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A FAST íNí FURIOUS FACE-OFF

WORDS JAMES WHITBOURN

FRENCH FLAIR

RENAULT MEGANE GT WAGON

The $39,990 1.6 turbo Megane GT looks like a good deal on face value and makes a better match for the base Levorg than the 1.2 GT-line. Sat-nav, front, rear and side parking sensors, tyre pressure monitor, and active safety such as AEB, a lane-departure warning and adaptive speed limited cruise are standard. You also get heated front seats and premium audio. 17/20 The Megane feels fizzier, in part because its direct-injected 1.6-litre turbo is 26kW and 30Nm up, at 151kW/280Nm, and in part because its seven-speed dual-clutch auto lets you fully harness the engineís grunt, but you need to dial up the R.S. Drive system, or paddle shift to bring it to life. A 20 percent smaller tank (50 litres) is offset by better official economy Ė an excellent 6.0L/100km. 17/20 Itís safe to say the Megane GT is the dynamic pick of the small-wagon niche. With the chassis honed by the renowned RS division, a four-wheel-steering system and well-weighted turn-in that actually delivers feel, itís a revelation. Hereís a compact family car that turns in keenly, keeps its composure over lumpy backroads and has a lovely fluid feel to the way it corners. 18/20 Itís no surprise itís sportier and nicer in the top-spec Megane than the entry Subie, with sports seats and Alcantara trim.

Thereís ample legroom in the back and a bigger cargo bay than the Levorgís, at 580 litres in spite of the Renault being 64mm shorter than the Subaru (on a 20mm-longer wheelbase). The rear seatbacks have a one-touch fold function and you get a tyre repair kit. 16/20 The Megane, as the tailgate badge suggests, rides on Renault Sport tuned suspension Ė and it wears 225/40R18s. Despite this, the highway/country ride is nicely absorbent, though the tyres create a bit of roar. At city speed and over the sharper bumps typically experienced in this sort of driving, itís a bit jiggly, but weíre good with the compromise. 15/20 83/100

QUIET ACHIEVER

SUBARU LEVORG GTVORG GT LEV

Though the Premium might have been a closer match, the 1.6 turbo GT seemed the pick because it brings the Subie wagonís price to a tasty $35,990. Cloth trim and 17s betray the base status, but just as in the Megane you get a rear camera, dual-zone climate control, heated mirrors and rain-sensing wipers. There are also dusk sensing, steering-responsive LED headlights and Subaruís Eyesight safety suite. 16/20 Subaruís first 1.6-litre flat-four grabbed our interest Ė could this be a gem? The direct-injected, 1599c FB15 DIT mill has 125kW/250Nm and hits peak torque early, at 1800rpm. But the CVT doesnít let you find out how keen it is because thereís little linearity between right-foot movement and rate of acceleration. And the Subie is hefty at 1539kg, which might explain the 7.4L/100km figure. 13/20 An inert electric steering system and a lack of body control that introduces itself quickly when you have a go ensure you can draw conclusions on the entry Levorg nearly as fast. Itís not as good as weíd hoped, or as it could be. Itís not a patch on its rival for entertainment, but the ride/handling compromise stacks up well in the Levorg line-up. 14/20 The cloth trim in the Levorg, like the rest of the cabin, feels of high quality and is well finished, and you get a seventh airbag here, for the driverís knees. Thereís similar rear legroom to the Renault and the handy 40/20/40 one-touch folding backrest presents multiple ways to expand the 489L bay while still carrying two rear occupants. A temporary spare provides the fix for a flat. 15/20 The base 1.6 is the only Levorg that doesnít get Bilstein dampers, and it also gets smaller wheels than the others Ė mere 215/50R17s. Both are plusses, because it rides with greater absorbency than its siblings as well as its rival. The Subaru is quiet and especially good at rounding off urban bumps, but the lack of absolute body control at higher speeds detracts from overall comfort. 15/20 73/100 V PRICE & EQUIPMENT 20 POINTS INTERIOR & VERSATILITY 20 POINTS PERFORMANCE & ECONOMY 20 POINTS RIDE & REFINEMENT 20 POINTS STEERING & HANDLING 20 POINTS POINTS SCORE

VERDICT

The 2.0-litre Levorg doesnít aim to be Ė and isnít Ė a hot wagon.

We wondered: would the new 1.6-litre Levorg GT version let the model work better as a warm one? In a way, it does. The softer suspension and bigger tyre sidewalls smooth out the ride and the 1.6 goes okay. With a bit more handling polish and steering feel and a normal auto or, even better, a manual, it would be cool.

As it is, the doors shut with a nice thud, the cabin is well put together and itís well equipped for the money. However, for $40K Ė and only $4K more than its rival Ė the Megane GT wagon gives you plenty: equipment, cargo space and a five-year warranty. You also get more performance, greater character, and way more engaging steering and handling than in the Subaru. The Renault is a ripper all-rounder.