Renault and Opel create radical electric versions of old family favourites

New Megane goes SUV, new Astra gets Manta styling

Style-wise, under the test-drive camouflage tape, the new Megane takes inspiration in its shape and silhouette from last year’s Megane Vision concept

Style-wise, under the test-drive camouflage tape, the new Megane takes inspiration in its shape and silhouette from last year’s Megane Vision concept

 

If there’s one opportunity that the switch to electric motoring has created, it’s for models that were once firm family favourites, now somewhat ignored, to become rediscovered with battery power.

Thus it is for the Renault Megane and the Opel Astra. Both cars have seen their once prime sales positions eroded by SUVs and crossovers. Their electrified ripostes to this assault are quite different.

Renault is taking a join-them-if-you-can’t-beat-them approach. The next Megane, properly called the Megane E-Tech, will not only go all-electric but will actually become a crossover. The first 30 new Meganes, fresh from Renault’s factory in Douai in northern France, are now taking to the roads to put the car’s new electric systems to the test.

Style-wise, under the test-drive camouflage tape (whose whorled pattern is based on the Renault diamond) the new Megane takes obvious inspiration in its shape and silhouette from last year’s Megane Vision concept, but the detailed styling has clearly been toned down and simplified. Renault doubtless doesn’t want to alienate the more conservative buyers in the family-oriented C-segment. It’s not quite tall enough to be a full-on SUV, so let’s call it a large-ish crossover for now.

Underneath, it uses the CMF-E platform shared across the Renault-Nissan Alliance which gives it a 60kWh battery and a one-charge range claimed at 451km. Power comes from a single 217hp electric motor, but we’d expect to see a broader range of battery sizes, and likely two-motor, four-wheel drive models in due course.

‘Renaultlution’

The Megane E-Tech will form a major plank in Renault’s plans to recover from its disastrous 2020, when it lost €7 billion (not a typo). Chief executive Luca de Meo has promised to build a recovery based on exciting cars, models that might even appeal to a traditional petrolhead such as himself.

“You see a lot of the industry betting on technology for technology’s sake but you need to be thinking of the customer and what they want. To try to imagine what they don’t know yet that they want. You have to use a crisis, like now, to make a jump forward. Like when we launched the first generation Kangoo and Scenic, but with two of three freaky ideas, we came out like this [de Meo snaps his fingers]. A revolution happened here in Paris, and now we want to do our ‘Renaultlution’.

“I am a guy of the 80s and 90s,” says the Italian boss. “The conversation around cars is changing a lot, especially for the younger generation. The kind of spirit that is emerging is actually very close to the original spirit of Renault. The core of the brand has always been on very friendly, accessible products, cars for families, cars for normal people. But there will still be space for some performance, such as [the] Alpine. That will appeal to people who want something sporty, like me.”

Across the Rhine, in Opel’s HQ in Russelsheim, just outside Frankfurt, the plan for the new Astra is a little more traditional, but arguably no less striking. While the next generation Astra will continue with five-door hatchback and “Sports Tourer” estate bodies, from the photos Opel has shown us so far it will be far more striking to look at. Indeed, it appears as if the gorgeous, retro, electric Manta concept car was not previewing a new range of Mantas, but was actually dropping hints towards the Astra’s styling. From what we can see, it looks crisp and sharp, with the headlights and “vizor” grille from the Manta and the Mokka crossover. Inside, it gets the same twin digital screens as the Mokka (with what look like slightly nicer graphics).

Underneath, the Astra will share an EMP2 platform with the new Peugeot 308, but that leaves a question hanging. Peugeot initially revealed the 308 with a choice of petrol, diesel, or plug-in hybrid powertrains, but quickly added that it would launch a fully-electric model when questions were asked about an EV 308. So far Opel has only said that the Astra will be “electrified” which implies a plug-in hybrid, rather than a full EV. Surely the Germans won’t let their French cousins pull too far ahead in the electric race, though?

“The future Astra will open another exciting new chapter in the 30-year history of our compact class model,” says Opel chief executive Michael Lohscheller. “We are confident that the next generation Opel Astra will make a powerful impression and attract many new customers to the brand.”