Renault split opinion with the outgoing Megane 2. You know, that shakey-ass marketing. The distinctive, bustleback styling. A classic Marmite car, in fact. The sad thing is, the marketing suits have deemed such avantgarde design as verboten in the new, let's-appeal-to-everyone age. Hence the new, less risky Megane 3. Now we've driven it, we can finally announce if it's boring or brilliant.
It's hard not to approach the new Megane with some doubt. It is very Euro-clone sensible, though we can't deny it looks more grown-up. The bonnet is elegantly sculpted and we admire the way the rear lamps flow into the haunches. But do we love it? Get real. The five-door's design is bland and – from some angles – bloated. It even reminds me of the old Nissan Almera.
So much for Renault's daring period of design expression.
So the new Renault Megane is dull to look at. And inside?
The engineers on the new Megane had to reuse the outgoing model's platform, but instil it with a dose more refinement, sharpness, green tech and – important mantra at Renault these days – quality.
Does it feel like a Golf inside? It's not a bad effort in the cabin. Fit and finish are more Wolfsburg than Turin, although the base-spec Expression trim feels conservative. It's all very – how shall we put it – sober. We do worry that Carlos Ghosn's populist imperative (Laguna
, anyone?) might be stifling Renault's historical flamboyance. And that's a shame.
It's well equipped in here, but we hate the dials. Renault claims they use an innovative blend of analogue and digital, but we reckon it's more of an Early Learning Centre effect. More impressive is the standard equipment, including air-con, ESP, six airbags and electric windows and mirrors. Bluetooth ‘phone compatibility, keyless entry, auto lamps and wipers and cruise control kick in at Dynamique level, which costs around £1000 more than Expression models.
What's new under the bonnet of the new Renault Megane?
The oily bits are revised, naturally. There's a quicker steering rack, new stiffer subframes – but still the same old torsion beam rear axle. No fancy Golf/Focus multi-link arms here. Happily, the new Megane is, on average, 8kg lighter than before.
Despite being lighter, it is in fact bigger. The Megane five-door we tested is now 4.3m long and can swallow 405 litres of baggage. There's competitive space in the cabin for limbs. But enough interior chat. Let's find out how the Megane drives on the road.Click 'Next' to read our first drive review of the Renault Megane
So how does the new Renault Megane drive?
The Megane five-door goes on UK sale on 26 November 2008, with a choice of three petrol and three diesel variants. Diesel power ranges from 84 to 128bhp, while the 1.6 and 2.0 litre petrol engines span 99 to 178bhp. Four of the diesel engines emit 120g/km of CO2 or less, including the big-selling 104bhp 1.5-litre dCi tested.
It’s a gutsy engine, pulling hard from 1500rpm and provoking wheelspin if you’re heavy on the throttle. There’s sufficient mid-range grunt for comfortable overtaking manoeuvres, although it chatters under acceleration and roars above 3500rpm. Bottom line: the impressive 1.5 dCi feels like a bigger engine, but delivers smaller engine consumption figures of 60.1mpg and 120g/km.
Sadly, it’s coupled to a blundering six-speed manual ‘box. You’ve better odds of winning the National Lottery than finding first after stopping at a junction, although the dCi manfully hauls you away in third. You could well pull an extender muscle shifting across the chasm from fourth to fifth, and you’re just as likely to stumble back into fourth when aiming for overdrive. It’s notchy, imprecise and hugely frustrating.
Does the new steering work better?
The new car again relies on electric rather than hydraulic assistance (ensuring it can be decoupled when not needed to reduce CO2 emissions by 5g, Renault estimates), the steering feels meatier and more direct. It’s much improved but won’t have Fernando Alonso dribbling with excitement.
The Megane’s greatest strength is its refinement. The ride on 16-inch alloys is very comfortable, very French, with enough suspension travel and effective damping to make you feel extremely cossetted. At 30mph, manhole covers pass with as much intrusion as a gentleman clearing his throat. It’s extremely refined at 30mph, with the engine murmuring gently at 1500 revs in fourth, and maintains this civility to 60mph. Then, wind and tyre noise make their presence felt, but they’re utterly bearable.
Click 'Next' to read CAR's verdict on the new Renault Megane
Make no mistake, the Renault Megane doesn't rewrite the rulebook. In fact, it seems to consult it rather too often. There's the feeling that Renault's computers analysed the competition and mathematically calculated the optimum response. It's a hatchback by numbers, with little outstanding ability in any one area to make the new Megane stand out.
In its defence, the new model is refined, safe, well built, generously equipped and better to drive than its predecessor. But it doesn’t handle like a Focus nor ride like a Golf. There isn’t a single area in which the Megane 3 truly excels, and that's a pity.