3D effect trim.
There’s plenty of blue contrast stitching and seat inserts to get the pulse racing, with metallic blue carbon-fibre and changeable LED ambient lighting to give a strong upmarket feel.
Final specifications are yet to be revealed for Australia, so it’s hard to say what might get left behind compared to the full-fruit Euro range.
The cars we drove were fitted with Renault’s newest R-Link 2 infotainment system in its optional larger 8.7-inch format, but a smaller horizontally-oriented 7.0-inch screen comes standard.
The display is crisp, and provides a plethora of information, but at times it was slow to react to inputs and the screen seems to be very fingerprint prone and hard to keep clean.
Both cars also featured a TFT instrument cluster, which changes in line with the drive mode selected: red dials for Sport, green for Eco, etcetera.
The GT and GT-Line seats are incredibly welcoming too. Big, broad, yet grippy, with just the right amount of lower back support and room for your shoulders. Standard cars will get a slightly different front seat design, that dials back the sporty profile.
The new Megane has grown compared to the previous model, so there’s more width and more leg and headroom, particularly in the rear.
That gives it a real leg-up among its competitors. The extra space makes the Megane a more suitable family car, and easily able to accomodate growing legs in the back.
ON THE ROAD
- TCe 130: 97kW/205Nm 1.2 litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
- TCe 205: 151kW/280Nm 1.6 litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed manual (TCe 130) Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic (TCe 205), front wheel drive
- Suspension: Front MacPherson struts, rear torsion beam
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes - GT: 320 mm ventilated front rotors, 290mm solid rear rotors (type, front and rear)
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, turning circle 11.2m - GT adds electrically actuated rear steering, turning circle 10.4m
Of the two models available to drive, Renault provided us with a sporty GT and sporty-looking GT-Line, equipped with the same 1.2 litre turbocharged four cylinder engine that will appear in 'standard' Meganes, paired with a six-speed manual transmission.
In Renault-speak that engine is called the TCe 130, and it delivers 97kW of power and 205Nm or torque.
The more muscular Megane GT, with its TCe 205 engine upsizes to 1.6 litres with outputs of 151kW and 280Nm of torque. It's based on, but more brawny than, the engine in the Renault Clio RS range.
Starting out in the 1.2 litre model, it’s hard not to be charmed by how willing the engine is - while those outputs don’t seem ground-breaking on paper, the Megane covers ground swiftly.
Trainspotters will note however that the outputs haven’t changed from the current Megane range.
But while the 1.2 litre manual is impressive, it’s the automatic version that will be more popular in Australia and we’re yet to see what that’s like.
Our time behind the wheel at the Australian Automotive research Centre (AARC) was split between the high-speed loop, and the five percent incline - a great little ribbon of tarmac that replicates your favourite winding road.
Just about every tarmac surface you can find in Australia is packed into those road loops, from smooth and quiet, to choppy, coarse chip, and downright unpleasant.
And, in either variant, the Megane manages to keep its cool, riding out bumps smoothly and keeping in-cabin noise to a minimum, even at speeds beyond what the highway code will legally allow.
Jumping into the Megane GT, its 1.6 litre engine reveals a more sporting side. But this is no hot hatch, and it doesn’t replace the Megane RS range, but it will be the car that has to make do for a while.
Big 18-inch wheels, steering and suspension tweaked by Renault Sport - the GT has all the right hallmarks - even the seven-speed twin-clutch auto, the only transmission available with the GT, feels decently sporting.
It also has something extra that no other competitor in its class does, known as 4 Control - a four wheel steering system.
For a more agile feel, the 4 Control system turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at speeds up to 60km/h Above that, the rear wheels swivel in the same direction as the front wheels for increased stability.
Select the Sport drive mode (Renault refers to its multi-mode system as Multi-Sense - it’ll be standard on the GT-Line and GT) and the threshold shifts to 80 km/h.
While the system sounds gimmicky, Renault set up a motorkhana course on the AARC skidpan and sent us out in the GT-Line without 4 Control, followed by the GT with 4 Control. The difference is unquestionable.
While the GT-Line was grippy, sure-footed and swift, the 4 Control-equipped GT stepped up the agility to a whole new level, tucking into bends with physics-defying enthusiasm, providing a whole new level of chassis balance.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Until Renault announces the full model range, and details of pricing and specifications, it’s a little unfair to list direct rivals. But the small car class is a busy place, and the more upmarket mainstream hatches will be the Megane’s biggest foes.
That means cars like the Volkswagen Golf range, the Peugeot 308, and high-level versions of the Mazda3 might be worthy of your consideration. It’s also possible that some variants of the Audi A3 and MINI range might be cross-shoppable as well.
What we got was the briefest taste of the new Megane - sitting on the ‘wrong side’ of the car, with a final specification that may or may not match what arrives in the Australian market.
We still don’t know for sure how the range will be priced and structured, or if simple things (like a full-size glovebox) will survive the right-hand-drive conversion process.
What we do know is that Renault Sport has endowed the GT variant with phenomenal handling - and a visual package for both GT and GT-Line that looks the goods.
And the well-crafted interior, that puts luxury and comfort ahead of cost-cutting, should woo plenty of buyers by the time the new Megane arrives.
We'll hold the star ratings till we get the pricing, but fingers crossed that Renault’s bean-counters are able to sharpen their pencils on this one.
It’s shaping up to be a car that deserves a home in more Aussie driveways.
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