Renault Megane 2011 Review

Renault Megane 2011 Review

Much like celebrities Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez, Renault’s Megane became well known for the shapely figure of its behind. This characteristic defined the second generation of Renault’s volume-selling hatchback. Butt now the Megane is back for its third edition and after shedding some pounds it’s sporting a sleeker, leaner look. Pitted as a genuine contender against the benchmark VW Golf, the Megane has a lot to prove here in NZ. It’s arrived here a couple of years after debuting in Europe but the Megane may be the vehicle to advance Renault’s place in the consciousness of kiwi car buyers. Car and SUV got some seat-time in a Megane hatchback and found out why.

Exterior Styling – No junk in the Trunk
The chunky back end of its predecessor is gone but it’s still no waif at the rear. Wrap-around two-piece taillights and a curved rear windscreen add visual width. Away from the famous derriere, the Megane has a strong look and although highly styled remains fairly sedate for a French hatch. Prominent front guards and muscular rear haunches give it a dynamic stance, and unique touches include thick plastic trim on the bottom of the doors and a deeply creased bonnet. The look is finished with colour-coded mirror caps, silver door handles and front fog lamps. Standard wheel fitment is a 16-inch 5-spoke alloy that has a chunky appeal but falls short of completely filling the cavernous guards. Overall, the Megane is an elegant looker, it may not appeal to those who like their French styling extreme but it won’t polarize opinion like its predecessor.  

Interior Fit – Style headbutts practicality
Renault is known for doing some of the slickest interiors in the business and the Megane is no exception. A curved dashboard mixes dark high-grade plastics with thoughtfully placed silver trim. Everything is rounded and touch surfaces have a solid, tactile feel. The instrumentation is a particular highlight with Renault harmonizing digital and analogue displays. A large easily read digital speedo takes centre stage, flanked by a tachometer and a smaller screen that offers trip and vehicle information. It’s different, but it works and there’s clever touches like a cruise control display that turns the speedo’s surrounding ring red.

The centre control stack has a subtle look but its functionality takes some getting used to, the switchgear is also quite small and condensed so may prove frustrating for thick fingers. Other areas of potential frustration are the limited storage in the glovebox and centre box and also the cupholders, which are oddly placed and have no method of grasping cups or cans.

Our tested Megane was fitted with the optional Luxury Pack, which includes an integrated navigation system. Although the display screen was small it was mounted high on the top of the dash making it easy to read. It’s not a touch screen and doesn’t have its own permanent buttons – instead it’s operated by a remote control. As a TomTom system it’s relatively easy to use but the technophobic may want to pass the remote to the rear seats for the kids to sort out. Just make sure they don’t lose it.

Another feature of the Luxury Pack is full black leather trim, which adds a premium feel to the cabin. Front seats adjust for height and are supportive. The driving position is very good and with the leather-wrapped steering wheel adjusting for reach and rake it’s easy to get comfortable. In the back pew there is sufficient leg and headroom for all but the very tall and the seat is well angled to promote a feeling of spaciousness. Cargo capacity is a usable 360-litres, when more is required the rear seat back splits 60:40 and folds forward to increase volume.

Equipment – Nicely Stacked
With the Luxury Pack our Megane came well loaded and included features like a cooled glovebox, auto lights and wipers, hands free entry, Bluetooth connectivity, dual climate control with rear vents, rear parking sensors, foldable and heated side mirrors, six-speaker stereo with USB input and a auto dimming rear-view mirror. That’s a good haul for a hatchback and while the Luxury Pack boosts the total price by $5k to $39,990 it lives up to its name and injects a genuine feeling of luxury over the base Megane.

Under the Bonnet – Strong Silent Type
While some competitors are shifting to lower capacity turbocharged motors, Renault is offering one engine option for the NZ market – a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre. The four-cylinder unit produces 103kw of power and 195Nm of torque, strong figures for a C-Segment hatch. The base model Megane is fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox but our higher-spec test vehicle put power to the front wheels through a smooth CVT transmission. Fuel economy with the CVT transmission is rated at 7.9l/100km combined, so it doesn’t drink like an Irish poet but it can’t match the smaller engines of some rivals.

On the Road – Keen and Easy
The Megane is a solid performer with a predictable driving nature and a firm focus on comfort. The 2-litre engine is linear in its power delivery and has enough grunt for most applications. It only falls short during heroic uphill overtaking moves. Refinement is very good and it has an effortless feel, which comes as a payoff for the engine’s larger size. The CVT box functions seamlessly, it can flare up under heavy throttle but in general use is smooth and unobtrusive. There’s a sequential sports mode for manual shifting, which can extract more from the peaky motor.

The Megane rides on an independent front/torsion beam rear suspension system. It’s set on the firm side for a hatchback, but not uncomfortably so and the Megane has reassuring balance on twisted back roads. A low centre of gravity helps general stability and there’s ample grip through the front driving wheels. The steering is accurate and quick but can feel vague which may put off those looking for serious heat in their hatch.

Cabin refinement levels are high and while coarse chip surfaces can cause some tyre roar only minimal engine and wind noise ever intrudes. This helps push the Megane’s credentials as a premium hatchback.

Safety – Big Package
The Megane is known for being one of the safest hatchbacks in the game and that reputation is upheld with a safety package that includes six airbags, 3-point seatbelts for all passengers and an engine immobiliser. There’s also an electronic stability programme and ABS brakes with emergency brake assist.

The Bottom Line
Is the Megane really as good as the VW Golf? Not quite, but it is a worthy alternative. It doesn’t have the same lively driving nature of the Golf and it’s interior can’t match the Golf’s classy feel. But that’s not to say the Megane doesn’t have it’s own attractive strengths. It’s an elegantly styled and proportioned hatchback, which uses available space intelligently. It has a capable powertrain with all-round ability, both in the city and on the open road. It’s also well priced for a European hatch and has the character and quality to deserve a closer look.

Price: From $31,990 as tested $39,990

What we like:

  • Spacious interior
  • Strong and smooth powertrain
  • Luxury pack adds plenty of features

What we don’t like:

  • Vague steering
  • Limited small storage in the cabin
  • Could be more of a drivers’ car

Who will buy this car? Broad appeal here. Will be snapped up by those who love the look and want a Euro hatch at a reasonable price.

Cool Factor: Medium, it has sleek style and won’t be a hugely common sight on our roads but the big cool points belong to its hot hatch stablemates.

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

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