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French firm’s traditional hatchback is reborn as a forward-looking EV

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Electrification brings big changes to mainstream cars, so what to do with the mainstream names? Volkswagen now has the ID 3, BMW has the i4 and Mercedes has the EQE, but when everything is electric, what happens to the Golf, the 3 Series and the E-Class?

Peugeot and Vauxhall are hedging their bets by making electric versions of the 308 and Astra to sit alongside the petrol, diesel and hybrid variants. Renault isn’t ready to kill off the Mégane name, either. On the contrary: it has completely reinvented its mid-size hatchback to look nothing like the outgoing model and to be completely different mechanically, too.

Renault has refrained from putting a big fake grille on the front and has instead created one of the sharpest-looking EV hatches of the moment with a recognisable light signature. Launch Edition has bronze side air intakes.

The new Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric – as the name suggests – comes only as an EV. As well as spearheading a new powertrain direction, it begins a new family look for Renault models and aims to fix one of the brand’s traditional weaknesses: outdated tech.

It’s not short of ambition, then, but it wouldn’t be the first time that lofty goals got the better of a big car manufacturer – just look at the VW ID models’ troubled launch. Instead, Renault has taken its time to finesse its Mégane EV. We were impressed by a late-stage prototype back in 2021, but in the past year we have seen the launch of the Cupra Born, Kia Niro EV and MG 4 – all impressive EVs in their own ways.

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Range at a glance

In the UK, at least, Mégane buyers don’t get a lot of choice. It’s offered with just one battery size (60kWh) and one motor. A 40kWh variant is available elsewhere, and a performance version is likely to eventually join the range. At launch, there are three trim levels: Equilibre, Techno and Launch Edition.

ModelPower
EV60*214bhp

*Version tested

TRANSMISSIONS

1-spd reduction gear 

DESIGN & STYLING

02 Renault Megane E Tech Electric RT 2022 front driving side

‘Renault Mégane’ may be a familiar name, one that consumers and enthusiasts alike recognise and know what it stands for, but there is still room for confusion from its middle name.

Renault introduced E-Tech a few years ago as its hybrid model line, including both full hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars. As such, the outgoing plug-in hybrid Mégane was also called the Mégane E-Tech. Although it has been discontinued in the UK, it remains in production for some markets. That association does the new one a bit of a disservice, because it really is all-new.

Front end is full of motors, inverters, ECUs and HVAC hardware, leaving no space for a luggage compartment, but not having a motor at the back means the boot can be deeper. ‘Frunks’ are often hard to access, anyway.

Together with the Nissan Ariya, the new Mégane is one of the first products of the new Renault-Nissan CMF-EV platform. In one way, it’s what we have come to expect following VW’s MEB and Hyundai’s E-GMP equivalents: there’s a large, flat battery pack in the floor that drives a single motor in the cheaper CMF-EV models, or two motors in the more expensive ones.

Where it differs from those other dedicated EV platforms is that the main drive motor sits in the front, driving the front wheels. Renault doesn’t currently offer a four-wheel-drive Mégane, but the architecture does allow for a secondary rear motor, as seen on the Nissan Ariya e-4orce.

Different battery sizes are also possible, but Renault UK has chosen to keep things simple, and to offer the Mégane in just one mechanical specification: with a 60kWh battery and 214bhp. The 40kWh version sold elsewhere won’t be available here.

Renault says keeping everything to do with the propulsion at the front is most efficient, because the boot can be deeper (since there is no rear motor taking up space) and it saves on cabling between the front and rear of the car, thus reducing weight and complexity.

Renault might have a point because, at 1688kg on our scales, the Mégane is more than 100kg lighter than the Cupra Born we tested earlier this year. It also has a bigger boot and isn’t much worse for interior space. And anyway, few manufacturers other than Tesla seem to make ‘frunks’ really work.

The Mégane is also a physically smaller car than the Born, or the new Kia Niro EV. It’s 10cm shorter than the Born and 20cm shorter than the Niro, and it’s considerably lower than both. In general, it’s closer in dimensions to the MG 4.

