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Renault Megane 2011 review: road test

EXPERT RATING
6

IF you lost some of that weight around your rear end, you would probably handle better. Well, the same goes for the new-generation Renault Megane. It has lost the flabby rear end, smartened up its appearance and gained better handling and improved ride.

Megane now comes in several different formats from family hatch to hairdresser-friendly hard-top convertible and a couple of hot hatches for the backwards-baseball-cap wearers, so there's something for almost everybody.

VALUE

As well as the rear end, prices for the hatch have been trimmed. They now start at $22,990 for the Dynamique manual two-litre Hatch with a drive-away price of $25,990. That's the same price as the 2003 entry model 1.6-litre model before on-road costs.

That pitches it right into the ballpark of other two-litre five-door hatches such as the top-selling Mazda3 (from $21,330), the new Ford Focus (from $21,990) and Hyundai i30 (from $20,590). Not bad considering you get some French flair thrown in plus standard equipment not on the original model such as six airbags, cruise control, ESP, hands-free keycard and Bluetooth.

But it's a quantum leap to the Coupe-Cabriolet at $45,990 whose class competitors are the two-litre turbo-diesel-powered Volkswagen Eos ($46,990-$48,990) and 1.6-litre petrol Peugeot 207CC (from $33,490-$56,490).

The hot hatches are priced at $41,990 for the RS250 Cup and $46,990 for the RS250 Cup Trophee, which is a far cry from the very worthy Focus XR5 ($36,490) and Mazda SP25 ($29,255-$31,575), but more closely aligned with the Honda Civic Type R ($39,990) and long-time class-leading VW Golf GTI ($40,490).

TECHNOLOGY

The 1.6-litre engine has been replaced by a two-litre four-cylinder engine in Megane Hatch and Coupe-Cabriolet. It has output of 103kW of power and 195Nm of torque, which is capable but no match for the new Focus with 125kW/202Nm. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual or one of the best six-step continuously variable transmissions we have come across. The Coupe-Cabriolet comes with CVT only.

Turbocharging lifts the power in the RS250 to 184kW/340Nm with a six-speed manual transmission, limited-slip differential and Brembo brakes. The technologically clever cabriolet roof goes up and comes down in 25 seconds, but cannot be operated while moving.

DESIGN

The trimmer rear end of the hatch is a far less polarising design than the previous model. It's quite an attractive car inside and out with plenty of French flair. In three-door hot hatch format, it is scintillating with its swoopy roof and dazzling body lines. However, the Coupe-Cabriolet is almost laughable having no sense of proportion with the cabin pushed way forward and too much rear end.

The glass roof is the only stylish redeeming factor, but in all practicality it is a liability in our hot climate. The thin "flyscreen" will not help keep out the heat.

SAFETY

Megane has always been a top safety car with a class-leading four-star Euro NCAP safety rating for the first model in the late '90s thanks to its safety cell. All new models have a long list of safety features such as six airbags, automatic headlight and wipers, ESP, ABS, emergency braking assist, and on the CC there is rollover protection. There are also energy-absorbing bumpers to protect pedestrians. Forward visibility is good in all, but rear visibility is limited.

DRIVING

Once you get past the quirky controls, including the maddening stubby audio stalk behind the steering wheel, the hatch is quite a comfortable and pleasant place to conduct the business of driving.

The seats are not the usual lounge-chair French seats but are comfortable and supportive and the steering wheel is sporty and the cockpit inviting. There is good room for four adults and a convenient cargo area. It's a quiet and refined ride with plenty of steering feedback and excellent road manners.

The two-litre engine is lively without being startling and the economy is a healthy 8.2 litres per 100km and an even better 7.9L/100km for the CVT model. If you want more power, the hot hatches have plenty, but they are sprung way too hard for the output. I expect such spleen-blendering suspension in a Subaru STI which has almost 20 per cent more power, not the Megane.

Meanwhile, the Cabrio weighs a whopping 200kg more and really feels the lard. It's like driving with two front-row rugby forwards sitting in the back seat; not that they'd fit as there is no leg or head room for a fully grown adult. That hard-top roof also creaks and clicks where it joins the windscreen which is annoying over potholed roads The most surprising combination was the hatch with CVT.

When pushed hard it screams as expected, but if punted around town doing the daily battles with traffic, it is a clever transmission that does what its told. plus it has better economy than the manual.

VERDICT

Styling and pricing are much better for the new Megane hatch and it should persuade some buyers from Japanese or Korean brands. But those same two factors let down the Coupe-Cabriolet and the hot hatches.

Pricing guides

$9,990
Based on 27 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$5,600
Highest Price
$15,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Dynamique 2.0L, PULP, CVT AUTO $5,600 – 11,990 2011 Renault Megane 2011 Dynamique Pricing and Specs
Dynamique 2.0L, PULP, CVT AUTO $5,600 – 11,990 2011 Renault Megane 2011 Dynamique Pricing and Specs
Dynamique 1.5DCi 1.5L, Diesel, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO $5,800 – 9,020 2011 Renault Megane 2011 Dynamique 1.5DCi Pricing and Specs
Privilege 2.0L, PULP, CVT AUTO $6,799 – 10,510 2011 Renault Megane 2011 Privilege Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
6