Car reviews - Renault - Megane - range
Driving dynamics, new look, slick dual-clutch transmission, GT220 bang for buck
Room for improvement
Plastic finishes, tyre noise, lack of dual-clutch auto on GT220
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14 Nov 2014
RENAULT saved the best until last when we sampled the facelifted Megane five-door hatchback and wagon range in the hills of the Queensland-New South Wales border.
We started out with the competent, thrifty and rather plasticky Megane Authentique hatch that, equipped with the entry-level 1.2-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder petrol engine and six-speed manual gearbox, serves as the doorway to the refreshed range that gets the new-look nose first seen on the Clio.
We progressed up through the range, trying the mid-range, harder-edged GT-Line, this time with the new Getrag six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and then on to the 2.0-litre diesel, in Sport Wagon form in its toffy leather-lined GT-Line Premium guise.
To take us home, Renault entrusted us with the new GT220 five-door hatch that seems to be designed specifically to take on the Golf GTI – the car that most pundits would regard as the benchmark in the segment.
It was about then that the new Megane clicked with us, as we tossed the feisty hatchback around the curves and slopes of the hinterland hills.
The word that kept recurring to us during this drive was “balance”. Not only is the GT220 nicely balanced on the road, with superb road manners, well-weighted steering and wonderful driver feedback at critical points, but it is also well balanced in the Megane range, sitting neatly between the more prosaic models and the take-no-prisoners Renault Sport RS265 Cup with its hard suspension, brutal power and three-door design.
As one motoring writer put it: “This GT220 is a sports model you can live with every day.”
And priced at $35,490 for the hatch and $36,990 for the Sport Wagon version, the GT220 represents reasonable bang for the buck, especially against the Golf GTI that starts north of $40k.
We would like to report that the Megane GT220 – the 220 refers to horsepower which the otherwise metric mad French still use – is offered with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission alongside the standard six-speed manual gearbox, but unfortunately, we can’t.
The only choice is a manual gearbox, even though lesser models in the Megane range – even the diesels – have an excellent Getrag dual-clutch auto.
This could be a stone in the shoe of the GT220 in Australia, where the Golf GTI offers a choice of manual or auto cog swappers. And we all know that auto rules the showroom in Australia, even for the likes of Porsche where the auto take up rate is something like 95 per cent.
Still, the manual gearbox gets the job done in the Megane GT220, in no way detracting from one of the truly fun driving experiences.
On Australia’s roads, with their bumps and bops, the slightly more forgiving suspension – compared with the RS265, that is – is just what the doctor ordered, helping to keep the cornering tidy and the ride pleasant.
The GT220 is a little slower up through the gears than the Golf GTI in terms of sheer acceleration, but point to point on a winding road, there would not be much in it.
With the entry level Authentique, the dual-clutch auto (a $2500 premium over the manual), is almost essential, as we found the manual a chore to keep the diminutive 1.2-litre engine on song in hilly territory.
The smart auto transmission, however, seemed to iron out these deficiencies a little better, and with slick dual-clutch changes, a pleasure to drive with.
The lack of steering wheel-mounted paddles was noted, however.
The trusty 2.0-litre diesel would be the pick of the powertrains for the average driver, despite having to spool up the turbo-charger before delivering forward thrust.
It also gets the auto gearbox as standard fare, and with 240Nm of torque on offer from 1750rpm, it churns away like a turbine in all driving conditions – city, highway or rural byway. Efficient, too.
Equipment levels vary considerably across the Megane hatch range, rising dramatically from the base Authentique, which is clearly what the industry calls a price leader – designed to get punters through the door. It has bare essentials in this class, including manual air-conditioning and cruise control.
It is a hefty $6000 step up to the next level GT-Line in petrol form, but that includes standard automatic transmission and most of the goodies that people want these days, such as dual climate control, sat-nav, leather steering wheel, hands free entry and start, 17-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension and GT sports trim inside and out.
Another $4000 will win you the Premium pack, with grey leather et al.
The wagon range starts with a higher level of equipment, but also at a higher price, kicking off from $26,990 for the petrol engine matched with the auto transmission.
No matter which Megane you might choose, all come with comfortable seats and expansive luggage room.
The heavily bolstered sporty GT-Line and GT220 front seats are Goldilocks seats – not too hard and not too soft. Just right.
We were warned that some sections of the drive route would elicit some tyre resonance, and sure enough, a whine duly arose from the wheels and transported itself up through the suspension and body.
This happened on several occasions and on several models, and while fingers could be pointed at the road surfaces, we have driven other cars around the same area without such annoyances.
Our biggest beef with Megane is the standard of plastic finishes, most notable in the entry Authentique. However, even on the GT220, the hard and shiny black plastic dash looks out of place in this day and age, especially compared with benchmarks such as the Mazda3.
Overall, though, the Megane is satisfying drive that, especially in its GT-Line and GT220 variants, will reward drivers that treasure time on the open road.
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