The big, 20in wheels, low roofline, stubby but clearly present bonnet and short overhangs make it a much more dynamic-looking car than most of its rivals. You will make up your own mind about the design, but during our time with the Mégane it garnered more positive attention than most. The design is arguably the main pull for a lot of buyers, and this car has that licked. Then again, it hasn’t been looks that has held Renaults back in recent years.

INTERIOR

10 Renault Megane E Tech Electric RT 2022 dashboard

Renault is swimming against the current with the front-drive layout of its new ground-up EV, so the big question is whether it has paid off in terms of interior space.

To some extent, it has. Despite being quite a lot smaller on the outside, the Mégane has a far bigger boot than the Cupra Born (440 litres plays 385 litres), and gets close to the Kia Niro EV’s (475 litres). It also beats the MG 4 (363 litres) because with the electric motor up front, the boot can be a lot deeper, with an additional 33-litre cubby under the floor for cable storage.

Having Google’s maps and voice assistant is all well and good, until the car loses 4G. You can specify areas to download as offline maps, but that’s an annoying discovery to make when you haven’t done so and you’re lost in the middle of nowhere.

The boot’s depth is also a downside, because it makes the loading lip very high and creates a big step when the rear seats are folded. A variable-height floor could have solved this issue, but this isn’t even available as an option.

The rest of the passenger compartment isn’t quite as roomy as rivals’. Its 685mm of rear leg room can’t match the Cupra’s 750mm or the Kia’s 760mm, but is still close to average for a hatchback of this size. Head room is about par, too.

However, there are some serious caveats. The front seats are very comfortable and there is a lot of adjustment in the steering column, but there is no tilt function for the cushion, so taller drivers are likely to slide the seat back a long way, reducing rear leg room.

A bigger problem is the high beltline. It gives the Mégane its signature concept car looks, but it’s disastrous for visibility. The chunky C-pillar and the letterbox rear windscreen create a huge blindspot, and the rear passenger compartment feels quite claustrophobic. Blindspot monitoring only comes on the more expensive Techno trim, but when they are as big as they are in the Mégane, it ought to be standard.

Up front, you’re welcomed by a mostly well-considered driving environment. There is ample storage space in the centre console with dividers that can be moved to create more space or an additional cupholder. All UK Méganes get a 12.3in digital gauge cluster and a 9.0in infotainment screen that are neatly integrated in one big panel. A larger infotainment screen is available in other regions, but the new Google software works well with the smaller screen, which also puts the row of physical buttons for the climate control closer to hand.

The glossy finish makes the controls on the steering wheel look like the haptic type, but they are real buttons. The forest of column stalks also poses no problems.

It’s a little disappointing that the big digital gauge cluster doesn’t offer more customisation options. You can scroll through a handful of slick-looking configurations, but none of them makes especially good use of the available screen real estate. For instance, you can’t have the power/regen gauge and the map on screen at the same time.

The materials Renault has used are an oddly mixed bag. The fabric on the seats and dash gives a homely, lounge-like ambience, the synthetic leather on the steering wheel feels as good as the real thing and soft-touch material lines the door panels.

But the door cappings, where you might rest your arm, are rock hard, as is the dashboard’s ‘chin’ that contains the wireless charging pad for your phone. While the strip of Alcantara on the doors is nice enough, it doesn’t match anything else in the interior. Renault hasn’t exactly cheaped out on the interior, but one gets the impression the different interior designers weren’t talking to each other.

Infotainment

14 Renault megane e tech electric rt 2022 infotainment 0

Most smartphones run Android, and who doesn’t have a Google account anyway? As a result, it makes sense to take the Google ecosystem into your car. That’s the main idea behind Android Automotive. It’s different from Android Auto smartphone mirroring (Renault’s system still gives you that option, as well as Apple CarPlay), because the whole system runs Google’s maps, voice assistant and more, and you can download additional apps like Spotify from an app store. At the same time, it all integrates with the car’s other systems, so Google Maps can show you how much charge you will have left at your destination and display directions in the gauge cluster.

