IT'S A LONG WAIT IN AUSTRALIA FOR THE NEW 2016 RENAULT MEGANE, BUT, TO WHET THE APPETITE BEFORE IT ARRIVES, WE HAD THE CHANCE TO TAKE A EUROPEAN TEST DRIVE.
The car we drove won't come here, a powerful diesel engine mated to a manual transmission, but the interior and handling mirror what we will get.
New levels of sophistication stand out as a key development target for the new hatch, and, all round, there's a lot to like with this fresh new contender. It's just a shame the DCi 130 we drove won't be seen here.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Engine/trans: 96kW/320Nm 1.6 4cyl turbo diesel | 6spd manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.0 l/100km
Where small cars with high-end features were once a rarity, and often overlooked due to their high pricing, they are increasingly becoming the norm. Consumers, it seems, are now demanding better quality and value, and full feature-lists.
With the arrival of Renault’s new Megane, the quality and finish has been given a boost, and while the equipment and model range for Australia are still to be finalised, the range of features available in Europe is broad.
Renault proudly boasts that many of the Megane’s high-end features come from models that sit a segment above. The Espace people mover and Talisman medium sedan have contributed not only technology, but their Renault-Nissan CMF platform as well.
That’s partly the reason why the Megane occupies a bigger footprint, as well as being a contributing factor to the car’s impressive sound deadening and refinement – the equal of larger and more expensive vehicles.
- Standard equipment: Leather seat trim, massaging driver’s seat, front seat heaters, keyless entry and start, 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, adaptive cruise control, front, rear, and side parking sensors, LED headlamps, LED front and rear running lights
- Infotainment: 8.7-inch R-Link 2 touchscreen, Bose audio, USB input, Satellite navigation, reversing camera
- Cargo volume: 384 litres, seats up
While the Megane GT we drove first impressed us with its sporty countenance, with just a few detail changes the Intens (Intense in English) DCi 130 model driven here showcases the Megane’s more luxurious side.
While the 8.7-inch R Link 2 infotainment screen and 7.0-inch reconfigurable instrument cluster remains the same as those found in the Megane GT, the Intens offers less-aggressive front seat sculpting and leather seat-trim.
The driver’s seat also picks up a massage function – not a first for the class, but not bad when you consider features like that used to be the preserve of $200k luxury saloons.
While the R-Link screen is a great talking point, mounted in Tesla-like portrait mode it can still be a touch laggy to switch between modes. That said, it allows tablet-style operation and makes personalising the vehicle settings and display options a snap.
Materials are high quality with more soft touch plastics, tighter panel gaps, additional chrome highlights and an overall feel of class lacking in the somewhat hit-and-miss previous model.
Seating space has grown with more shoulder-room and extra rear kneeroom, likewise the boot expands to 384 litres (VDA) over the previous 372 litres.
While the car we tested featured a colour head-up display, Renault informs us that right-hand-drive vehicles will miss out on this feature.
Final Australian specification is also yet to be locked in, so there may be some changes from the vehicle you see here.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 96kW/320Nm 1.6 litre four cylinder turbo diesel
- Transmission: six speed manual, front wheel drive
- Suspension: Front MacPherson struts with rear torsion beam
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes, 296 mm ventilated front rotors, 260mm solid rear rotors
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, turning circle: 11.2m
The diesel Megane in Australia will arrive with a 1.5 litre DCi 110 engine that produces 81kw and 250Nm, tied to a six-speed dual clutch auto. The only model offered on this Portugal preview however is the 1.6-litre DCi 130 with a more punchy 96kw and 320Nm.
Similarly, the car we drove featured a six-speed manual – a gearbox that won't be available on Australia-bound diesel Meganes.
The DCi 130 engine is a strong unit, offering a surge of acceleration from a standing start and a plenty of punch for overtaking.
The 120kmh speed limit on Portugal’s motorways appears to be a mere serving suggestion to the country’s locals, and even beyond 120km/h the low noise and vibration in the cabin was impressive.
Just as user-friendly was the six-speed manual transmission, with a clean gate and smooth shifts. The clutch feels just a little vague, but in reality that’s all academic as Aussie customers won’t get to drive that car here, and that’s a shame.
While road conditions here are a little different too, the more absorbent ride of the Intens and smaller 17-inch wheels (compared to the sporting GT) offered impressive ride comfort – it looks like French manufacturers are back to building the smooth-riding cars they were once legendary for.
Without the GT’s 4Control four-wheel steering the Intens doesn’t have the same crisp turn-in, however even without a shred of sporting pretense, it tucks neatly into corners and changes direction obediently.
To compare it to a few class benchmarks: the Focus has a finer feel through the wheel, but isn’t quite so refined, while the Golf doesn’t feel as light on its feet – in fact fellow French offering, the 308 is probably the closest you’ll find in terms of driver appeal.
We expect however, that when the DCi 110 engine arrives in Australia, its torque deficit will lack the élan of this larger engine - likewise, the sometimes hesitant EDC automatic will soften responses.
Of course, we’ll put all that do the test when the car finally arrives in Australia after the middle of next year.
And the reason the DCi 130 won’t be sold here? There’s no automatic option for it, and Australia’s low take-up rate for manual cars just doesn’t make it viable.
On the other hand, Renault Australia has hinted that the even stronger 118kW/380Nm GT diesel is a chance for this market if customers demand it. However, like the petrol GT, it will be automatic only.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The first two competitors that spring to mind are the Golf and 308 - the Megane now matches the maturity, equipment, style and comfort of both.
Of course, the well-specced and highly popular Mazda3 SP25 range is also a contender, as is the recently updated Focus. But all of this hinges on how Renault sets the price and feature list for the Meganes arriving later next year.
With a vastly improved interior, excellent refinement, and a long list of features, the new Megane is a classier and more refined car compared to the model it replaces, and good enough to tackle the segment’s best.
Our first test took place in Portugal - a long way from home with conditions very different to the demanding surfaces Aussie roads have to offer, with a powertrain we won’t be getting here - so this is a taste-test, rather than a definitive judgement.
But the signs are promising - The interior is very well considered, quiet and comfortable, and the smooth and quiet cabin should keep even the most demanding customers happy.
While it isn’t likely to threaten massive sellers like the Corolla and i30, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the new Megane’s sales share skyrocket when the new model arrives.
Pricing will make a huge impact of course. The current hatch range stretches from $20,990 to $35,990 and Renault promises that while pricing is to be confirmed, they’ll aim for something similar.
If that’s the case, the new Megane should sell its socks off.