Review: Renault Megane hatch is quite a catch

Renault launches its latest Mégane on the back of rising sales in most markets. In Britain it had its best June and sales for the first seven months are up 14 per cent as it regains lost ground.

The new Renault Mégane sports hill start assist, cruise and speed control, Bluetooth, capless fuel filler cover, power windows and air conditioning
The new Renault Mégane sports hill start assist, cruise and speed control, Bluetooth, capless fuel filler cover, power windows and air conditioning

Here now is the five-door Mégane hatch, with a Sport Tourer estate version on the way to back up a revised Clio, the imminent Grand Scénic and Koleos and the impact of the Kadjar cross-over.

Mégane is from the same factory as Kadjar, in Palencia, north-west Spain. They share the basic platform and adventurous styling and interiors which would seem to be its USP over the more subtle shapes from its rivals. Mégane is now in its fourth iteration in a 20-year, 6.5 million sales groove. Its natural prey are the Golf, 308, Focus, Astra hatches plus a flurry of Japanese and South Korean cars. The UK launch for the media was in North Yorkshire, with a mix of high and low roads.

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Navigation was by the Tom Tom unit, fitted to most models, which needs at least two missed junctions remapping. One was shown as a sweeping right-hander when in fact it was a T-junction, requiring a stop or at least a slow down. That was a potentially hazardous mapping error.

Mégane headlines: It looks nothing like the last one, with two diesel and two petrol engines and a hybrid to come, a GT model with rear-wheel-steering, emissions as low as 96g, a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP and prices from £16,600. It’s any colour as long as it’s white, or add at least £525. The price entry model is the 128bhp 1.2 petrol rated at 52mpg and 120g in Expression+ trim.

We were given two models to test. First off was the range-topping 1.6 litre 205hp petrol GT Nav automatic at £25,500 plus £525 for iron blue paint (seen here). It is a Renaultsport development and the only Mégane to offer the 203bhp engine. Its rear wheels steer to assist cornering. Below 50mph they twist the opposite way to the front wheels by 2.5 degrees, giving a sharper turn.

Above 50mpg they twist by a lower degree in the same direction as the front wheels to improve stability. On paper it works. On the road the low speed assist can make it feel twitchy after a normal car. This so-called four-wheel-steer is not a new idea. Honda’s Prelude coupe had it in the late 1980s, causing some observers to predict it would be normal by the year 2000. It was not.

In my book it’s an idea we don’t need. It adds complexity and cost. Will it be a problem in the car’s dotage? The GT is quick enough, with a 7.2 seconds 0-62mph time and a maximum of 143mph. It is rated at 47mpg and 134g. On test the computer suggested 33mpg.

Nicer to drive and better suited to everyday life was the Dynamique S 1.5 litre 108bhp diesel with manual gears and a price of £20,400 plus £625 for flame red metallic paint. This was lovely. The engine is all you expect in a modern car, with almost as much torque as the GT but delivered from lower revs. The result was a relaxed drive with a speed pick-up which belied its pedestrian 0-62mph time of 11.3 seconds.

Renault rates this model at 68.9mpg and 96g (zero UK road tax). On test the computer said 52mpg on a drive that was gentle rather than brisk.

This version would be adequate for most of us. The price includes navigation, a speed limiter, sensible 17- inch alloys, a rear camera, automatic lights and wipers, automatic high and low beam operation, parking sensors at both ends, traffic sign recognition, selectable driving modes with corresponding ambient lighting around the cabin and an 8.7-inch deep control screen.

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Why would you buy this car instead of a Golf or Focus or Astra? All are good and any car in this class is satisfactory. The Golf’s image gets my casting vote. Mégane’s appeal is in its body, with emphatic styling which makes the last Mégane look dull. It has LED lights across most of the tail, and at the front C-shaped LED signatures which make the car hard to miss. The majority of what you touch inside is decent quality.

Under the tailgate there is a deep boot over a space saver tyre (add £95). The rear seat fold leaves a substantial ridge down to the boot deck. Unlike many rivals, you are not offered a way of making a flat load deck with a choice of heights for the floor. A dismal omission.

In general, there is plenty to attract and excite. Renault dealers have increased by 13 this year to 160, with 132 having the new store layout. The marque’s Zoe leads sales of electric cars in Europe, as does its electric van and it also is number one seller in the light commercial sector.

Verdict: Hard to miss and worth a drive.