It mostly works well, it responds quickly and the layout is fairly intuitive. Google Maps beats most native navigation systems for route planning and finding chargers. The way Tesla guides you via rapid chargers on a long drive remains unequalled, though, and the downside of Google is the voice assistant and navigation search won’t work properly if the mobile data coverage is lost.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

19 Renault Megane E Tech Electric RT 2022 side front performance

While the power wars rage on in supercarland, makers of EV hatchbacks seem to have agreed on an appropriate level of performance: just over 200bhp and around seven seconds to 60mph.

The Kia Niro EV reached 60mph in 6.9sec when we road tested it a few months ago, the Cupra Born managed 6.7sec and now the Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric has clocked in at 6.9sec. They are all limited to 100mph and all get there swiftly enough, though the Mégane keeps pulling a little bit harder than its rivals over 70mph.

The Mégane uses a column shifter, which seems like such a logical choice for an EV: it saves space in the centre console, and unlike the twist selector in the Cupra Born and in Volkswagens, you don’t have to look at it to find it.

We would be inclined to agree that’s the perfect amount of go for a car like this. It’s enough to make it feel brisk and give the driver the grunt to work the chassis if they so desire, but it’s not so much that it will get you in serious trouble or cause a well-developed traction control system to melt down.

In the case of the Mégane’s systems, ‘well-developed’ is unfortunately significant. As long as the roads are dry, the 215-section tyres can manage without too much electronic intervention, but in the wet the systems can easily be foxed. Put your foot down hard out of a tight corner, and there’s a good chance the inside front wheel will spin freely for several seconds before the traction control wakes up.

A dedicated ‘Multi Sense’ button on the steering wheel lets you cycle through Eco, Comfort, Sport and ‘Perso’ modes, so you can make the accelerator as mellow or as jumpy as you like. Steering wheel paddles control the level of regen, but there is no true one-pedal mode, so you will always need the brake pedal to come to a complete stop.

The response from the pedal is touchier than we would like, but over time you would probably get used to it. Annoyingly, it had started to rain by the time we got around to measuring the Mégane’s braking performance, so the numbers are nothing to write home about and hard to compare, but they are similar to those set by the MG ZS EV, which we also tested in wet conditions.

RIDE & HANDLING

20 Renault Megane E Tech Electric RT 2022 front corner

Renault is explicitly positioning the new Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric as a sporty EV, making much of how fast the steering is. When we first went to drive a late prototype, design boss Laurens van den Acker even said that the design of the production car was actually conceived for an eventual performance version, but since everyone liked it so much, they just made it the standard styling.

Perhaps the Cupra Born, Kia Niro EV and MG 4 are to blame for raising the bar, but on UK roads the Mégane struggles to make good on those promises of sportiness.

Entry-level Méganes sit on 18in wheels, while Techno and Launch Edition cars get 20s. Big wheels do affect the ride, but not disastrously so, and do complete the look. Tall sides and small windows impair visibility.

Primarily to blame is that quick steering. At 2.2 turns lock to lock, it’s fast, but the best variable-ratio racks can make that feel entirely natural, while still reducing the arm twirling required for manoeuvring.

However, Renault uses a fixed rack that combines the worst of both worlds. On a twisty road, the steering feels nervous and makes smooth inputs unnecessarily difficult. Meanwhile, 90deg turns still require you to move your hands on the awkwardly shaped wheel. At the same time, the steering is very light, even in Sport mode, and provides no feedback whatsoever.

It’s a pity the steering kills the Mégane’s sporting ambitions, because the chassis is fundamentally sound. There’s a decent amount of grip, and the car turns in keenly. When pushed on the Millbrook handling course, you can sense the beginnings of some mild rotation on a trailing throttle before the stability control steps in.

The stability control can’t be disabled; only the traction control can be turned off, but as it’s fairly relaxed anyway and the rest of the car doesn’t inspire hard driving, there’s little reason to do so.

