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New platform, fresh looks and a better cabin raise its game. Is it now a front runner?

Difficult though it is to believe, the Renault Mégane is now more than 20 years old and its nameplate actually predates the Ford Focus.

Somewhat less impressive than its longevity is the sales volume, an area in which – the occasional spike in popularity notwithstanding – the model has consistently trailed Ford’s global champion.

The grille’s shape is shared with the Kadjar, although the ritzier double slats are exclusive to the Mégane

It’s a similar story when compared with the long-term success of the Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra, highlighting just how difficult it is to break out of the also-ran mould in a segment well stocked with household names.

Renault has occasionally been guilty of not helping itself.

Another tradition of the past two decades is Renault’s habit of reskinning its hatchback without dramatically altering the running gear.

Under the first generation, for example, was essentially the old Renault 19’s chassis.

The outgoing Mégane was built on a modified (that is, bigger) version of its predecessor’s architecture, too.

But not so this new, fourth-generation car, which now adopts the modular CMF (Common Module Family) platform already deployed under the Renault Kadjar.

Around it, the manufacturer promises a more sophisticated product. The car is again claimed to be significantly larger than the one it replaces. It is also substantially different in appearance, as Renault moves toward the house style already shown on the new Espace and Talisman (both unseen in the UK).

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Notably, effort has been expended on the inside, where, alongside an overhaul of trim materials and finish, the Mégane receives an all-new infotainment system to replace the thoroughly outmoded R-Link set-up.

The engines – a typically downsized four-cylinder spread of two petrol and two diesel options – are more familiar, as is the six-trim line-up that begins at £16,600 for the entry-level Expression+ model.

An estate-shaped Sport Tourer has also joined the fray, although bizarrely comes with less overall boot space than its predecessor, and even a saloon (dubbed the Grand Coupé) will follow, but we’re focusing on the hatchback, tested here in Dynamique S Nav format and equipped with the stalwart 1.5 dCi diesel motor. 

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DESIGN & STYLING

Renault Megane rear

Much like rival solutions, the CMF platform is a modular architecture designed to underpin a range of different front-engined vehicles of varying sizes.

The platform is based around five interchangeable modules: cockpit, engine bay, front underbody, rear underbody and the electrical systems.

In the Mégane, I struggle for rear foot and knee room. I’m not truly comfy in the driver’s seat, either

Versatility is at the heart of this technology, as well as the standardisation of out-of-view components between apparently different models within the Renault-Nissan Alliance.

The Mégane’s underpinnings – codenamed CMF-C/D – are not only shared with the similar-sized Renault Kadjar and the Nissan Qashqai but also the bigger Espace and Talisman.

Allied to the platform is a conventional hatchback chassis of front MacPherson struts and a torsion beam behind.

Independent rear suspension (favoured by a number of rivals) can be combined with CMF, but it is offered exclusively with four-wheel-drive models, none of which currently features in the Mégane line-up. Which doesn’t necessarily mean the car wants for innovation: the range-topping warmed-up GT model, fettled by Renault Sport, includes 4Control, the segment’s first four-wheel steering system.

Elsewhere, the suspension has been revised, with particular attention paid to the dampers, bump-stops and bushings.

The steering is electrically powered and claimed to be more precise now, thanks to the elimination of rubber mountings between the subframe and body.

Measured from the outside, the Mégane has become usefully bigger. Overall length has increased by 64mm, while the gain at the wheelbase is 28mm. (The difference is accounted for by a longer front overhang; the rear actually shrinks by 21mm.)

The car is lower and wider, too, sporting what Renault claims are the widest tracks in the segment. The new proportions are intended to make the model a more balanced prospect visually, although the Mégane does seem rather crowded by the thrusting family-look front end. It is a honed and more contemporary presence, but not necessarily a more harmonious one. 

The engine choice is more black and white. From launch, there are only four to choose from, and none is entirely new. The unit tested – the omnipresent 108bhp 1.5 dCi diesel – is the most venerable of the lot, having been recycled through Renaults and Nissans for much of the decade. The other oil-burner offered – the 128bhp 1.6 dCi – is newer but no less familiar.

Likewise the 128bhp 1.2 TCe, which underpins a petrol line-up topped out by the 202bhp 1.6-litre turbo motor exclusive to the GT. A seven-speed EDC dual-clutch automatic gearbox is standard on the GT and optional with the 1.2 TCe 130, while the 1.5 dCi can be had with a six-speed EDC, although a six-speed manual is standard in most cases.

A diesel-electric hybrid and a 163bhp 1.6-litre twin-turbo diesel engine is set to join the range, as will it Renault appear in the new Scenic and Grand Scenic.

INTERIOR

Renault Megane interior

With its haphazardly placed displays and multimedia controls and a striking sense of antiquation, the outgoing Mégane’s cabin was in dire need of not just an update but a wholesale overhaul and renewal.

And in several key ways, the new interior is a big improvement. Renault has not cured its every quirk and shortcoming in one fell swoop, so there’s still a mixed story to report here.

