Hugely improved over its predecessor, but lacking character

What is it?

This is the new Renault Megane, the car that Renault hopes will help restore its fortunes in Europe - and that's company boss Carlos Ghosn talking, not just us.

Aimed squarely at the VW Golf and Ford Focus, the Renault Megane has to work if Renault is to preserve its position as one of Europe's biggest car makers.

The Renault is pinning its hopes on this larger, roomier model, which uses a development of the outgoing car's thoroughly decent chassis complete with new bushes and revised suspension rates.

Two versions will be available to begin with, a five-door hatchback and a three-door version with a lower roofline and sportier styling that has been dubbed the Renault Megane Coupe. Rarely has a new model had a more important mission.

What's it like?

The new Renault Megane styling is neat, modern and easy on the eye, though it lacks the outgoing car's distinctive rump and cheery panache.

It blends much more readily into the background than its predecessor; indeed, without the badges you'd be hard pressed to recognise it as a Renault.

On the plus side, the new Renault Megane is plainly bigger than the outgoing car and offers far more space to rear-seat passengers.

Buyers will be able to choose from a dense (and confusing) range of petrol and diesel engines, but the 1.5-litre dCi 110 we are testing here is likely to be the most popular version, especially as its CO2 emissions fall beneath 120g/km.

The Megane's interior does have a fresh look about it, especially the combined digital-analogue instrument pack, and the colour and cloth trim combinations look lively too.

It's good to see that not all of the car's French design exuberance has been refined away.

The Megane feels roomy, airy and its makers' claim to a heightened sense of quality also seems to be borne out. It certainly feels capable of bearing comparison with the best of its segment rivals.

On the road, the new Renault Megane has a lightness about all its controls - pedals, steering and gearchange - which eludes most of its rivals. It's a pleasant, easy car to drive.

Despite being larger than the old Megane, the new car is about 8kg lighter model-for-model, and allows the punchy diesel engine to deliver decent performance, despite its relatively small capacity.

Handling is neat, tending to understeer at the limit. The steering effort builds up a little as cornering speeds rise, but always retains impressive authority while retaining its lightness.

There's a little more body roll than others in the class allow, but nothing untoward.

On unfamiliar roads, the ride quality seems a little more relaxed than the competition, too, and road and wind noise seem to strike the class average.

In sum, this feels a decent car that offers gentle progress from its more characterful predecessor, but it's certainly not a revolutionary segment-shaker.

Should I buy one?

That depends on three things. Firstly, the deal, which has to be competitive against rival models. Secondly, residual values, a weakness of the previous generation car. And thirdly, whether you like your car with light controls.

Back to top

The Megane feels quite different from the segment's profusion of firmly sprung, heavy-steering German-influenced models, which makes a nice change.

As a car that stresses comfort, in a sea of faux-sportiness, it deserves to find a band of loyal buyers.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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Mini1 12 October 2008

Re: Renault Mégane 1.5 dCi 110 5dr

After seeing the Megane at the Paris Motorshow this week, I feel slightly disappointed with it. There isn't the excitement of the old model at all. The Coupé is nice, and particularly in that Orange, but the hatchback is just a little bland after the last one. It's a shame, really. I just hope it does better than the Laguna has for Renault's sake. Still, the Coupé is gorgeous! And the hatchback is at least a bit more interesting than a Focus!

Queenie 10 October 2008

Re: Renault Mégane 1.5 dCi 110 5dr

I think that you are completely wrong on this. The Mégane mk2 I had was superb and never let me down - except maybe the bootspace was a tad too tight with the design of its rear end!

I am really excited about the New Mégane and it's design makes a nice change from the boring run of the mill offerings of VW's "yawntastic" looking Golf and Ford's "has it really been revised" looking Focus. The 3 door looks an abosolute stunner and, once Renaultsport get to fiddle with it, should be an absolute hoot!

Good work Renault!

ThwartedEfforts 9 October 2008

Re: Renault Mégane 1.5 dCi 110 5dr

Autocar wrote:

a sea of faux-sportiness

Hah, I like that. Sums up the way your average Audi goes.

Bit bland though, ain't it? Looks as though they've borrowed Nissan's CAD package - the same software they use to design styrofoam cups and cardboard boxes.

Where have all the nice-looking cars gone? Is injecting a little excitement with a concert of shapes, angles and curves no longer a part of the design process? Maybe it's not the banking crisis that's putting people off buying cars.