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You might have thought Australia’s love affair with the SUV was a passing infatuation, and like a Bieber-obsessed teen, the passion would ultimately cool.
But just as the Beliebers are still waiting on their semi-manly, Calvin Klein-wearing idol, to knock on the door, drop to one knee, and profess his love for them, we continue to Hoover up SUVs the way Justin sucks up vast lashings of cash.
Yet our collective dream of lifestyle-focused fun, including that cheeky Top End adventure we're sure we'll one day take - conquering the shifting sands of the Simpson Desert in a high-riding family truckster - is as likely as the The Biebs strolling up the front path.
So, more realistic types opt for a conventional wagon, and the Europeans are experts in producing really very good ones, like Renault’s new Megane, driven here in top-spec GT trim.
Should you snap out of your SUV trance and think about the real-world comfort, lower centre of gravity and practicality of a sporty wagon? Hit play on that Best of JB album, and let’s find out.
|Renault Megane 2017: GT-Line|
|Engine Type||1.2L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Full disclosure. I love a good wagon, and the Megane GT manages to combine just the right amount of sporty aggression with sleek sophistication.
An oversized version of Renault’s diamond logo dominates the nose, and acutely swept headlights (optional LEDs on ‘our’ car) incorporate a distinctive Dali-esque hook melted from the outer edge, balanced by additional running lights and vents lower down.
Front and rear guards bulge over 18-inch ‘Magny-Cours’ alloy rims, and the gently sloping turret causes the glasshouse to taper neatly towards the rear. Chrome inserts around the front guard badges and along the door tops add a subtle dash of flash.
At the back, the Megane’s signature tail-lights stretch close to the point of touching across the rear door, with a high-mount spoiler above and a mini diffuser underneath. Extra hints of chrome above the licence plate and on the exhaust tip keep things interesting, without going over the top.
The interior is smooth and contemporary, with a classy 8.7-inch, portrait-oriented colour touchscreen dominating the centre console.
Touches of the blue exterior colour are strategically applied to the wheel, dash, door trims, and Alcantara trimmed sports seats, with the 7.0-inch LCD instrument cluster headlined by a super-functional grouping of digital speedo within an analogue tachometer. Racy alloy highlights adorn the gearshift, wheel, and pedals.
The overall feel is cool and functional, with the standard of fit and finish impressive for a sub-$40k wagon.
At 4.6m long, 1.8m wide, and 1.4m high, the Megane wagon sits squarely in the size window occupied by its key competitors from Peugeot (308 Touring), Skoda (Octavia), and Volkswagen (Golf).
Importantly, it only gives ground to the Peugeot in terms of wheelbase, and interior space is plentiful.
Front-seat passengers are furnished with generous head and legroom, plus lots of storage, including two cupholders, door bins big enough for bottles, a medium-sized glove box and numerous trays around the centre console for coins, keys or a phone. Power and connectivity points run to a 12-volt outlet, two USB jacks and an SD card input.
Sitting behind the driver’s seat, set for my 183cm height, there’s heaps of rear legroom, and headroom is surprisingly good. Major brownie points for adjustable air vents for back seaters, as well as two cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, map pockets in the front seatbacks, and door bins able to accommodate (small) bottles.
You’d expect a wagon to come good in the load-space department, and even with the 60/40 split folding rear seat upright there’s 580 litres of cargo capacity on offer. Fold the back seat forward, and you’re looking at 1505 litres. Although that’s lots of space, it’s substantially less than the competition, the Peugeot 306 Touring coughing up an extra 236 litres, for example, (with seats folded). Clearly, the packaging compromise is extra rear legroom.
That said, there’s a tricky dual-level floor system built in, allowing for well-hidden storage spaces, or increased load height. Plus, you’ll find four tie-down anchors, handy bins behind the rear wheel tubs, a neat pull-up divider near the rear door to help keep smaller items under control, and well-placed handles for folding the rear seats remotely.
Just don’t go looking for a spare wheel, a Bose sub-woofer sits in that recess, and your only option in the case of a flat tyre is a ‘can of goo’ inflator repair kit.
Cost of entry for the Megane GT Wagon is $39,490, before on-road costs, with a drive-away price of $42,990 in place until September 30, 2017.
That ticket brings a large basket of standard fruit, including LED mirror indicators, rear fog lights, front, side and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, park-assistance system, tyre-pressure monitor, adaptive cruise control with speed limiter, auto headlights, and ‘Multi-Sense’ (personalised driver modes and interior ambience).
But wait, there’s more, like remote keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control air, heated and folding exterior mirrors, heated front seats, ‘R-Link 2’ navigation and multimedia system (with voice control), the 8.7-inch touchscreen, 7.0-inch digital instrument display, and eight-speaker Arkamys audio. No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though.
