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First drive: Renault GT leads Megane wagon charge

Giving it some boot: Load-lugging Megane GT220 estate will be first version to touch down in Australia.

Renault Australia to fire hot RS-tweaked GT220 Estate first in Megane wagon assault


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7 May 2013


RENAULT’S ageing Megane range will be boosted later this month by the surprise arrival of the GT220 Estate.

Priced from $36,990 plus on-road costs, the high-performance turbocharged wagon with Renault Sport tweaks will beat the regular K95-series naturally aspirated version due in July by a few weeks.

Australia and Japan are the only right-hand-drive markets in the world to receive the GT220 Estate, as a 200-unit limited-edition special. If demand is there, more will be imported at a later date.

Essentially an RS ‘Sport’ chassis vehicle with a detuned version of the long-serving ‘F4R’ 2.0-litre engine found in the Megane RS265 Cup, the front wheels are driven via a six-speed manual gearbox. No automatic transmission will be made available.

Power and torque outputs are rated at 162kW from 4750rpm to 6500rpm, and 340Nm from 2400rpm to 3500rpm respectively, compared to the RS265’s 198kW and 360Nm peaks. This translates to a 100km/h dash from standstill in 7.6 seconds, on the way to a 240km/h top speed.

Conversely, the GT220 Estate is also the company’s first Australian-bound model with automatic engine idle-stop technology (dubbed ‘Auto Stop’ in Renault-speak), to help bring the average fuel consumption figure down to 7.3 litres per 100km. The carbon dioxide emissions average is 169 grams per kilometre.

Roomier than the hatchback, the wagon sits on a 63mm longer wheelbase (2703mm), with length, width and height measurements coming in at 4567/1804/1494mm. Boot volume varies from 486 litres to 1516L with the split/fold rear seats laid flat. A full-sized spare wheel is located under the cargo floor.

Renault Sport provides a tuned MacPherson front and torsion beam rear suspension set-up in the form of specific springs and dampers as well as a thicker anti-roll bar.

The electric-powered rack and pinion steering system also comes in for a recalibration, while larger 320x28mm ventilated front disc brakes and 260x8mm solid rear rotors are fitted. All four wheels are shod with 225/40 R18 tyres.

Standard features include automatic wipers/headlights, electronic stability control with Hill Assist, a ‘performance monitor’, rear parking sensors, roof racks, dual-zone climate control, daytime running lights, cruise control with speed limiter, foglights, and the aforementioned idle-stop system.

About 70 per cent of sales are expected to be made up of the $41,990 Premium Pack edition, which costs $5000 extra and brings leather trim, satellite navigation, a lane-departure warning system, front parking sensors, a reversing camera, bi-Xenon headlights and a sunroof.

It does, however, lose the dash-mounted RS monitor because of the GPS system.

Built in the same Palencia plant in Spain as the Megane RS265 (as opposed to the X38-series hatch which has been sourced from Bursa, Turkey, since 2010), the GT220 Estate was developed primarily for Western European markets such as Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

Renault is confident there are plenty of buyers aching for hot-hatch performance and handling but who cannot cope with the three-door-only body style of the Megane RS265, or need more space than what a Ford Focus ST or Volkswagen Golf GTI can offer.

Enter the GT220 Estate. Besides giving the pocket rockets a run for their money, it may even steal sales from wagons as disparate as the Skoda Octavia RS, Opel Astra Select Tourer 1.6T, Volkswagen Golf and Holden Commodore SV6 Sportwagon.

On a brief blast between Renault Sport’s Parisian HQ and the RS/Alpine manufacturing site in Dieppe some 200km away, we had a chance to find out.

The existing Megane may be almost five years old abroad, but the wagon is new to Australia, so has the advantage of being the new kid on the block Down Under.

Adding the blacked-out 18-inch alloys, subtle bodykit, lowered suspension and subtle detail jewellery across the nose, the handsome GT220 Estate certainly succeeds in achieving a purposeful appearance.

However, the cabin is beginning to betray its years, despite a ‘Collection 2012’ update late last year.

Yes, Renault includes a horizontal red stripe across the dashboard, but this bit of tinsel (and double-white seat/door trim stitching) is lost amid a sea of unrelenting black and somewhat cheap-looking plastic.

Yet all the basics are spot-on – from the informative and clear instruments to the easy-reach switches and grippy steering wheel – while the French haven’t been stingy with the standard kit fit-out. Only rear-seat vent outlets were the obvious AWOL equipment.

Ample though the front and rear passenger compartments are space-wise, they’re completely overshadowed by the long, low and wide cargo area, which is easy to load and a cinch to extend. As all good wagons are. If you’re familiar with the fabulous 265 Cup – or any Renault Sport product offered in Oz over the past few years – the GT’s softness may come as a disappointment. It just isn’t the same raw and ravenous tarmac-tearing supercar-scaring dynamite as the coupe, lacking the near-supernatural interactivity that has come to define the coupe as a neo classic.

But a little expectation readjustment can turn this glass half-empty situation into a thirst-quenching pleasure, if all you’re faced with otherwise are vanilla wagons, confused crossovers and same-same SUVs.

With a not-inconsiderable 162kW/340Nm of forced-induction fire up front, the F4R 2.0T’s off-the-line performance is nothing short of enthusiastic, with overtaking acceleration really upping the ante speed wise. If the driver is prepared to prod the go-pedal the Renault will always react instantly.

By the way, the noise it makes when the driver is on it is quite addictive, especially as the tacho needle swings north of 5000rpm.

The six-speed manual gear lever on our 11,000km development example felt a little loose and vague, but the gearing is spot-on, as are the clutch action and brakes.

At speed, the steering, too, shines with smoothness and fluidness, but at lower velocities there’s less firmness and feel than we’d like coming from the helm.

Damp roads and really tight turns did reveal some torque steer tug coming from the wheel, but at least the GT220 Estate doesn’t degenerate into understeering scrappiness. Indeed, the way it tips into corners is quite impressive.

In fact, backed up by a beautifully nuanced stability and traction system, the Megane would continue to glide along at speeds faster than a C-segment wagon has any right to.

Finally, further kudos goes to the fairly supple ride quality from the suspension (considering the wheels ride on 18s), but there’s still sizeable road noise intrusion inside.

As this does wear the ‘GT by Renault Sport’ badge on the back, a fair degree of raw excitement is expected, however, so we’ll wait to reserve final judgment until a drive on Aussie soil can be carried out.

As it stands then, we’re impressed Renault has the guts to import the express Estate to Australia, even though the lack of an auto and circa-$40K pricetag will have the vast majority of potential buyers seeking dull SUVs instead.

Just being given the choice is fantastic, and there’s enough Renault Sport DNA underneath to keep the enthusiast satisfied while all the boring wagon duties are also taken care of.

However, if the latter is the greater priority, and as we revealed last October, Renault will soon release a sub-$30,000 family-focused Megane Estate in Australia.

Out in July, and also sourced from Palencia, it will essentially mirror the 2013 Megane Hatch range by offering a choice of four-cylinder powerplant options – a 103kW/195Nm 2.0-litre petrol with CVT (continuously variable transmission) or an 81kW/240Nm 1.5-litre turbo-diesel with six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

It all combines to show Renault is serious about offering Aussie consumers the luxury of individuality and choice.

With the wagon ranks across all classes thinning out over time, the coming Megane wagons’ value and worth is considerable.

And as far as the GT220 Estate goes, we’re sure glad for the unexpected surprise.

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