The family hatchback sector is bursting with talent. Can the latest Renault Megane come out on top? June Neary reports
Will It Suit Me?
When I think of a Renault Megane - if I ever do at all - then it tends to be the second generation version with its trendy vertical rear end. Its styling was a bit of an acquired taste but at least people talked about it. That was less true of the car's MK3 successor, but this current MK4 model once more has a bit of style about it, the point of which is to give this car a bit of its own personality again. This is a good idea because there's never been very much wrong with the Megane in my humble opinion. More recent versions have long since lost the airfix kit-like cabin fittings you found in original models and have instead added in wafer-thin panel gaps, classy materials and solid nuggety cuteness. It all should have long ago made this a car a real rival for Volkswagen's disappointingly conservative MK7 Golf, as well as for cars like Peugeot's 308, Ford's Focus, Toyota's Auris and Vauxhall's Astra. And Renault could still severely frighten these models if enough people can be persuaded to get behind the wheel of this much improved MK4 Megane.
My better half and I shared the driving on a recent round trip and got to know the five-door car pretty well. The driving position suited us both, the adjustable steering wheel a welcome feature, given our different shape and sizes! The seats are firm but supportive and over the distance pretty comfortable. Children will be happy as sandboys in the back seat - which, unlike in some cars we've driven recently, is deep enough to accommodate booster seats and the like. The boot was surprisingly spacious for a medium-sized family hatchback at 434-litres, although we weren't overloaded with bags on this occasion. I'm sure that we'd have no gripes about luggage space for our fortnight summer holiday all the same. I thought that Renault's unparalleled experience in the MPV market shone through with this car, not only in terms of passenger space - which is excellent - but also in the provision of multifarious cubbies, boxes and pockets. Higher end versions get a smattering of chrome cabin trim, along with Nappa leather trimmings to help lift things further. While a 7" touchscreen infotainment system in the traditional landscape format is fitted to most models, plusher trims receive something a little different. Aping the Tesla Model S, Renault offer an 8.7" touchscreen in a portrait orientation.
Behind the Wheel
The engine line-up is a mixture of familiar carry-overs and new arrivals. If you plan to take on the likes of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 308, you need to come equipped with a lot of engine choices and Renault doesn't fall shy in that department. There are two TCe turbocharged petrol options, with capacities and power outputs of 1.2 litres/130hp (manual and EDC auto) and 1.6 litres/205hp (GT). The turbodiesel alternatives are the usual 1.5-litre dCi 110hp and 1.6-litre dCi 130hp units. Refinement is significantly better in this MK4 model thanks to a stiffer body shell, thicker window glass, improved door seals and greater use of foam and felt in areas where road, wind or powertrain noise could be transmitted into the cabin. A more individual driving experience is offered by Multi-Sense technology, which allows drivers to personalise the accelerator pedal and engine response, engine sound, steering weight and interior lighting ambience through a choice of five colours, plus - where fitted - the speed of the gear changes through the Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) auto gearbox. Even more crucial is the way that the design has retained its top safety credentials. Electronic aids include autonomous braking for emergency scenarios, adaptive cruise control that can increase and decrease the speed of the car in traffic plus warnings for speed limits, braking distances and lane departure. Those that struggle to park will appreciate the front, rear and side parking sensors and the hands-free parking ability of higher end models. In other words, should you manage to bend a new Megane, you'll have really excelled yourself.
Value For Money
Megane buyers get the choice of a five-door hatch or the Sport Tourer estate bodystyle. Prices range in the £16,500 to £25,500 bracket. That's about on par with most of its mainstream rivals but usefully undercuts vehicles like the Volkswagen Golf. Trim levels range from 'Expression+', through 'Dynamique Nav' and 'Dynamique S Nav' to 'Signature Nav', 'GT-Line Nav' and 'GT Nav'. Across all these levels, to compete in the Focus family hatch segment, this car will need to be very well equipped - and is. All models get Bluetooth connectivity, an automatic electronic parking brake, LED daytime running lamps, tinted windows, a 7-inch TFT instrument panel with digital speedometer, all-round electric windows, a leather steering wheel and a DAB radio with fingertip controls and an AUX input. Higher specification models benefit from such niceties as full LED lights front and rear, TFT instrument display, a driver's seat with massage function and a nine speaker BOSE stereo with an amp and subwoofer.
Could I Live With One?
On the whole, I found little to criticise with the latest Megane - and at last, it has a bit more French character, if not in quite as extreme a way as its MK2 model predecessor. Probably, that's a good thing. Add in frugal engines and high equipment levels and at the right price, here's a Focus-sized family hatch that's worthy of comparison to virtually any of its rivals.