Gareth Butterfield spends a week in the impressive new Renault Megane
THIS is a very important new car for Renault. It’s the fourth incarnation of a best-seller that’s been around for 20 years now. And that makes me feel rather old.
You might remember a previous version, the series two Megane, was advertised on the strength of its bulbous rear end. “Shakin’ that ass” by Groove Armada was the song chosen by Renault’s marketing types to pick it out as a feature on TV. No such childishness exists with this one, this is a very grown up car. And it’s absolutely laced with technology.
It’s handsome, too. Nowhere near as characterful as the Kardashian version with its portly posteria, this one has far less daring proportions, but that large grille, the big Renault diamond and those smart LED lights really set it off from the front.
Its hiend quarters are very stylish, too. I’m not sure I like the swept-up line on the rear door, but the back lights that almost meet in the middle are very striking and its wide haunches give it a sporty stance.
The interior is equally nice, although dominated by an 8.7inch touch-screen display in my test model. I’m at two minds about fitting what is essentially a tablet computer in place of buttons, but it’s the way of the world. Time will tell whether I like it once I’ve used it for a few days.
On first impressions though, I like the new Megane. True to current form, it feels well-made, spacious and it looks great.
I’M beginning to get my head around the vast array of technology Renault has lobbed into the new Megane. I’ve spent a fair bit of time poking and prodding, but I’m still discovering new things.
You can alter just about everything. Interior lights? There’s a whole host of colours for your mood-lighting. Suspension? Obviously, you can change that. Instrument cluster? It’s all digital so there’s a few different layouts, colours and designs to fiddle with. Steering, engine response and air-conditioning strength are all adjustable. You can even, and this is a bit of fun, add in a synthetic engine note through the speakers, in case you’re bored of the diesel thrum.
It’s easier than you’d think to set all this up though. Most of the alterations are lumped into preset modes, and there’s a “Perso” setting which remembers all your favourites and recalls them at the touch of a button. You could genuinely lose half an hour just making things the way you want them. But it’s fun.
I’VE realised today I’ve not even got started on discovering this car’s tricks. My Dynamique S Nav test car, which is middle-of-the-range, has adaptive cruise control, self-parking, blind-spot warning, traffic-sign recognition, auto high and low beam lights and a neat display telling me if I’m too close to the car in front. I’m driving to Manchester and back today so I’m finding most of it really useful. It all works well and it’s refreshing to see such a smorgasbord of gadgets on such a cheap car. I must admit though, I did quickly turn off the lane-departure warning system. If you cross a white line it tells you by playing a hideous noise through the nearest speaker. It sounds like something’s fallen off and has been dragged under the wheel.
This version, with its fairly decent 1.5-litre 110bhp diesel engine, costs just under £23,000 with every box ticked and that’s impressive. Fuel economy is also impressive. Today I’m averaging 56mpg without even trying.
Less impressive is the driving position. I’m struggling to get properly comfy. It might just be the shape of the seats not matching my particular frame, but my back’s starting to hurt. I’m also very cross that there’s no heated seats. This car accelerates and brakes for itself and even parks itself but it can’t warm my bottom. Shame.
I’VE now spent quite a long time in the Megane and I still like lots of things about it. I like its road manners. It’s not exciting, exactly, and mine’s not fast, but it has secure handling, fairly positive steering and it soaks up bumpy roads very well. It’s really easy to drive, too. Everything’s light, there’s good visibility, essential buttons are right by your fingertips and, although I’m still not incredibly comfortable I think I’m hardening to it now. In the same way you would on a bicycle seat.
I’m also incredibly impressed with the Sat Nav. Yesterday it took me flawlessly to and from a posh estate in Manchester and, because Renault cleverly calls on TomTom for its technology, it’s an absolute doddle to use.
I’m less enamoured with the touch-screen setup. It’s actually very intuitive and well-laid out. Android smartphone users will feel right at home with it, but there’s just too much to think about. If I want to alter the direction of the airflow I shouldn’t have to swipe this way and prod that part of the screen. I’d rather slide something across the dash or turn a knob. At any speed other than stopped, touch-screens are over-complicated.
I’M still averaging 55mpg, which is brilliant. The engine in my car is slow, but not embarrasingly so. There are other versions, though. A 1.2 petrol engine starts things off, there’s a 1.6 litre diesel and a 1.6 litre petrol. To be honest though, if it was my choice, I’d stick with the 1.5 litre diesel. Although you won’t win any races in most scenario’s there’s plenty of power, it’s surprisingly refined, extremely economical and its emissions are a shade under the magical 100g/km barrier. It’s likely to be the most popular choice.
THE Megane goes back tomorrow. During the week I’ve used it for short runs, long runs, loading a bicycle in, carrying four people, commuting to work and popping out to the shop. It’s handled every task well. Its selection of gadgets make each drive slightly easier and, in some cases more enjoyable. It’s not an exciting car and it won’t thrill you in the way a Ford Focus might, but I’m not sure it needs to. I think it represents better value for money than the Focus and I think that’s what Renault has been aiming at. By throwing in so many toys they’ve created a car that feels more expensive than it really is.
Although its bigger than ever now, the latest Megane feels tight, well-built and it looks better than it ever has. It’s got through its awkward adolescence and it’s come back with an athletic figure, maturing with age.
It might not be as fun now, as it was in those days of selling itself by “twerking” at you, but it’s moved with the times and has embraced present day technology with open arms.
It might lose ground to its abundance of rivals in a few respects, but with its abundance of technology it offers so much more. And that should be enough of a reason not to overlook it.