Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the new 2016 Renault Megane Zen hatch with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Ah, the Megane. A long time ago, the brand became famous in Australia for its prodigiously rear-ended second-generation five-door. Rather than hoping people wouldn't notice just how elephantine its rear quarters were, the company chose to advertise the Megane using Sir Mixalot's Baby Got Back. A work of Shakespearean song-writing, it featured the lyrics: "I like big butts and I cannot lie." There's no denying that everyone soon knew the Renault Megane, and it was long referred to as, "The one with the fat backside."
The Megane has continued on as a niche player here in Australia, topped by the brilliantly mental, and widely worshipped, Renault Sport version. The lower-priced models were for those in the know, with the weird-but-cool diesel GT wagon and a number of other interesting spec combinations.
Explore the 2016 Renault Megane range
With this new Megane, however, Renault's getting serious. Prices are sharp - the Life starts at a Hyundai-baiting $22,490 for the manual, rising through the Zen ($27,490) and on to the top of the range GT at $38,490. Yes, "Life" and "Zen" are terrible names, even for the French, and it's hard to think of a more teeth-grindingly Japanese-named model than the Zen we had for a week, to see what's what in the middle of the range.
Price and Features
Starting at $27,490, the Zen's $5000 price difference is partly offset by the $2000 you'd pay for the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission if you chose it on the base model, so it's really only $3000 more. Included are 16-inch alloys, an eight-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, reversing camera, sat nav, auto headlights and wipers, leather wheel and gear selector, power windows and mirrors, cloth trim and tyre-pressure monitoring.
The main differences to the Life are the sat nav, front parking sensors and electric parking brake. Metallic paint is another $600, which is stretching the friendship (there's only one free colour) and if you like burning your bonce, the electric sunroof is $1990.
The Megane is a true five-seater, with comfortable pews for four and a reasonably liveable middle rear seat, as long as the fifth passenger isn't too tall. The front seats are particularly welcoming and are among the very best in this segment.
The Megane's fourth generation is a return to form for the French marque.
Cupholders are in the French style, which is to say too few (just two for the whole car) and are too shallow for larger cups (perhaps this is why French people are less fat, as a rule). It is a bit nifty in that the cupholder doubles as a phone holder with its adjustable divider. But it would be better if they were useful cupholders. It's an improvement on the Clio (this car's prettier little sister), though.
The boot is a reasonable 434 litres but you will have to hoik whatever you've got over a high-ish loading lip - no clever false floors or low-cut apertures here. Flipping forward the seats almost triples the load area to 1247 litres.
The Megane's fourth generation is a return to form for the French marque. Patrick Le Quement's adventurous Sir Mixalot-favoured second-generation Megane was succeeded by one that was rather less exciting and almost always under-wheeled, unless you bought it in three-door banzai Renault Sport guise.
The new Megane shares a nose with the rather smart-looking Koleos, with funky split headlights, classy chrome treatment and a decent-sized Renault diamond in the grille. The bonnet's subtle creasing and surfacing blend down into (trademark plastic) front guards along the side of the car, ending in a shapely but tightly drawn rear.
The wide, slim taillights look terrific day or night and make the car look rather more expensive than it is.
Inside is a bit of a mixed bag. In Zen form it is oddly dark and sombre, with little to break up the expanses of dark grey or black. The texturing on the seats helps, but you're sitting on them and the slivers of speckly plastic trim in the doors and on the passenger side of the dash do little to add any cheer.
Our week in mostly moving traffic yielded a competitive 7.3L/100km, not bad for a car of that size.
The instruments are set in a dark hole, too, and look a bit lost, although they are super-clear to read, in simple black and white.
The central stack is an acquired taste. Lacking the huge panel of upper models, it is meekly topped by a seven-inch screen with the climate control dials a mixture of trad but hard-to-grip rotary dials, and a touch-sensitive fan control.
The touchscreen is oddly ordinary, too; despite running Renault's R-Link (found in Clios and Capturs) it's got an unfamiliar new interface that isn't very good. It's serviceable but it could be a lot better, with fewer taps to find and activate things. The sat nav is quite good, though, if low-res.