I can’t fathom why Renault sites the cruise control master switch on the centre console. Why does it make sense to have every other cruise control button on the steering wheel except the on/off switch?

But overall, the car can now be considered pleasant, usable and well equipped, although it’s still no standard setter on material quality, practicality or passenger space.

The wheelbase may have grown, but the packaging remains evidently flawed. The shallowness of the front footwells and proximity of the pedals force longer-legged drivers to use more of the car’s overall cabin length than they might normally do just to get comfortable, robbing those in the rear of space, with both foot and knee room remaining tight.

The boot is a good size and has a wide aperture, but its loading lip is high, there is no adjustable-height boot board and the rear seatbacks don’t fold entirely flat.

Cabin quality is good for the most part but still quite poor in a few places. The leather sections of our test car’s seats were soft and tactile, for example, but some of the plastics of its climate control console showed a disappointing finish.

Storage areas and convenience features could also be improved. The door bins lack useful width, its cupholders and centre cubby are both short on depth and the glovebox is the usual half-sized slight on the good nature of anyone buying right-hand drive.

The biggest difference the new cabin shows is on ambition. Whereas the old Mégane’s was plasticky and plain, the new one’s ambient lighting, flat-screen instruments, large, portrait-oriented multimedia screen and chrome trims make it feel more sophisticated.But it’s a shame that none of the display modes for the instruments allows you to have a speedometer and rev counter showing at the same time.

On the equipment front there are six trims to choose from - Expression+, Dynamique Nav, Dynamique S Nav, Signature Nav, GT Line Nav and GT Nav. The entry-level trim adorns the Megané as standard with 16in alloy wheels, cruise control, front foglights, hill start assist and emergency brake assist as standard on the outside, while inside there is a DAB tuner, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, air conditioning, and electric windows.

Upgrade to the Dynamique Nav trims and the Renault is adorned with auto wipers and lights, electrically adjustable and heated wing mirrors, part leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, an Arkamys audio system, alongside Renault's R-Link 2 infotainment system complete with a 7.0in touchscreen display and TomTom sat nav. While the Dynamique S Nav adds a reversing camera, 17in alloy wheels, and an 8.7in portrait touchscreen display to a burgeoning package.

The Signature Nav models get 18in alloy wheels, leather upholstery and LED headlights, while the GT Line Nav Megané gets an aggressive bodykit and sports seats. The range-topping GT Nav model benefits from all the equipment found on the Signature Nav model plus 4-wheel steering, parking sensors and a Renaultsport tweaked 1.6-litre petrol engine.

The Mégane becomes the first car fitted with Renault’s latest R-Link 2 infotainment system to undergo an Autocar road test. With a display that’s 8.7in from corner to corner and orientated upright and ‘portrait’ rather than the more usual landscape format, it’s operated almost entirely as a touchscreen system.

Navigation, entertainment, climate control and vehicle control centre zones are accessible on the home screen.

It’s certainly a good-sized screen and has ‘pinch to zoom’ functionality, which is intended to make it feel like a tablet or smartphone to use — with some success.

Responsiveness to your fingertip is pretty good, but the navigation mapping detail is a bit sparse and monochromatic and the graphics of the system in general are somewhat basic.

We would also prefer a more accessible console for the climate control system. As it stands, you have to hit quite a small target on the screen for the climate control and it can be difficult to do so while the car is moving.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

1.5-litre dCi Renault Megane engine

Renault once led the industry with its small diesel engines, but its rivals have been fighting back in recent years – and the relative performance of the particular Mégane tested, powered by its maker’s old K-type eight-valve 1.5-litre diesel, certainly shows room for improvement.

You can see the beginnings of a deficiency in the car’s 0-60mph time. In warm, dry conditions where excuses were few, we matched Renault’s 0-62mph claim (11.3sec) but couldn’t make the car go under 11.0sec to 60mph, whereas plenty of rivals will go close to 10.

Shorter-than-average gear ratios can’t do much to help the engine. Pulling in third gear is a challenge

The car’s relative shortage of torque compared with some rivals doesn’t show up in many of its in-gear acceleration times, because it’s shorter geared than many of those rivals; 30-70mph in fourth gear takes just over 15.0sec, which is pretty competitive for the economy diesel hatchback class.

But you’ll do quite a bit more ratio changing in the Mégane than you might in other diesel hatchbacks, partly because of those shorter intermediate ratios and partly because the engine’s power supply feels quite soft and laggy below 2000rpm.

There’s certainly a driveability issue at play here, and that’s a bigger chink in the car’s armour than the outright shortage of performance with which we began.

Refinement levels are more competitive. The engine gets vocal when extended, as you’d expect it to, but it’s fairly soft on the ear at low revs and under load. It does send some vibrations through the pedals at idle but, again, so many equivalent downsized, hard-working diesels do.