Heavy hitting for a car that just ducks under the $40k barrier (before on-roads). Our test example featured metallic paint ($600), and a ‘Premium Pack’ ($1490), incorporating ‘Pure Vison’ LED headlights and a Bose audio system, for an all-up price of $41,580.
The Megane GT is powered by an all-alloy, 1.6-litre turbo intercooled four-cylinder petrol engine. Featuring direct injection and variable valve timing (intake and exhaust side), the (M5MT) TCe 205 unit resides under the bonnet of other Renault-Nissan performance models, including the Renault Sport Clio, and Nissan Juke Nismo.
In this application, it produces 151kW at 6000rpm, and 280Nm at 2400rpm, driving the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission.
Renault claims the Megane GT wagon consumes 6.0L/100km on the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) fuel economy cycle, emitting 134g/km of C02 in the process.
Over roughly 300km of often ‘spirited’ city, suburban and freeway driving we recorded a dash-indicated 8.5L/100km.
You’ll need 50 litres of (minimum) 95RON premium unleaded to fill the tank, which translates to a range of approximately 590km on our figures.
A badge bringing the words Renault and Sport together is always a good one, and yes, the Megane GT wagon is a cracking drive.
Renault says the sprint from 0-100km/h takes 7.4sec, and thanks to the standard launch-control system that agreeably rapid rate of acceleration is achievable, time after time.
With maximum torque (280Nm) on tap from 2400rpm, mid-range performance is lively, with response barely easing as peak power (151kW) arrives, right up at 6000rpm.
The engine’s induction growl and a raspy exhaust note impart an appropriately dynamic feel, the sports seats are as comfortable as they are grippy, with pronounced side bolsters keeping you firmly located in quick going, and the leather-trimmed wheel is a pleasure to twirl.
Steering is sweet, with beautifully progressive turn-in, good road feel and linear response, thanks in no small part to the GT’s ‘4Control’ four-wheel steering set-up.
Flicking the ‘RS Drive’ button on the dash unlocks Sport mode, which reduces the steering input required by 40 per cent, fine tunes accelerator response, and recalibrates engine and transmission mapping. It’s a nice button to press, and brings up racy power and torque read-outs in the instrument display.
Body control is neatly buttoned down, yet ride comfort is excellent. What is it about Renault Sport and this kind of amazing suspension voodoo? And manual shifts from the seven-speed dual-clutch, via column-mounted paddles, are slick as frying butter. The ‘Multi-downshift’ gear-change system also lets you go all F1, with the transmission automatically shifting to the lowest possible gear if you keep the paddle depressed.
I do have several gripes, however. Not everyone will love the Marvel superhero fanfare that welcomes you into the car (thankfully, it's easily disabled). Despite featuring a ‘GT Enhanced’ braking system, the brakes are bitey on initial application, no matter how hard you try to ease them in. The dual clutch can be clunky at slow speeds in auto mode. The ambient lighting doesn’t maintain its setting when you turn the car off and come back to it. And while installation of the central multimedia screen is smooth, the operation of most of its functions is anything but.
5 years / unlimited km warranty
This Renault is where it needs to be in terms of passive and safety tech, with crash-avoidance features including AEB, lane-departure warning, distance warning, blind-spot warning, ESC, ABS, EBA, EBD, and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
On the passive side of the ledger, the GT is fitted with (adaptive) front airbags, and lateral (pelvis and chest-level) airbags for the driver and front passenger, and curtain airbags covering the front and second-row seats.
The Renault Megane hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP, but scores a maximum five stars from Euro NCAP (although it’s worth noting the vehicle tested may not align with Australian spec).
Renault supports its Australian passenger range with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, with 24/7 Roadside Assistance provided for the duration.
Service is recommended every 12 months or 30,000km (whichever comes first), with a capped-price program ensuring a maximum price of $299 for the first three scheduled services.
Before you buy a compact SUV, think about a conventional wagon like the Renault Megane GT. It looks great, is well equipped, and nicely screwed together. It’s also keenly priced, boasts a solid suite of safety tech and, most of all, is heaps of fun to drive. An assortment of multimedia and dynamic niggles bring the averages down, but just like a certain Canadian prince of pop, fans will find the pluses outweigh the minuses.
|GT 205||1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$21,300 – 28,930||2017 Renault Megane 2017 GT 205 Pricing and Specs|
|GT-Line||1.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$16,300 – 22,660||2017 Renault Megane 2017 GT-Line Pricing and Specs|
|Life||1.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$12,600 – 18,260||2017 Renault Megane 2017 Life Pricing and Specs|
|ZEN||1.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$13,200 – 19,140||2017 Renault Megane 2017 ZEN Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||8|