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Renault Megane GT220 wagon arrives

The traditional station wagon has been one casualty among many of the rise of SUVs, but they remain popular in Europe so German and French brands spin them off hatchbacks and sedans across their line-ups.

Demand here is tiny, but local distributors are usually obliged to bring them in. They are then faced with the problem of how to sell them. I've lost count of how many times I've heard someone explain that their new wagon will lure people away from SUVs because it drives better, is cheaper to run and more practical. It's usually true, but it doesn't make a difference.

The latest to ply this line is Renault, which has added a wagon variant to its Megane range as part of a mid-life freshen up. The wagon is substantially longer - 25cm - than the hatchback and has 40 per cent more cargo space. It starts at $26,490 with a 103kW 2-litre petrol or another $4000 for the most accessible diesel, an 81kW 1.5-litre. Its star turn, however, is the GT220 performance model, with a retuned version of the turbocharged engine in the RS265 hatchback.

The RS265 holds the record for the fastest lap of Germany's Nurburgring racetrack for a front-wheel-drive car and is a benchmark among performance hatches. The wagon, with 162kW, gets 33kW less power from the same turbocharged 2-litre unit, but its sports chassis means it's still a hoot to drive and one of the few performance wagons on offer at this level. Available only with a six-speed manual, it costs $36,990, or another $5000 for the Premium version, which adds leather, satnav and a reversing camera.

It won't revive Megane sales on its own - supply has been limited to 220 examples - but Renault says a shift in sourcing for the model from Turkey to Spain is responsible for a 7 per cent dip in demand for the Megane and supplies are now back on track.

The revised line-up lowers the entry point to $20,990 plus on-road costs, from $25,990 driveaway, for a base manual petrol and introduces an additional trim level called GT Line to widen its appeal. The starting point for the convertible Megane CC drops $9000 to $36,990.

Engines and transmissions carry over and, aside from minor styling changes such as LED lights at the front, the revisions focus on retuning the suspension and making more safety kit available, including an intelligent light system.

Supplies are now likely to be the least of its worries, with Renault suffering more than most from the prolonged European downturn. First half sales results out this week show Renault sales down 10.3 per cent in western Europe compared with 6.6 per cent for the overall market. Chief executive Carlos Ghosn said recently that Europe might not recover for another two years.

Renault might find some consolation in the figures for compatriot brands Peugeot and Citroen, because they are worse - down 11.7 per cent and 16.2 per cent respectively.

It's a situation mirrored in Australia, where Citroen demand is down 34 per cent and Peugeot is treading water with a 1.5 per cent increase over the first half of last year. By comparison, Renault is up 44 per cent and on track to outsell Peugeot here for the first time - the importer believes - since the 1970s.

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