Renault Megane GT

So the French understand evolution as well as revolutionÖ

JOHN CAREY

FIRSTDRIVES

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

THEREíS a lot of space (and plenty of Espace) in the new Megane GT.

The fourth generation of Renaultís C-segment hatchback has grown in almost every direction, creating a car with a wider cabin, more rear-seat knee room and one of the biggest cargo compartments in its class.

Nothing unusual so far, but the source of the hardware that sets the sporty GT apart from more Its drivetrain, steering rack and Renaultís big new crossover.

Megane is built using the Renault- Module Family) component flexible system; the crossoverís is more mundane Meganes is surprising. steering rear axle all come from Like the Espace, the new Nissan Allianceís CMF (Common matrix. CMF is obviously a fairly wheelbase ismore than 200mm longer than the hatchís.

The Espace is built only in lefthand drive, yet the ambidextrous Megane uses the same steering ratio and rack-mounted electricassist system. It gives the GT 2.3 turns lock-to-lock instead of the 2.9 of standard models.

The Megane GTís Ď4Controlí rear axle, a torsion beam with a 30kg electric micro-steer system, likewise comes from the Espace.

For the Megane GT, itís retuned by Renault Sport for handling agility, The GTís 151kW 1.6-litre turbopetrol that in the Clio RS200. But Renault GTís drivetrain is most closely the same seven-speed dual-clutch instead a six-speed dual-clutch. not just a tighter turning circle. is practically identical to Sport exec Regis Fricotte says the related to the Espace, which uses transmission. The hot Clio has While the ways in which the GT

differs from other Meganes are important, so are the things it has in common; stand-out exterior style and an inviting interior.

The new Meganeís longer, wider, lower dimensions must have helped, but Renaultís designers deserve credit for the carís stance and shapeliness.

Itís especially attractive from the rear, a view that emphasises the bodyís broad shoulders and distinctive LED lighting strips.

High-grade Meganes (the only kind at the international launch in Portugal) will come with an instrument panel featuring a Volvo XC90-like portrait-oriented touchscreen in its middle. The second thing you notice, after the display, is the huge step forward Renault has made with interior design and quality. This is a cabin that stands comparison with the best in class.

But itís not perfect. The steering column-mounted controls are a long way from ergonomic excellence. Rear access could be easier, with only a narrow gap between B-pillar and seat base for getting feet in and out. And, as with so many modern designs, the angle and thickness of the A-pillars hinder vision.

Thereís stuff to praise, as well.

The driving position is fine, as are the GT-specific Alcantaratrimmed front sports seats. The glovebox is usefully big. And that portrait screen makes car set-up Ė and Renault does give the picky driver a lot of choices Ė relatively painless.

Chief engineer Fabrice Garcia says ride comfort was a priority during development of the new Megane. Even with its stiffer springs, firmer dampers, more rigid anti-roll bars and low-profile 18-inch tyres, the GT is smooth and supple for something sporty.

Quiet, too.

It also feels agile, thanks to the direct steering and the 4Control rear axle. In Sport mode, the rear wheels steer counter to the fronts up to 80km/h. In Neutral and Comfort modes the GT makes an earlier switch, at 60km/h, to stability-enhancing samedirection steering.

Sport mode also reduces the level of steering assistance, but does nothing to alter the systemís numbness. Still, the GT is prompt and precise in its responses to inputs. And the car feels well balanced up to the point it pushes gently into understeer.

The engine is sweetly refined, nicely muscular and with a pleasantly raspy top end. But the new-generation Megane isnít significantly lighter than the old one, meaning the 1.6-litre turbo delivers brisk rather than brilliant performance.

The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which Renault labels EDC, does not seem able to read both the driverís mind and the road ahead the way the DSG in Volkswagenís Golf GTI can do.

Itís okay in Neutral or Comfort, but in Sport Ė which alters both throttle and transmission mapping Ė it can be hesitant.

Still, the GT does promise a better basic Megane. The style and space are giant steps in the right direction, as is the emphasis on quality, refinement and comfort. And Renaultís decision to include a full suite of up-to-date active safety tech, including autonomous emergency braking, is a wise one (see sidebar).

With the local launch of the new Megane scheduled for the second half of 2016, Renault Australia is still months away from finalising specification and pricing. What they do know for sure is that the launch line-up will include a 97kW 1.2-litre turbo-petrol four teamed with six-speed manual and sevenspeed dual-clutch transmissions, plus an EDC-only 81kW 1.5-litre turbo-diesel four.

Priced right Ė say from $21,000 for the base petrol manual to around $37,500 for the GT Ė Renault Australia should find thereís space enough for the new Megane in one of the marketís most crowded segments.

It feels well balanced to the point it pushes gently into understeer

Devalued decisions

NEW Meganeís list of active safety and driver assist tech is long for a C-segment hatch, as Renault proudly points out. But the declining purchasing power of our dollar may affect Renault Australiaís ability to bring everything. Hereís what they have to pick and choose from: autonomous emergency braking (works from 30 to 140km/h); adaptive cruise control; rear-view camera; lanedeparture, blind-spot and safe distance warning systems; auto-dipping headlights; front, rear and side parking sensors; park assist system; and a colour head-up display.

PLUS & MINUS

Numb steering; hesitant dual-clutch transmission; ergonomic irritations Exterior and interior design; ride comfort; refinement; engine

ERGO NO-GO 01

Ergonomic error area: Megane GTís paddle shifters should extend lower than they do, wands arenít user friendly, and Renault just wonít give up on the horrid little column-mounted audio system control carbuncle itís been in love with for 20 years.

TOUCH AND GO 02

ĎR-Link 2í portrait-oriented 8.7-inch touchscreen will set high-grade Meganes apart from less costly versions. Itís easy to use, too. Menus are well structured and it responds to smartphone-style swipes and pinches. Base cars will have a landscape-format 7.0-inch screen. At least itís colourÖ

PUSH TO GO 03

RS Drive button gives instant access to the Megane GTís Sport mode, which affects the engine, transmission, steering assist and rear-steer system.

Selection of other inbuilt modes Ė Neutral (start-up default), Comfort and driver-customisable Perso Ė requires only a tap on the touchscreen.

OR TRY THESE...

Peugeot 308 GT

$41,990 The new 308 at its most handsome, but like its Megane namesake, the GT isnít an all-out hot-hatch. Still, it handles with enthusiasm, has terrific sports seats and an inviting interior. Pity about the (switchable) synthesised induction note.

Mazda 3 SP25 Astina

$35,040 With a 138kW atmo engine and an excellent six-speed manual gearbox, the Mazda is a more organic warm hatch than the tech-heavy Renault.

But it only really comes alive when driven hard, and its cabin lacks the richness of the French pair.