Renault’s new Megane has the looks, but does it have staying power?

Renault’s design department is back on top – the car has plenty of style – but its quality-control people still need to put some overtime in

Make: Renault

Model: Megane

Year: 2016

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: June 29, 2016

Wed, Jul 6, 2016, 04:00

   

This is, perhaps, not the best time to be trying to sell a French car in Ireland. True, at least this time there was no handball to get upset about, but it still leaves a welt on the skin, even when you’ve been beaten by the better team.

Renault will be hoping that some of the French soccer magic will rub off on the new Megane, though. Like the best midfielders, a family hatchback like this has to be the perfect all-rounder. Good up front and at the back, a safe pair of hands but equally able to dazzle with a little fancy footwork.

Right, enough with the footballing metaphors. The new Megane has an even greater task on its hands than did Martin O’Neill (sorry, last one I promise): it has to convince buyers that Renault’s reliability and quality have ramped up to meet the Germans, Japanese and Koreans (the 2002 Megane II was a reliability liability) and that it has found again its magic touch at making everyday family cars beautifully stylish. (The 2008 Megane III was a style-free zone.)

In that last challenge, at least, Renault has stepped up well. The new Megane has that effortless, insouciant French attitude to style. Oh, this big shiny grille and striking C-shaped lights? I just threw them on, you know . . . It’s a very good-looking car, with muscular lines and some very nice detailing, especially on the GT-Line model we tested, which wears a gently bulging body kit and some very nice 18in alloy wheels.

Inside it’s slightly more of a mixed bag. The previous Megane had some pretty awful rough-textured plastics and ugly instruments, but this one eradicates that memory with high-quality materials and a clean, uncluttered layout.

The GT-Line comes with a landscape-oriented 7in touchscreen, which is fine, but the bigger, optional 8.7in portrait screen looks far more upmarket and really lifts the cabin. Space is better than decent, both front and rear, and the GT-Line’s deep bucket seats are terrific.

Squeaks and rattles

It’s not all good, though. The digital instruments look no more than okay, and we detected some annoying cabin squeaks and rattles during our test drive. On a low-mileage car like this that’s properly worrying, and it may be that Renault’s recent gains in tactile quality aren’t mirrored in assembly quality. Perhaps we’d better give Renault the benefit of the doubt until we’ve seen some higher-mileage examples.

On the road the bag is equally mixed. The GT-Line gets a Sport mode that actually does some quite good things to the steering in terms of feel and weight. It’s suddenly a responsive car to drive, with good grip, pleasing steering and a general sensation of agility and enjoyment.

Certainly this GT-Line model effectively bridges the gap between the old ultrahot Renaultsport Meganes and the more proletarian diesel models.

Of course this is a diesel model:it uses the familiar 1.5 dCI turbo diesel, with 110hp and 260Nm of torque. Although the six-speed manual gearbox is disappointingly balky and rubbery, not to mention so high-geared that it can sometimes strangle the engine, it feels grunty. Renault claims that it will return 85mpg, which sounds a bit daft, but the 96g/km carbon-dioxide figure is impressive (within the limits of the discredited official emissions tests). It’s a little noisy at low speeds, but once you give it a chance to warm through its refinement is actually pretty good.

Refinement is not great in terms of the suspension, though. Okay, so this was a GT-Line car with the large 18in alloys (16s are standard on the base Expression model), and we were driving it on roads high in the Wicklow Mountains, where the bumps are frequent and the surfaces often poor, but even taking all this into account the Megane feels needlessly jittery. Worse, when you clip some serious bumps the suspension runs out of travel very, very quickly and whacks into its bump stops with a thump that runs right up through the body and sets your teeth on edge. It’s a shame, given the generally very good steering, that the rest of the car can’t keep up, dynamically.

Still, Renault is pricing it pretty sharply. A starting price of €19,490 looks good (that’s for an Expression model with the 1.2 petrol turbo engine), albeit the most basic models are slightly sparsely equipped.

Desirable options

For some of the more desirable options you need to trade up to a Dynamique or GT-Line, and those are much more on a par with the likes of the VW Golf or Opel Astra in terms of price. Still, even the cheapo versions get a full suite of safety equipment, and the Megane is just the latest in a long line of Renaults to get a full five-star rating from EuroNCAP.

So – and I’m sorry but I’ll have to return to a soccer metaphor – it seems to be a classically French performance. Lots of flair and excitement, and some solid work up and down the pitch, but seemingly let down against better organised opposition. To paraphrase Eamon Dunphy, this is a good Megane but not a great one.