Admittedly, a Kia Ceed Sportswagon PHEV will travel slightly further on a single charge (it has a WLTP-certified range of 35 miles), but the difference between it and the Renault isn’t so great as to be a deal-breaker. In fact, when it comes to the business of, you know, actually driving, it’s the Renault that comes across as the more polished product.
Let’s start with the powertrain. In terms of outright refinement, it does rather put the Kia to shame. Use the entirety of the throttle pedal’s travel and the Mégane’s four-cylinder engine remains impressively demure, with only the faintest drone beginning to make its way into the cabin as you approach the national speed limit. By contrast, the Kia’s motor sounds a bit like an unruly blender. The point at which the Renault’s petrol engine actually sparks into life after a sustained period of electric-only running isn’t all that obvious either, which is a good thing.
What’s not so flash, however, is the manner in which it actually accelerates. It handles the sorts of short bursts you might need to make the most of a gap in traffic just fine, but sustained periods of hard acceleration reveal a few shortcomings.
For starters, there just isn’t that much grunt on offer here, so like the Kia the Mégane manages to feel slower than its 9.8sec 0-62mph time suggests it should. Sure, that won’t be a problem around town, but you’ll notice it if you need to join a motorway or fast A-road from a short slip-road, or overtake slow-moving traffic.
It doesn’t accelerate in a particularly linear fashion, either. When the initial hit of torque from the electric motor expires, you’re left hanging in a sort of limbo that only recedes when the petrol motor manages to spin up into the meat of its torque range. With a slightly ponderous seven-speed ’box in the mix, this can take longer than you’d ideally expect.
Still, it rides Britain’s rather awful roads really quite nicely. It doesn’t trip or slap its way over ruts and bumps, and it’s pliant and controlled over more roly-poly stretches of road. It doesn’t lean over massively through faster bends, and its front end grip feels well matched to its relatively sedate performance levels. The steering’s weighting can feel a bit contrived if you ramp things up into sport mode, mind, but keep it in its regular setting and it feels more natural. Its responses just off centre aren’t quite as quick as what you’d experience in a smaller Clio either, but it changes direction keenly enough and with plenty of accuracy. It’s a very easy car to spend time in, in other words.
The cabin doesn’t look quite as chic or visually appealing as that of the latest Clio, but it works well from a practical standpoint. There’s loads of space in the second row, and the boot’s 447-litre capacity trumps that of the plug-in Ceed Sportswagon - if only just. The Alcantara and leather-upholstered seats are phenomenally supportive, too, and Renault should be commended for retaining physical controls for its HVAC system rather than hiding them in some infotainment submenu. This rings particularly true when you consider the fact that the software the 9.3in touchscreen runs isn’t quite as responsive or slick as the best in class.