Antidote to SUV blues

Selecting GT brings sport mode

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Until the 205kW/390Nm 1.8-litre RS version appears, the GT is the hottest Megane variant available. Replacing the regular range’s 97kW/205Nm 1.2-litre four-pot turbo with the 151kW/280Nm 1.6-litre turbo transforms the driving experience and an ‘R.S. Drive’ button allows selection from Comfort, Neutral or Sport modes, for throttle, steering, engine and transmission mapping. There are no big changes to the strut front and torsion beam rear suspension but you do get larger brake discs.

The Renault Megane GT delivers Sport and Utility, but this ain’t no soft-roader

IF THERE ever was one car that combines a few of my favourite things in one package then the new Megane GT wagon would come stupendously close.

For starters, it’s a Renault, and therefore a descendant of the seminal 16 – you know, the world’s first front-drive hatchback, launched in the mid ’60s. That thing actually changed the car, while the hotshot TS ushered in the GTI era. Overachiever much?

Secondly, we’re talking about a French wagon here, so whether you’ve experienced one as a ‘Familiale’, ‘Break’, ‘Estate’ or ‘Safari’, it’s sure to be effective. As thousands of African taxis can attest.

Lastly, being a GT, this Megane has mechanical four-wheel steering – just like the third-generation Honda Prelude, the world’s first production car with the tech, and Wheels’ 1987 COTY. That this particular variant’s chassis was devised under the canny eye of the Renault Sport (RS) division boffins is just icing on the cake.

Yes, the Megane GT TCe205 EDC 4Control Break, with its 151kW/280Nm 1.6-litre turbo and seven-speed EDC dual-clutch transmission, is like the mutant marriage of what I’d want in my fantasy family car. More or less.

But there’s also another reason why it’s here. Regular current-gen Meganes have so far left us underwhelmed. Though competent, they feel too … ordinary, with little character and not much flair.

Something, by the way, that baby-brother Clio oozes. We’re hoping the GT’s RSification restores our faith in the series.

Packaging-wise, it’s on the money.

Handsomely presented, the wagon offers extra rear-seat legroom compared to the hatch, courtesy of a 42mm wheelbase stretch, as well as a long, flat and wide cargo area. We’re talking about a family-friendly, driver-focused alternative to an SUV here.

Our GT heaves with standard kit like autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beam, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, co w S sat-nav, a reversing camera, parking sensors all ’round, auto on/off lights and wipers, automatic parking, paddle shifters, Alcantara upholstery, heated sports front seats, sunroof, ambient cabin lighting, privacy glass, obligatory body kit and 18-inch alloys. And that’s on top of the 4WS and RS chassis tune.

Starting from $39,490, AOC-309 also includes a $1490 Premium Pack (all-LED headlights and a Bose audio upgrade that deletes the space-saver spare for a puncture inflation kit) and $600 metallic paint. Total outlay: $41,580 plus on-roads.

Almost immediately after getting our hands on it, the GT went on multiple country trips, criss-crossing Victoria like a pub band with big dreams, all interspersed with heavy urban commuting. Which makes our 7.7L/100km on 98 RON impressive.

There is a sort of Jekyll and Hyde character to how the Renault drives, however. For docile schlepping, Comfort or Neutral is all you need, with strong off-the-line acceleration and ample torque for the transmission to quietly settle into a higher gear. Easy.

Conversely, selecting Sport around town is infuriating because the EDC maxes out the revs in each ratio, forcing manual upshifts to quell the engine howling and rabid-terrier forward lunge. Yet, given a stretch of open road, in this mode the Megane provides rapid, punchy and effortless oomph, doing more than enough to earn its GT credentials.

As with the Prelude 4WS, the 4Control bites into a corner sharply at first, for instant and unexpected turn-in, but on the other hand, at speed, it feels utterly planted and unflappable, with a welcome amount of feedback and feel, so the tech works. And, initially at least, we’re pleased with the absorbent ride from the quality Continental ContiSportContact 225/40R18 rubber. It’s certainly better than that of most equivalently priced SUVs.

Which is what we want to ascertain over the next few months. With its added dollop of style, space, spec and speed, is the Megane GT wagon a smarter alternative?

A good turn out back

‘4Control’ is Renault’s four-wheel-steering system, which — just as in the famous 4WS Hondas of the late ’80s and early ’90s — turns the rear wheels either in or out of phase with the fronts, dependent on speed. At less than 60km/h (80km/h in Sport mode), the rears turn in the opposite direction (of up to 2.7 degrees) to the fronts, for tighter cornering and easier parking; above this they turn up to one degree in the same direction, for enhanced stability.

RENAULT MEGANE GT WAGON

34 44 3 3 0 0 3 2 3 4 WEEK 4 Date acquired: July 2017 Price as tested: $41,580 This month: 1988km @ 7.7L/100km Overall: 1988km @ 7.7L/100km 34 44 URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY