What is it?
One of the more interesting members of the streamlined, rationalised 2012 Renault Megane range: the dCI 110 GT Line. It’s not a ‘retail’ car: not a big-hitting performance hatch or an aspirational status symbol. It’s a frugal, pragmatic fleet car with a difference, which proves that this easily overlooked French five-door still has something to offer, in a market segment that many thought had developed way beyond it.
The facelifted 2012 Megane has only just arrived in the UK, and this is our first shot in a right-hand driver. The right-hand driver in question is powered by Renault-Nissan’s unusually small 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine, as a result of which Renault claims the kind of economy and CO2 figures to grab any fleet manager’s attention: a combined 80.7mpg, and 90g/km – both good enough to easily shade the vitals of VW’s defining Golf Bluemotion.
In value-added GT Line trim, the car’s also loaded with standard specification. £21,300 buys you 17in alloy wheels, cruise control, sat nav, a reversing camera, leather-upholstered primary controls, and Bluetooth and USB connectivity in this case – something else that should go down well in the aforementioned company car department.
But this is the bit to pique the driver’s interest. Look past the modest 108bhp and 177lb ft power and torque outputs of this car, and back to the standard equipment list. You’ll find GT Line RenaultSport sports seats on it, sports bumpers, and more importantly, sports suspension: additions which hint at the split personality that marks this car out among capable but worthy rivals.
What is it like?
A bit underwhelming at first. Renault’s facelift hasn’t added the material quality or sparkle to the Megane’s cabin design that would make it more of a match for Ford’s modern, techy-looking Focus, VW’s meticulous Golf, or even Hyundai’s ever-improving i30. Despite some new trims, the Megane’s dashboard looks and feels plain and ordinary, and remains something of an ergonomic disappointment too, with high-mounted seats, shallow footwells and switchgear scattered about willy-nilly. But, at least it’s practical. And when you start the Megane’s engine, you’ll find out it’s quiet and mechanically well-mannered, too.
Outright performance isn’t this car’s strongest suit, but it’s competitive. Six ratios in the car’s manual gearbox makes a difference (the VW Group’s comparable Bluemotion / Greenline / Ecomotive models only get five), and the Megane is drivable and brisk enough to outpunch the traffic when called upon. Throttle response isn’t great, but it’s a problem you can drive around with familiarity during most day to day driving.
The car’s frugal, of course: not quite 80mpg frugal, but 60-to-the-gallon is within easy reach on a mixed cruise. A tall top gear even makes the car feel at home on the motorway, which is something you can’t always say of sub-100g offerings.
But what ‘s refreshing about the car is its handling. You couldn’t really call a Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi an enthusiast’s car, nor most other low-emissions, fleet-favoured hatchbacks, but this Megane almost qualifies. Its damping and body control is of a warm-hatch order, its steering informative and quite confidence-inspiring.
The car’s ContiSport Contact 3 tyres don’t provide performance car levels of grip, but they come surprisingly close. The car’s corners keenly and with quick, clean responses; it has pleasing cornering balance, too. It’s not a fast car, but a poised and decently agile one: simply, it proves that sub-100g diesels can handle.
Should I buy one?
No. But if your employer’s going to lease one on your behalf and you’re limited to a choice between the most frugal cars on the market, you could do an awful lot worse.
It’s debatable whether a 108bhp hatchback needs a chassis like this; a more comfort-oriented tune will make better sense for the majority. But the Megane GT Line comes as welcome relief from the beige dynamic mainstream, and if you like your company car with a little bit of sporting verve, it easily deserves consideration.
Renault Megane 1.5 dCi 110 GT Line
Price: £21,300; 0-62mph: 12.1sec; Top speed: 118mph; Economy: 80.7mpg; Co2: 90g/km; Kerbweight: 1215kg; Engine type, cc: 4cyls in line, 1461cc, turbodiesel; Power: 108bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 177lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual