What is it?
It’s the new, fourth-generation version of the Renault Mégane, which is pitched directly at the likes of the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. Whichever way you cut it, in the bustling C-segment hatchback market, the new Mégane is going to face seriously stiff competition.
For it to succeed, it needs to represent a significant step up compared to its predecessor. After all, the third-gen Mégane has been around since 2008. Despite a few facelifts and upgrades, even the likes of the flagship Renaultsport versions, despite being superb to drive, were tainted by dated trim and kit.
This new fourth-gen version is no gentle overhaul badged as an all-new car. Underneath it sports the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s modern CMF platform, as found in the recently launched Kadjar. Allied to this are MacPherson struts up front, a torsion beam set-up at the back, disc brakes all round and electrically assisted power steering.
Power for the new front-drive hatch comes from a range of efficient turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, some of which are offered with dual-clutch automatic transmissions. On the cosmetic front, the exterior styling reflects that of Renault’s more recent offerings, while inside you’ll find a contemporary interior that’s reputedly made from finer materials.
The equipment list has also been overhauled, now featuring upmarket options including an 8.7in infotainment system. Exact pricing and specifications are yet to be confirmed, however, as we’re driving the car some six months before it’s due in the UK market.
Our first taste of the new range was in this flagship Mégane GT. It’s Renaultsport’s first interpretation of the new car and packs a host of upgrades that extend far beyond the cosmetic. Up front, for example, you’ll find a derivative of the powertrain found in the Clio Renaultsport 200.
That means you get a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol, producing 202bhp and 207lb ft, which drives the front wheels via a seven-speed EDC dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Renault claims a 0-62mph time of 7.1sec and a top speed of 145mph.
The GT benefits further from Renault’s ‘4Control’ active four-wheel steering system, launch control and a new ‘multi-change-down’ feature for the transmission. When braking, it allows you to skip multiple ratios in one hit, rather than having to work sequentially through them. The GT also features Renaultsport-tuned suspension, a faster-acting electrically assisted steering rack, bigger front discs and twin exhausts.
What's it like?
Initially, the new Mégane GT proves to be a charming car. There’s an air of quality to it, imbued by crisp lines, accurate panel gaps and doors that close with a solid feel. Similarly, the smartly styled rattle and squeak-free interior, trimmed with soft-touch materials in all the key places, lends the GT a high-end feel.
This positive impression continues to build when you head out on the road. It’s quiet, with only a little wind flutter from the front pillars at motorway speeds, and comfortable. That’s in part thanks to plush, supportive seats. Visibility is good, it’s simple to position on the road and its kerb-to-kerb turning circle of 10.4m undercuts many rivals.
Where it all goes a little south for the performance-focused GT, however, is with regards to its handling and performance. While its steering has adequate heft and precision for a powerful hatch, and is a snappy 2.3 turns lock-to-lock, there’s precious extra weighting in faster corners. There’s little feedback either, resulting in a numb, disassociated feeling.
At lower speeds the 4Control system permits the front and rear wheels to turn in opposite directions, effectively pivoting the car and improving agility. At higher speeds the wheels steer in the same direction, bolstering stability during high-speed lane changes.
On the motorway it’s a great benefit but on slower, more challenging roads, the GT's tail-steering effect can be too rapid, pronounced and disconcerting, making the Mégane’s responses harder to judge.
There’s plenty of front-end grip, however, and the body’s movements are controlled well, although many may find it softer than expected. Stopping power is decent, although a lack of pedal feel and well-defined bite detracts further from the GT’s focus.
A performance hatchback needs to have a suitably willing and evocative powertrain if it’s to be a true success, but the Clio RS 200’s turbocharged 1.6-litre engine and EDC transmission has never been particularly well received. Little has changed, so it remains similarly ho-hum here.
The key gripe is with the EDC gearbox. Driven gently, it unobtrusively shuffles through its ratios and is rarely annoying. Push a little harder, however, and it can hesitate, slur or intermittently shift far harder than you might expect. Its inconsistency soon grates, while sluggish manually commanded shifts will irk those expecting Volkswagen DSG-like responses.
We can’t fault its launch control system, though. In Sport mode, stand on the brake, pull both paddles, pin the accelerator, release the brake. It grants repeatable, controllable and swift standing starts. Traction is good, but you do get some torque steer following hefty throttle applications on undulating or rougher surfaces.
The engine, unfortunately, doesn’t sound that good, particularly when approaching the 6400rpm redline. It has a coarse nature to it at higher crank speeds, which curtails your inclination to explore the upper rev range. In the mid-range it’s got a fairly pleasant warble, but it’s far behind the likes of a Focus ST in terms of aural appeal.
That said, it puts down pretty decent numbers. A torque output of 207lb ft isn’t much compared to many 2.0-litre alternatives, but the Mégane pulls eagerly in gear and otherwise feels suitably sprightly. Four driving modes are offered, allowing you to adjust aspects including the accelerator response and steering weight, and there are noticeable differences.
Of course, hatchbacks must also be practical. Fortunately, the new Mégane has a lot in its favour. It's easy to get comfortable, thanks to a wide range of adjustments, spacious footwells and a wide cabin. There’s a dead pedal on the left, too, improving comfort over longer distances, while a customisable digital dash clearly relays what’s going on.
In the back there’s plenty of room and even 6ft-tall passengers won’t struggle. That said, there’s only really seating for two adults abreast, and those passengers will have their forward view dominated by the towering fixed headrests on the front seats.
There’s better news when it comes to the boot. There’s a bit of a lip to overcome when you’re loading luggage into it, but it offers a lot of space. At 384 litres it’s bigger than a new Vauxhall Astra’s boot, and just bigger than a Golf’s. As standard, the seats split and fold 60/40.
Renault claims that the Mégane GT will return 47.1mpg, which, in conjunction with its 50-litre tank, will grant a range in excess of 500 miles. Even if you were to only average 30mpg, however, you’d still be able to travel a sensible 330 miles between stops.
Our car was also fitted with Renault’s new 8.7in touchscreen infotainment system, which will be offered as an option outside of the higher trim levels. It looks smart and the media, navigation and configuration functions all work well. We found it occasionally unresponsive, though, which isn’t ideal when driving. At least Renault has retained conventional temperature control dials.
Should I buy one?
All in, it’s clear that the fourth-generation Renault Mégane has a lot of potential. Here is a hatchback that is comfortable, quiet, well built and easy to drive.
In this particular specification, however, it’s not at its best. The sluggish gearbox, uninvolving steering and harsh engine will put off those seeking something with a bit of an edge. It’s a great candidate for further Renaultsport fettling, though.
A buyer seeking an everyday hatchback with sporting looks and decent performance could find it a gratifying package, however. Renault expects this version to cost upwards of £25,000, though, which will put it into contention with rivals that are more involving, powerful and aurally pleasing. A 247bhp Ford Focus ST starts at £22,495, for example.
2016 Renault Mégane GT Energy TCe 205 EDC
Location Lisbon, Portugal; On sale Summer 2016; Price £25,000 (est); Engine 4 cyls, 1616cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 202bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 207lb ft at 2400rpm; Kerb weight 1392kg; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; 0-62mph 7.1sec; Top speed 143mph; Economy 47.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 134g/km, 21%