The finest hot hatchback on the road made a smidgeon more sensible. Lacking in drama, but not in real-world appeal.

What is it?

An oil-burning version of our favourite hot hatch of the moment, the Renaultsport Megane.

The timing's perfect, too. Just weeks after our PM-in-waiting announces an increase in the top rate of car tax.

What’s it like?

It needs to be good, this Renaultsport Megane dCi 175. There are two reasons why. First, now that they know how much it's going to cost them not to be, consumers will be increasingly aware of their new car's CO2 output. And secondly, the market for firebrand diesel hatchbacks is becoming mature; this Renault must contend with BMW's 120d, Seat's Leon FR TDI, VW's Golf GT TDI, Skoda's Octavia vRS diesel, and Toyota's new Auris T180.

Luckily, then, the engine’s good. If you're expecting engine refinement to have been sacrificed for injection pressure, you'll be surprised at how hushed Renault's 2.0-litre diesel engine is.

This is the only Megane diesel to get twin engine balancer shafts. Much more civil than VW's 168bhp lump, it's incredible how muted and vibration-free it feels, and yet still hauls the car from 50- to 75mph in 4th gear faster than a Megane 225, and revs beyond peak power at 3750rpm much more willingly than most turbodiesels.

It never really feels like it's delivering a massive hit of torque at any single point in the rev range. That's because Renault has deliberately smoothed out the engine's torque curve for better refinement and flexibility, and also because the Megane's driveshafts can't reliably transmit more than about 270 lb ft to the road. As a result though, what can you can do with this car (which you can't in many other hot diesels) is leave it in 3rd gear on your favourite twisting B-road and let it rev all the way to 5000rpm before reaching for another cog.

Renault has updated the Megane 225's chassis settings for this car in order to adjust for the extra nose weight, and has achieved a finely-judged handling and ride compromise. It reflects the fact that most owners will spend the majority of their time on the motorway, and would be happy to trade a bit of the standard 225's body control for extra ride compliance.

As a result, in standard Sport form, this car feels a smidgeon softer than a 225, and yet still tautly controlled and staunchly resistant to body roll. If you'd rather have a firmer set-up, Renaultsport will do you a Cup chassis, which is stiffer at both ends and comes with larger, dark anthracite alloy wheels. Although we'd opt for the softer of the two, both chassis arrangements are excellent, and in both cases, Dieppe's chassis men deserve another big pat-on-the-back.

Should I buy one?

Our only regret is that, like all hot diesels, the Renaultsport Megane dCi lacks a bit of that traditional hot hatchback piquancy. It feels brisk rather than fast, and it doesn't have any of the aural performance appeal of a petrol-powered 'GTi Turbo'.

However, the buyers of this new breed of performance car are ruled by more grounded considerations. If you're one of them, the fact that this Megane goes 10 miles further on every gallon of fuel than its petrol counterpart, can put 600 miles between fuel stops, will cost fleet drivers at least £200 a year less to tax, and is damn near as fast and as capable dynamically as a Megane 225, are probably all the justifications you'll need to put your name down for one.

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If you do, you'll certainly be buying the most broadly talented hot diesel anyone's brought to market to date.

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.

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