Can the estate car's brand of practicality still compete with the latest MPVs? Renault thinks it can. Jonathan Crouch reports on the latest Megane Sport Tourer.
Ten Second Review
MPVs tend to dominate the limelight with their versatile interiors and clever storage solutions but the estate car will still be a better solution for many families. The latest generation Renault Megane Sport Tourer is a great example of a compact estate with sleek looks, solid driving dynamics inherited from the Megane hatchback and lots of space in its well-designed boot area.
Have you got a young family? Then you need an MPV. At least, that's what the advertisements tell us. On TV and in the press, the MPV is set up as the ultimate route to wholesome family life. Beaming children spill from its wide door openings, bikes, kites and kitchen sinks are lifted from its huge boot and the seats magically flip, fold and twirl so the most can be made of its cavernous interior. It's all very convincing but where does it leave the good old fashioned estate car? It's certainly been eclipsed by the MPV but does it still have a role to play? Renault thinks it does and has found space in its latest fourth generation Megane line-up for this Sport Tourer estate variant, a car with the longest load capacity in its segment. It's ironic that Renault has probably done more than any other manufacturer to promote the idea that families need an MPV, rather than a car like this Megane. From the pioneering Espace to the big selling Scenic, the growth in the popularity of people carriers owes a lot to this French brand. But nailing all your colours to one mast is never a great idea, so Renault hasn't given up on the good old traditional estate car. All right, it calls it a 'Sport Tourer', but the basic 'hatch with a long tin roof' deal is as old as the hills.
A big attraction of the estate over an MPV is the way it performs on the road. The Megane Sport Tourer runs on the same platform as the Megane hatchback and the Scenic MPV but has far more in common with the hatch in terms of its low centre of gravity and hunkered-down driving position. The suspension is lifted wholesale from the Megane and a redeveloped power steering system responds more swiftly to driver input. The rear suspension meanwhile, has been tuned to produce a more supple ride, as well as offering improved cornering. As with the vast majority of cars such as this, a big part of the driving experience will depend on the engine you've plumped for. If you like petrol power, Renault offer two turbocharged 'TCe' options, with either 130PS - or a 205PS unit that is available exclusively in GT trim. If you go for the most potent performer, your only transmission choice is a seven speed automatic, which is also an option on the 130PS motor. Also standard with that 205PS unit is '4CONTROL' four wheel steering that helps agility at low speed and stability as the pace increases. There's no doubt that the diesel options will make up the majority of sales. The 'dCi' choices are 110PS (the most economical variant) from a 1.5-litre unit or 130PS from a 1.6-litre engine. On the 1.5 dCi 110, you can talk to your dealer about a 'Hybrid Assist' option that improves efficiency. Or a top of the range dCi 165 1.6-litre twin-turbo unit.
Design and Build
The Megane Sport Tourer isn't merely a Megane Hatch with a conservatory on the back. It's properly practical with a 580-litre boot (the same as that of the previous model) and the longest load area in the segment, at almost 2.8m (assuming you take advantage of the fold-flat front passenger seat). The modular boot is extremely straightforward to use and its floor has two positions. Selecting the high position creates a flat floor when the rear seat is folded to facilitate the loading of bulky items. In this configuration, further storage space is available beneath the cargo bay. Alternatively, setting the floor in its lower position creates maximum load volume in a single area. Nice touches include lateral storage bins on each side of the boot, next to the wheel arches. In addition, there's a hook on both sides from which bags can be hung. As an option, a luggage safety net that can be used vertically is available. It is also possible to separate the boot into two compartments, front and rear, to prevent items from sliding around. Thanks to handles located within the boot area, Renault's Easy Folding system enables simple unlocking and automatic folding of the 60/40-split rear seat.
Market and Model
There's a £1,600 premium to pay to progress to this Sport Tourer from the standard Megane Hatch bodystyle. There's the usual choice of Renault trim levels - 'Expression+', 'Dynamique Nav', 'Dynamique S Nav' and 'Signature Nav'. Prices range between around £18,500 to around £27,500. To compete in the Focus-sized compact family estate segment, this Megane will need to be very well equipped - and is. 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. Safety is covered by a range of available technologies on top of the usual electronic aids. These 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.
Cost of Ownership
Engine choices are heavily biased towards diesel units which, with the help of Stop & Start technology offer private or business buyers better standards of economy, efficiency and emissions performance than they'll ever have seen in a Megane. The 1.5-litre diesel engine is undoubtedly the star of the Sport Tourer show if running costs are your thing. The unit is used across the Renault range and found here in 110bhp guise where it's capable of 76.4mpg on the combined cycle while emitting just 96g/km of CO2. If that isn't impressive enough, the 'Hybrid Assist' diesel should be capable of well over 80mpg with emissions of under 85g/km. This means free tax while features such as autonomous braking should mean insurance costs won't be too steep. Don't overlook the 1.2-litre TCe petrol units though, which makes figures that not so long ago were the preserve of a class-leading turbodiesel. To be specific, a TCe 130 version of this models manages 52.3mpg and 120g/km of CO2. As for the warranty, that's good for up to four years or 100,000 miles. Years one and two are unlimited mileage. Depreciation hasn't been a strong point of Renault medium range cars down the years but this improved Megane fights back with much improved residual figures. That's thanks in no small part to a much greater focus on reliability. Germany's ADAC organisation recently placed it near the top of its class when it came to mechanical durability.
Renault appears to be in little doubt that the estate car still has something to offer in the modern marketplace. It has a complete range of load-luggers that sit alongside its popular MPV products and it's easy to see how they could be preferable for some buyers. The Megane Sport Tourer looks the part with its sleek, elongated lines and beneath the handsome exterior is more rear passenger space and a very big boot. It might not have the flexibility of a leading MPV product but the Sport Tourer blends style and practicality in a manner that should appeal to those who aren't convinced by the people carrier's trickery. The estate remains a refreshingly straightforward style of family car and there's still a lot to be said for that.