First DriveFacelifted range-topping Mégane features revised styling and tweaked chassis, but ergonomic flaws and a substantial price tag dent its overall appeal
First DriveFacelifted Megane remains a hard sell, but makes a refreshingly sporty fleet car
What is it?
Renault is rolling out what it calls the ‘Mégane Collection 2012’, which is basically a well-refreshed range, featuring new petrol and diesel engines, and new trim and equipment levels. Renault’s new 4+ ownership programme is also on the table, which gives a 4 year, 100k mile warranty, free routine servicing for four years/48k miles, four years' roadside cover and up to four years' finance.
Easily the most interesting of the new line-up are the models powered by the new 1.2 TCe turbocharged petrol engine. This unit is the first Renault petrol engine to feature both direct injection and turbocharging. The turbo is integrated into the manifold and there’s variable valve timing to extract the most from this small four-pot.
Offering 113bhp and 140lb ft of torque between 2000 and 4000rpm (with 90 per cent of the twist available from 1600rpm), the engine also promises a most diesel-like average economy figure of 53.3mpg and 119g/km of Co2. The stop-start system uses an extra-quick technique, which re-starts by first firing whichever piston is in the best position to get the engine going as quickly as possible. Renault engineers have worked on reducing internal friction using, among other things, a Teflon-coated timing chain.
Our test car – driven in the hills around Seville – was also the most interesting of the new trim levels. Called GT Line, in addition to useful stuff like the big-screen Tom Tom sat-nav, it gets Renaultsport front seats, a fat sports steering wheel, aluminium pedals, a rear parking camera, rear tinted windows, climate control, an auto parking brake and 17in alloys.
The GT Line also gets the same chassis set-up as the mainstream Mégane Coupé (slightly stiffer springs and dampers) as well as decent-size discs all round and the same brake master cylinder as the Renault Sport Coupe.
What’s it like?
Nippy, refined and, in many areas, nicely polished. On the other hand, this car might also be regarded as rather too restrained and polite for its own good.
First off, the new engine is most impressive: very sweet running, refined and extremely quiet. For drivers used to the gruffness of most EuroV diesels, this drivetrain is a huge breath of fresh air. The stop-start system is also super-rapid and extremely refined.
This nippy (nippier than the bare figures would suggest) 1.2-litre unit also has the legs for long upgrades, without the need for frequent down changing (although the clutch and shift action are both impressively slick and well weighted in left-hand drive), something that can catch-out the new generation of three-cylinder petrol turbo engines.
Also impressive are the excellent seats and steering wheel, the calm and well-composed ride (at least on these Spanish roads), motorway pace and refinement. Mention should also be made of much of the switchgear (including the column stalks and climate control panel), which is very nicely designed and finished. Handy boot size aside, the cabin doesn’t feel as roomy as the higher-roofed Golf and Focus, although the low-riding dashboard does give an airy view forward.
However, the ‘GT’ tag is pretty misleading. This Mégane lacks any kind of even mildly sporting intent. Driven along in normal flowing traffic, it impresses by way of its ease and effortlessness. Turn up the wick, and the chassis is just not interested.
Trying to hustle the car on winding hill routes just results in the whoosing sound of an overdose of grip and safety-first chassis tuning, preventing the driver getting any kind of flow or eager feedback through the seat of the (very impressive) sports seats.
Should I buy one?
It’s an unusual vehicle: an odd mix of polish, refinement and innovation but with rather bland styling and a somewhat characterless driving experience.
True, the standard spec is healthy and the new Renault buying package is pretty comprehensive. The promised fuel economy – as long as the engine isn’t wrung-out – makes it easy to return to the hushed delights of petrol power, especially as the diesel GT Line is another £1500 more expensive. I’d like to see this engine in the (decently specced) entry-level 2012 Mégane. That would be a much more compelling proposition.
Renault Mégane 1.2 TCe 115 GT Line
Price: £19,825; Top speed: 118mph; 0-62mph: 10.9sec; Economy: 53.3mpg; Co2: 119g/km; Kerb weight: 1205kg; Engine: In-line four, turbo,1198cc; Installation: Front, transverse, fwd; Power: 113bhp at 4500rpm; Torque: 190nm at 2000rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual