If you're looking for an affordable sports coupe, Renault's improved third generation Megane Coupe is worth a second look. Jonathan Crouch tries it.
Ten Second Review
Renault's improved Megane Coupe brings good looks, strong value and a wide range of talents to the most affordable end of the small sports coupe market, while keeping its five-door stablemate's first rate refinement, comfort and build quality. You can specify it to be sporty - or just rely on the looks to do your talking for you. Either way, an improved range of more efficient engines and a surprisingly sharp handling package are hallmarks of an under-rated car.
There was a time when almost every mainstream maker seemed to be able to offer an affordable coupe. A three-door family hatchback or supermini with a little extra handling sharpness and the kind of lower-slung racier body you wouldn't expect to find at such a realistic price tag. More recent times have seen a decline in this market - until the launch of all-new models like Vauxhall's Astra GTC, the MINI Coupe and Hyundai's Veloster suggested that interest in this segment might once again be picking up. Renault was committed to it all the time with this car, the Megane Coupe, initially launched in early 2009 and now significantly improved in the facelifted form we're looking here. This, the French brand has always contended, is much more than just a three-door version of their Megane family hatch - and the facts seem to bear that out. Only the bonnet, the wings and the headlamps are shared between the two designs and, perhaps more importantly, this Coupe boasts a sharper handling set-up under its swooping skin. But rivals can still seem to be more bespoke to coupe customers, hence the importance of the significant changes made to this facelifted model. These include a smarter look, an improved specification and some impressive engines. Will it all be enough to keep the French brand competitive in this rejuvenated sector? Let's find out.
Here, we're focusing on more affordable models in an improved range now boasting an engine line-up enhanced with the addition of three fuel efficient Stop & Start units. Perhaps the most interesting of the trio is the 115PS 1.2 TCe, the first Renault petrol engine to use direct fuel injection and turbocharging to gain fuel-efficient performance. It's yet another example of engine down-sizing in this segment and is a vast improvement over the 110PS 1.6-litre 16v petrol model this variant was designed to replace but which still continues in the line-up. Its driving experience is certainly much nicer. Thanks to a 40Nm torque hike over the old 1.6, the pulling power's greater - and more accessible, with 90% of the 190Nm on offer available from just 1,600rpm, so you don't have to row the thing along with the gear lever. Sixty two mph is 10.9s away from rest en route to 118mph. This engine is also available with 130PS mated to Renault's EDC auto gearbox. Ultimately though, for diesel-like pulling power, you really need a diesel and the vast majority of Megane Coupe customers opt for one in 1.5-litre form. The 1.5-litre Energy dCi 110 unit is Renault's best-selling global engine and customers get it in manual or EDC automatic gearbox form, the EDC model featuring one of those silky-smooth twin-clutch systems that selects the next gear before you've even left the last one. Either way, there's at least 240Nm of torque on offer, enough to get you to 62mph in just over 12s on the way to 118mph. Should that not be sufficient in your Megane Coupe, then there's a pokier 1.6 dCi 130 powerplant. At the top of the range sits the potent Renaultsport 265 hot hatch model.
Design and Build
Aesthetically, this was one of the most important Renault designs of modern times, unveiled as a concept car at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show that went on to herald a profound, more extrovert shift in the French brand's approach to styling. It's a shape that may not work from all angles, but it's certainly an arresting one and, as before, the front end's bespoke, more aggressive treatment ensures that this model could never be confused with a normal Megane five-door in a head on encounter. That front end has been treated to most of the minor changes visited upon this facelifted model, revised bumper, vent grilles and a hood bearing the enlarged Renault logo set against a gloss black background. Inside, it's all a bit more sober. Or at least it is if you're restricted to one of the lower-order trim levels. Fortunately, the sporty 'GT line' variant feels a bit more special with its sports seats and red trim highlights, plus aluminium pedals and a set of proper analogue instrument dials to replace the rather awkward-looking digital display that lesser Meganes have to have. Plenty of storage space too. Of course, you'll find practicality notable by its absence if you're unfortunate enough to be assigned a position in the rear for any length of time. To be fair, two adults should be OK here for shorter trips, as long as they're not too long of leg. As for the boot, well, at 344-litres, it's a very decent size for a car of this kind - and usefully shaped.
Market and Model
Prices range in the £17,500 to £23,000 bracket for mainstream variants, reflecting a £500 price premium over equivalent models in the five-door Megane family hatchback line-up. Realistically, I'd say that you need to budget from around £19,000-£20,000, the level at which the 1.5-litre dCi 110 diesel and the 1.2-litre TCe petrol models start. Go for the base 1.6 VVT 110 model and it'll be a bit annoying to find that the stop/start system that delivers the headline-grabbing running cost figures featured elsewhere in the range isn't included. This set-up certainly makes a big difference on the only other mainstream Megane Coupe model really worthy of attention - the 1.6 dCi 130 diesel, priced at around the £21,500 mark. Beyond that, you can order this Megane Coupe in ultimate fire-breathing Renaultsport 265 form, but that'll need a £27,000 budget. Whichever version of this car you choose - and I'd suggest that you select between the 1.2-litre TCe petrol and either the 1.5 or the 1.6-litre diesels - you'll find it very well equipped. Even entry-level variants get alloy wheels, daytime running lights, front foglights, power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, a trip computer, a height-adjustable driver's seat, Bluetooth compatibility for your 'phone, cruise control and a powerful audio system with USB compatibility and controls accessible from the leather-trimmed steering wheel. From mid-spec level upwards, a Tom Tom navigation system is standard.
Cost of Ownership
Lighter weight and optimised aerodynamics have meant that Renault has been able to match the current compact coupe class standard for optimised running costs. I'd try one of the 1.5-litre dCi diesels first, models which can put out as little as 90g/km of CO2 and record up to 80.7mpg on the combined cycle thanks to their stop/start system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. Even the pokier 1.6-litre diesel, the dCi 130, the most powerful and frugal engine of its size in the world at launch, manages 70.6mpg on the combined cycle and puts out 104g/km of CO2, significantly better than rivals like Vauxhall's Astra GTC 1.7 CDTi 130PS or the MINI Cooper Coupe SD. The 1.2-litre TCe petrol engine deserves special mention too for its 119g/km emissions showing and a fuel return of 53.3mpg on the combined cycle (25% better than the old petrol 1.6 16v unit) which would give an owner a realistic operating range of around 700 miles between tank fills. All that means that most Megane Coupe variants qualify for Renault's 'eco2' branding, designating models that emit less than 120g/km of CO2 and are 95% end-of-life-recoverable by weight with at least 5% of plastics sourced from recycling.
There are, at last, once again plenty of tempting options for you to consider if you're looking for an affordable sports coupe in today's market. Trendier options than this one? Perhaps. But better ones? Maybe not. The kind of cars you'd maybe ideally like in this segment are all significantly more expensive than this Megane Coupe. And those that can rival it for value aren't as practical - or as economic to run. It's certainly a car that needed a new lease of life - but this carefully considered facelift has provided just that, with a more efficient range of engines, higher equipment levels, some tempting options and a smarter look. All in addition to this model's existing strengths of value, ride, refinement and comfort. Of course, few of these are virtues you'd expect to be too high up a prospective Coupe customer's wish list. But they're the important ones you learn to appreciate as the ownership period wears on. This then, may not be the coupe you've always dreamed of. But it may very well be the one you actually need.