All up, you’d be perfectly happy with this engine as long as you accepted that you’d bought an economy car and were willing to drive it in a laid-back fashion. If you wanted the most rounded family five-door your money could buy, there’s a good chance you’d find it a bit wheezy and slow.

RIDE & HANDLING

Renault Megane cornering

It is highly unlikely that Renault’s chassis engineers were tasked with adding greater overall dynamic reach to the Mégane range without necessarily adding greater breadth of ability to each and every car within it – because which car maker wouldn’t want its new model to be better in every measurable way than the previous one? But that is how our test car made things seem.

Truth be told, common-or-garden Méganes have for a long time bathed in a pool of dynamic glory, created by the separately developed RenaultSport versions, that was often little merited. The surprise here, though, is that this car so squarely aims for comfort over commanding grip and composure, and ease of use over driver engagement.

Dampers handle the compressions and jumps quite well, allowing plenty of wheel travel without maxing out

The car’s ride feels soft at all times.

Absorbent at town speeds, nicely fluent on back roads and almost always quiet except when very big bumps present, it isolates the cabin very effectively, but in a way you’d much more readily associate with a big saloon than a medium-sized hatch.

The steering is light and quite indifferent in its pace and declines to weight up as cornering loads increase.

Handling response is good and pleasingly progressive at normal road speeds, with slowly gathering body roll leaving the authority of the steering unaffected. But it quickly deteriorates as the car runs short of grip, which it does without too much provocation, always front wheels first.

So comfort and stability are both strong, but there’s little here to sustain the keener driver.

In some ways, the Mégane feels very much like the archetypal French family five-door (supple and gentle riding, fluent through corners at typical speeds), and in some ways, it doesn’t. A modicum of steering feel and a slightly more tenacious front axle might be all it would take to restore the car’s joie de vivre across the board, but without either, the car feels like it’s missing something.

If keen road use makes the Mégane’s performance level and dynamic composure seem frayed at the edges, Millbrook Proving Ground’s Hill Route puts a sizeable hole in both, making it obvious that this car isn’t geared up for sporting tastes.

The car’s lateral grip levels are fairly low and its soft chassis rates allow roll to build quickly on turn-in, bringing on gentle understeer at an early stage. Decent traction and stability control systems keep you from disrupting with a hasty right foot what purchase the front wheels do have, but those systems are also now totally unswitchable.

Engage Sport mode on the MultiSense drive mode controller and the stability and traction controls do take more of a back seat, but the limited capabilities of the chassis are unmistakable. Moreover, there’s some muddled weight and interference evident through the rim during harder cornering, which is best avoided.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Renault Megane Dynamique Nav S

At £16,600 for a petrol-powered Expression+ model, the Mégane starts at a broadly comparable point to its mainstream rivals from Ford and Vauxhall.

The entry-level trim is not poorly equipped (Renault’s focus on safety systems means adaptive cruise, active emergency braking and lane departure warning have been applied across the range), but because it fails to include a proper infotainment display, most buyers will opt for at least Dynamique Nav.

Not an optimistic forecast for the Mégane by the experts at CAP, but the equivalent Seat Leon fares even worse

Alongside automatic headlights and wipers, dual-zone climate control and a 3D sound system, this adds the 7.0in version of the R-Link system, including sat-nav, for a £1500 step up.

Our test car, the S, is an additional £1000, for which you get 17in alloys, front and rear parking sensors plus a rear camera and, enticingly, the 8.7in portrait touchscreen that differentiates the Mégane from the competition. It is also our pick too.

If you are keen on the sportier-looking GT Line models, we think it is worth the reasonable premium.

Broadly speaking, at £20,400 for the dCi 110, the car is on a par with the Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus and Seat Leon, as you might expect in such a closely contested segment.

Running costs should be broadly comparable, too, although the Mégane’s fuel economy isn’t quite on a par with that of its most efficient rivals.

The 47.2mpg average returned by the 1.5 dCi Mégane in True MPG testing is well shy of the Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 110 Ecoflex’s 56.3mpg result under the same conditions.

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VERDICT

3 star Renault Megane Dynamique Nav S

The new Mégane is less rounded than we expected, although it has evidently come a long way on material cabin sophistication, with the technological appeal of its infotainment, and is plainly more desirable than any of its predecessors.

Renault may argue that, between its sports-suspended, higher-powered GT models and its more laid-back lower-rung variants, it has all tastes covered with the new Mégane. But it’s not enough for only the sporty models to be engaging to drive.

Classier and more refined than before but still far from complete

We expect stronger and more flexible performance and broader-batted handling than this from a mature European hatchback.

We expect handling panache as well as typically Gallic ride suppleness. And we don’t expect packaging compromises.

Having at least addressed the prevailing standards on interior quality, richness and equipment level (and done a good job on styling), Renault has in too many ways neglected to add engineering substance to this car, which drives more like an old Mégane in new clothes than a car truly fit for the next decade.

That means it misses a top five ranking – falling behind the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Seat Leon, Vauxhall Astra and Mazda 3.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Renault Megane (2016-2022) First drives