Engine and Transmission
This is a biggish car that's being asked to make do with a little engine. Think Donald Trump and his brain. Like its French rival, the 308, the Megane is propelled by a 1.2-litre turbocharged four cylinder producing 97kW and 205Nm. Power is fed to the front wheels via a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission and will move the 1265kg machine to 100km/h in 10.3 seconds. Nothing Earth-shattering about that, but unlike its Japanese and Korean competitors, there's enough torque to spin the wheels if you jump on the throttle.
Towing ratings are 660kg unbraked and 1300kg braked.
Renault claims the Megane will consume premium at a rate of 5.6L/100km on the combined cycle. Our week in mostly moving traffic yielded a competitive 7.3L/100km, not bad for a car of that size.
Stop-start is along for the ride to help keep consumption down.
Let's start with the whingeing, because that's always a good place. The 1.2 engine's stop/start system is rubbish. If you see a gap and want to move, the time between taking your foot off the brake and placing it on the accelerator, and the engine actually re-starting might be just fractions of a second longer than other cars, but it's long enough to panic you into switching back to the brake as the traffic bears down on you. Disconcerting barely covers it. Normal traffic stopping and starting is fine, but if you're in a hurry, make sure the engine is running.
Secondly, the seven-inch touchscreen running Renault's R-Link requires way too much fiddling about to get working and things are buried two or three clicks away from the main screen, which is irritating while driving. It just seems to be a French thing; a case of being difficult just for the sake of it. And there's no CarPlay or Android Auto, my favourite whinge of the year. It also won't stay Bluetooth-connected if you plug it into the USB.
French ride and handling are making a comeback.
Thirdly, the transmission is a bit eager to get the clutch out, occasionally chirping the fronts from a tame start. It's a bit embarrassing and out of character - the same transmission in the Clio is calmer and happier.
Thankfully, there's no reason why all of these things can't be overcome, either with patience or through getting to know the car's quirks. There's nothing wrong with a bit of character, of course, and it's all part of a car that is surprisingly filled with it.
Despite the modest capacity, the engine is a terrific thing (again, very similar to its Peugeot rival), with plenty of torque down low to defy any fears that it will be too slow. It's an excellent setup for the city and on top of that it's very quiet and cultured, revving cleanly to 6500rpm with just a distant whirr.
As in days gone by, French ride and handling are making a comeback. The Megane has a lovely, smooth ride around town but doesn't roll about like an SUV. The high-profile tyres on the 16-inch rims is part of that, but the fundamental chassis is one of comfort and competence.
It's also a lot of fun in corners because everything is controlled and progressive, with a flat cornering attitude and light steering that encourages a bit of action and involvement. It's not a bend-gobbler - that's for the GT and Renault Sport versions - but it will show any of its competitors a good time.
While the key is that annoying card thing that Renault has persisted with, you can just walk away from the car and it locks by itself without any fiddling. I got quite used to that.
Six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake assist, brake force distribution.
The new Megane IV was tested by EuroNCAP in late 2015 and scored the maximum five stars. ANCAP is yet to update its site with the new rating.
Renault offers a generous five year/unlimited kilometre warranty (see, I told you they were getting serious) along with five years roadside assist. Servicing intervals are 12 months/15,000km and a maximum price of $299 per visit under the capped price servicing scheme. Sadly, it only extends to the first three services but does cover parts, lubricants and labour.
Renault's fourth-generation Megane has brought some much-needed character to this segment but with prices, styling and specification to actually attract customers.
It's roomy, well-finished, quiet, looks good and feels good to drive, even with a tiddly 1.2-litre turbo in it. There are some very good cars at this price but none of them have been designed and built to be even vaguely interesting. The Megane is one that has, but it's also really good to drive and with a long warranty, probably the best the one to own as well. I will admit to a soft spot for Renaults, but I can now look you in the eye and say that a non-Renault Sport version is just plain good.
Would you choose the Megane Zen over a Golf or i30 Active? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.