Comfort and isolation

21 Renault megane e tech electric rt 2022 rear corner 0

If the Mégane can’t quite conjure the spirit of French hot hatches, it’s better at evoking the wafty limousines of old. Far from being wallowy, the suspension is compliant but tightly controlled, introducing the kind of calm that is missing from the steering.

The 20in wheels on our Techno-grade test car do thump through potholes marginally more than in the Cupra Born. Base-spec Equilibre models roll on 18s and a brief drive in one of those showed that the extra cushioning from the taller sidewalls completes the picture of French comfort. The difference isn’t night and day, though, so most will probably be swayed by the Techno’s additional equipment.

The positive news continues on long drives. The Mégane is outstandingly quiet at 70mph, and most drivers should get along with the seats just fine. They’re soft but mostly supportive and feature a wide range of adjustment. A tilt function for the cushion would be useful to cater to taller drivers.

Assisted driving notes

14 Renault megane e tech electric rt 2022 infotainment 0

Equilibre trim comes with regular cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist, while our Techno test car added adaptive cruise with lane following, blindspot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

The adaptive cruise control works fairly smoothly, though it does occasionally slow down for cars in another lane. The lane following does a pretty good job at keeping you centred, and because it is better at telling whether you have your hands on the wheel than most systems, it doesn’t constantly nag you to wiggle the wheel or squeeze the rim. We did wish for a clearer telltale in the gauge cluster to show when it’s operating. The car is better at recognising speed limits than some systems, but is still far from infallible.

The emergency lane keep assist can be easily turned off using a physical button, and stays off even when you restart the car. That said, even away from the motorway, the system isn’t especially intrusive.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

01 Renault Megane E Tech Electric RT 2022 lead driving

On paper at least, the 280-mile Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric equals the Kia Niro EV for range and charges as fast as the Cupra Born. Disappointingly, it doesn’t work out like that in the real world. In our time with the car, it returned only 3.3mpkWh. With the 60kWh battery, that works out at a real-world range just shy of 200 miles. The Cupra, in similar weather conditions and usage, managed 3.8mpkWh, squeezing 220 miles out of its slightly smaller pack. The Mégane’s 130kW peak charging speed just betters the Cupra’s and drops off in a similar way, resulting in a similar 10-80% charging time of half an hour. From a 7.4kW home wallbox, a 0-100% charge will take just over nine hours.

With a starting price of £35,995 for an Equilibre-spec car, the basic Mégane offers good value compared with the Kia and Cupra, but that trim does miss out on most of the fancy new Google tech, as well as adaptive cruise control and front parking sensors.

If you want the full experience, you will need to go for the £38,495 Techno, which is similarly priced to the Cupra and slightly cheaper than the Kia. At the same time, though, you can’t ignore the MG 4, which costs just £31,495 in its most expensive trim. Other than some premium paint choices, there are no optional extras for the Mégane.

VERDICT

23 Renault Megane E Tech Electric RT 2022 static

On paper, the reinvented Renault Mégane has everything it needs to be a class leader. It will draw buyers in with its styling, which avoids the Volkswagen Group cars' one-box MPV look and has the big-wheeled concept car verve that other rivals lack. Despite its compact size, it’s surprisingly roomy inside. Renault has finally figured out the in-car tech and its new EV is supposed to have class-leading range and rapid-charging capability.

But that’s where it goes wrong. Our test car never got anywhere near the claimed efficiency, or that of its direct rivals, which means the real-world range is only average.

The interior looks better than it feels in places, and the sharp exterior design has taken its toll on visibility. Finally, Renault’s attempt at making the new car feel sporty has turned out a little heavy-handed. On the flip side, the electric Mégane rides well and cossets on the motorway, but doesn’t pull out enough of a lead in this respect to compensate for its other flaws.

The Mégane E-Tech Electric is likeable and competent, but over the past few months we’ve seen the launch of a number of outstanding new rivals that it can’t quite match.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.