Renault Megane GT

A five-door hatch worthy of Gallic pride

TONY OíKANE

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

RENAULTíS fourth-gen Megane is here, and it represents a golden opportunity for the French automakerís local operation.

After years of being an also-ran in the super-competitive small-car segment, Renault at last has a contender thatís not only able to compete with its peers in terms of pricing, size and equipment, but a range that boasts more than a few unique points of difference. This is the most compelling Renault small hatch since, well, forever.

Just look at it. The curvaceous current-gen Megane RS three-door may still flaunt some sexy curves, but the outgoing five-door hatch was a visual dud. Its replacement is a supermodel by comparison.

Distinctive C-shaped LED daytime running lamps inject a bold look to the Meganeís front end, while LED taillights that stretch almost across the carís full width give the French hatchís rump a high-end appearance. And on the range-topping GT model you see here, thatís enhanced by 18-inch wheels and a sports bodykit.

The cabin has a premium aura that was missing in the previous model.

Its interior design is upmarket without being pretentious, let down only by misaligned plastics and hard shiny textures on the lower dash.

Is it as pleasant as the interior of a Mazda 3 or Volkswagen Golf? The material quality lags behind those two segment-leaders, so no. It is featurerich, though, with a TFT electronic instrument panel and keyless entry/ ignition just two of the spec highlights.

The Megane cabin looks best in GT-Line or GT guise. That 8.7-inch portrait-format screen is unique for the segment and easy to use, and the ambient lighting, heavily bolstered sports seats and blue contrast stitching all help lift the atmosphere markedly.

Rear headroom and footroom is a touch tight, and people of even average height will have to stoop slightly to get in. Once seated, though, the back seat

FIRSTDRIVES SPECS

Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Renault Megane GT 1618cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 151kW @ 6000rpm 280Nm @ 2400rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1392kg 7.1sec (claimed) 6.0L/100km $38,490 Now

is comfortable and well furnished, with face-level air vents and a generously sized fold-down centre armrest.

Itís bigger on the inside, too, with 22mm and 27mm more shoulder room front and rear respectively, and the 434-litre boot is generous for the segment.

Some French foibles are still manifest in this car. The glovebox is tiny, and the undersized and shallow cupholders are proof that the French still donít understand how to design a decent beverage receptacle. They say itís no use crying over spilt milk, but if my venti-cappu-frappa-megachino spills onto my crotch on a hard left turn, you can be assured tears will be shed.

While the interior grows slightly, the Megane has shrunk under the bonnet. Engine downsizing sees the majority of the range make do with an adequate 97kW/205Nm turbo 1.2-litre, while the GT receives the turbo 1.6-litre four-pot of the Clio RS 200 tuned to a healthy 151kW and 280Nm.

Itís an auto-only proposition (only the base model Megane Life gets the option of a manual), but the seven-speed dual-clutch complements the 1.6ís revvy nature and surprisingly fat midrange torque. Itís a shame it autoupshifts when in manual mode, though, and those shift paddles need to be larger to be practical.

The GT does not have the grunt of the previous-generation 2.0-litre Megane GT220, but itís surprisingly hot for a warm hatch, as evidenced by a handy 0-100km/h time of 7.1sec.

And boy is it agile. The Megane GT is gifted with Renaultís new 4Control four-wheel-steering ed gile. eel- system, which helps point the nose into corners at low speed and improves stability at high speed.

Itís no gimmick; it profoundly changes the way the Megane handles and works a treat with its nicely weighted steering.

The suspension boasts great compliance and absorbs largeamplitude lumps in a composed and settled manner, but has a slightly fussy ride over smaller imperfections. It can feel jittery and unsettled over corrugations, and surprisingly that behaviour was present even on the 16-inch alloys and taller sidewalls of the mid-spec Zen grade.

Road noise is another issue.

Itís particularly loud on coarsechip roads and smaller-wheeled variants arenít immune. The Zen also lacked some body control, taking longer to recover from big bumps than the GT-Line and GT.

Broadly speaking, though, the new Megane is at last a viable option for those shopping for a modestly sized grocery-getter. And, like the recently launched Renault Koleos, itís the range-topper thatís the most compelling offering. chip ar long tha s Me o shopp Ren ran mos

PLUS & MINUS

Lack of active safety aids; cabin quality issues Almost hot-hatch performance; supple suspension tune; attractive design

Renault at last has a serious contender in the small-car segment

Steer from rear

In a segment first, the Megane GT features fourwheel steering tech to give it an extra measure of agility around tight corners.

A powerful electric motor is mounted to the GTís torsion beam rear axle, and turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at speeds under 60km/h (80km/h when Sport mode is selected) to help point the nose into a turn.

At speeds above that threshold, the rear wheels are turned in the same direction as the fronts to improve high-speed cornering stability

SafetyÖ second?

Though available overseas with active safety gear including auto emergency braking, active cruise control and lane-departure warning, Renault Australia hasnít equipped locally delivered models with those potentially life-saving features. At least not yet.

The company promises those features will make their way onto Oz-bound cars as early as the first half of next year Ė most likely as cost options on low-spec models and standard on the GT-Line and GT.

OR TRY THESE...

Peugeot 308 GT $41,990

Peugeot has a GT hatch of its own, also powered by a 1.6 turbo four.

With 151kW and 285Nm, itís line-ball with the Renault, but is slower to 100km/h by almost half a second. Itís also pricier, and only comes with a manual.

Mazda 3 SP25 Astina $35,490

The flagship Mazda 3 hatch is a terrific all-rounder, with a high-end cabin feel that beats the Megane GT for premium polish. Itís also cheaper, but is less of a performer due to lower outputs from its naturally aspirated 2.5-litre engine.