Rorty Renault rings the changes unrespectably
Making no qualms about not featuring the Renault Megane for several years in his regular road tests, Iain Robertson has always felt that it was an ‘nearly’ car that seldom met expectations, an aspect that his latest drive did not alter.
Contending that the latest Renault Megane is the perfect vehicle for the diet-conscious individual, I struggled to insert a plastic takeaway mug of coffee into its solitary cupholder indentation ahead of the gearlever. Thanks to an overhanging section of the console, nothing larger than a single-shot espresso will find a spill-free home in this car. Naturally, to attend to the letter of the law, the driver would not be imbibing anyway (unless parked), but pity the poor front navigator having to contend with an arms-flailing pilot, extracting the maximum from the Megane Sport Tourer, as he juggles a can of pop/bottle of water/canister of coffee (hopefully not all at once), on the way to work.
While you have that image implanted in your brain’s memory bank, there is another good reason for this model to appeal to the diet-dragon; its wondrous combination of bump and torque steer. In the good old days of punchy hot hatchery, when carmakers sought to develop relatively high profit, parts-bin ‘specials’ (a term applied to a ‘cooking’ model enhanced by the next model up’s larger engine, intended to appeal to rallyists, racers and wild-cards from the muttering fraternity), the showroom draw was considered far more important than the delicacies of driving dynamics.
One of my ‘favourite’ examples of that unruly breed was the Ford Fiesta XR2. Despite being much-vaunted, I never felt less than haunted, while driving its various iterations. It took Ford almost thirty years to resolve the model’s less attractive features and to turn the most recent ST versions into cars of meritorious impeccability. I should highlight that the Fiesta was not a sole offender in a driver‘s workout regime. However, thanks to ‘electrickery’, clever differentials and elements of steering autonomy, neither torque steer (caused by excess twisting energy produced by the engine having a negative effect on its steering geometry), nor bump steer (caused by the up and down movement of the suspension struts reacting against power applications), should be common ailments on modern motorcars. Well, somebody ought to tell Renault, as high-speed cardiovascular exercise was an unintended ‘pleasure‘.
Of course, the irony is that the ‘lesser’ Clio and its derivatives are as sweet as the proverbial nut in that respect. If the issue has been introduced to the current Megane, in the hot form of the test car, perhaps it is to hark back to that ‘younger profile’ of buyer that all carmakers are desperate to but fail to attract, which wants to feel ‘more involved’. Personally, I am not a fan, especially when dipping into what is a fairly substantial resource pool in the Megane.
Yet, to be frank, I had more fun in this sporty wagon than I probably deserved to. Its only rival comes from the VW Group in the form of the Skoda Octavia vRS estate, which delivers a similar amount of power, albeit in a somewhat benign and less unruly manner. The Skoda also offers more boot space, when the back seats are folded flat, than the 1600-litres of the Megane. However, I repeat, I actually enjoyed the Megane experience, probably because the car possesses a disarming Jekyll and Hyde character. Punt around town and the Megane is a perfect partner. Hit the open road and its character alters, the engine tone adopting a more raucous and racy edge (slightly strange as there are no visible twin-pipes exiting the car‘s tail), the firm but compliant handling envelope evening out even the nastiest of bumps.
It is well-equipped, with a neatly laid-out, ‘soft-touch’ dashboard that is of first-rate quality. Its touch-screen in the centre of the dash-top, while difficult to reach for the longer of leg (not with their legs, but with their finger tips, naturally!), can be operated by a supplementary controller located just behind the gearlever. However, there is a difficulty with it, because it consists of so many buttons, as well as a push, twist and click ‘joystick’ that offers negligible intuitiveness to operate and demands that the driver removes his attention from the road ahead to avoid miss-clicking, that it is virtually useless.
The seats are both neatly upholstered and sportily bolstered up front, providing good lateral as well as spinal support. They adjust through a wide range, as does the steering column, but, typically of a Gallic car, the front floor is flatter than perhaps it ought to be (a by-product of creating left to right-hand-drive conversion, I am sure), which means that the driving position can become a tad compromised and, again, my long legs were enforced into a splayed position to avoid conflict with the steering wheel rim. Driving long distances (for me, at least) would be painful.
The central screen that normally displays sat-nav, stereo status and gear position doubles as a multi-page read-out of the car’s activities in ‘R’ mode, after all it is a Renaultsport ‘modified’ variant. Some of the screens show digital dials, others bar graphs, all related to the performance of the engine, although what a ‘steering angle oscilloscope’ is for is beyond me, while a G-force screen is equally pointless in a family wagon. They are playthings in a playful machine but, as I am not 19 years of age and do not wear a baseball cap backwards, they are largely superfluous.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine delivers its 220bhp wallop with about as much aplomb as a modern day teenager trying to handwrite. There is no real finesse to it but, boy, does it shift! The 0-60mph time is around 7.3 seconds, the car coursing on to a top speed just shy of 150mph, which is undoubtedly most impressive. While the car never guzzled less than 31mpg during my test session, the Official Combined fuel figure is given as a modest 38.7mpg, which could be achievable by some drivers, while it emits 169g/km CO2, to warrant a 26% BIK rating, for business-users and an annual VED of £205.
The six-speed manual gearshift is slick enough, although it is almost too easy to ‘beat’ the synchromesh on changes from second to third and fourth to fifth. I was also slightly concerned about the performance of the brakes, despite all-round discs and 320mm rotors on the front hubs. They took too long to warm up (it is not a racing car!) and they lacked adequate pedal feel and feedback to the driver, which was quite disappointing, considering the overall performance potential of the car.
The Megane Tourer’s styling is pleasant enough, with a sharper edge to the front bumper, clearly for slicing through the air, but a chamfered tail that does limit the rear luggage space. It is very sporty and the badging is subtle enough, with only a ‘GT’ on the front grille, ‘GT220’ repeaters on the B-pillar and a small ‘GT Renaultsport’ on the rear tailgate.
Conclusion: I wanted to be able to feel as positive about the latest version of the Renault Megane, as I do about the Twingo, Clio and Captur models, which I have already declared as ‘excellent’. However, even though Renault is extracting itself from the mire into which it fell a few years back, despite the fact that I expected that its important midfield offering would have altered more radically (for the better), I am afraid that it is more of the ‘same again’, which is just not sustainable. It is fun but fun is not what is needed in a competitive market. Priced at a fairly hefty £25,370 (as tested), I know where my medium sector funds would be spent and it would not be in France.