Though the front always struck me as a tad clunky and corporate, I’ve long admired the relentlessly shaken and gently stirring rump of this new Renault Megane’s predecessor. Trouble is, it seems that the majority of Britons, along with all too many Italians, have not…
Why not? What's wrong with the Renault Megane?
Renault makes no bones about the fact that the Megane II simply hasn’t sold in the required volumes in the UK (unless of course, the word Renaultsport appeared somewhere on the bodywork, in which case, it seems, we haven’t been able to get our collective mitts on the thing fast enough) and that its replacement has been deliberately styled in a somewhat more conservative vein.
Not that conservative, however. And, ironically, the Megane hooter has been singled out for tweaks third time around, ushering in a bespoke, brushed metal treatment to ensure Coupe could never be confused with five-door in a head on encounter.
I notice they’ve now dropped the three-door nametag in favour of Coupe…
Indeed, and I’m slightly suspicious of this. Previous three-door models were, naturally, less expensive than siblings boasting extra orifices, but Renault has contrived to make this new three-door some £500 pricier. Justification on the grounds that it comes with alloys thrown in really isn’t going to pull the wool…
Truth is, Renault very badly wants this car to be seen as a direct competitor to VW’s Scirocco, needs to call it a coupe in its own right to effect the requisite kudos, and feels it can get away with upping the price a whisker on the basis that it’s still some £2000 less than the comparable Volkswagen.
Click 'Next' below to read more of our three-door Renault Megane first drive
So just how different is it from the five-door?
Externally, the changes are robber’s-cosh-on-the-bridge-of-the-nose self-evident. At the front, the simple expedient of introducing a couple of brushed metal Hoola-Hoops has a disproportionately powerful impact. The only downside, perhaps, being an added whiff of verticality to a profile already struggling manfully with bonnet-hefting pedestrian impact legislation.
To the sides, a roofline 48mm lower than the five-door (of which 12mm is down to suspension adjustments) gangs up with a particularly slender glasshouse to elicit a bodywork/glazing proportion increasingly in vogue but which, as with Alfa’s Mito, strikes me as in danger of making the flanks look a little chubby and over-expansive, as if the Coupe is holding its breath until it gets what it wants.
At the back, five-door and Coupe have equally little in common, the latter receiving bespoke treatment to rear glazing, lamp clusters and bumper. From dead astern, allied to a rear track 33mm wider than Megane II and further amplified by a sharply tapering glasshouse which swells those broad hips to beyond matronly, the overall effect is truly gigantic. Perhaps it’s the singed Chris Evans launch colour that the Coupe shares with the first Nissan Murano, but the whole things seems far more massive than required merely to rectify a limited loadspace criticism of Megane II and up the volume to 377 litres.
And the interior?
On board, with the obvious exception of rear seats (unfortunately three, rather than the Scirocco's sensible two) offering just enough room for me to sit behind myself in relative comfort with a decidedly limited view out, five-door and Coupe are identical. It could be argued that a little more effort should have gone into differentiating the Coupe interior from that of its family-friendly sibling in honour of the loss of the three-door tag, but Renault probably reasoned that if the VW Scirocco can get away with an Eos interior, there’s hardly need to break into a sweat over a less expensive car.
All of which would be fine if the Megane dashboard were just better looking. Granted, build quality has improved out all recognition, and the surfaces cannot be faulted for appropriate tactility. An instrument binnacle combining analogue rev counter with digital speedo polarises opinion yet works rather well, but the centre console doesn’t. The smiling, brushed metal lips housing both air-conditioning and stereo controls look a little mean and dated, the buttons are too small, and the stereo panel’s set too low.
I asked Renault design grande frommage of 21 years and best dinner table chat around Patrick le Quement why these control panels did not expand to fill the width of the centre console with obvious, bigger button repercussions. He told me that this was a deliberate device to reduce the apparent mass of the console itself. Which I’m not buying. A centre console’s supposed to be littered, full width, with buttons, and this one would look all the better for it.
Click 'Next' below to read more of our three-door Renault Megane first drive
How about mechanical changes?
It’s all about suspension. Sharing the five-door’s MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear set-up inherited from Megane II, the Coupe benefits from bespoke settings. Accompanied by revised damper settings, front springs have been stiffened by 19% and rears by 10%, and the whole lowered by 12mm.
Allied to a gentle increase in road noise, the resultant ride is appreciably firmer than that of the more relaxed five-door, yet manages to retain just of enough of Renault’s traditional, and laudible, ride comfort to ensure a long-haul outing doesn’t become wearing.
So, a perceptibly better drive than the five-door?
Hmm, harder to answer than you’d suppose…. Just two variants were available to drive at launch; a five-door powered by a 130bhp 1.9-litre turbodiesel, and the Coupe, armed with a 180bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol unit, with both powerplants developing a respectable 221lb ft of torque via six-speed manual transmissions.
However, whilst the it 1.9dCi unit proved predictably lusty, entirely adept at accelerating up long motorway gradients in 6th gear and pleasingly quiet in the cruise, it was almost impossible to establish where Renault has hidden the 2.0 litre turbo’s 180bhp. The good news is that there’s no turbo lag. The bad news is that there doesn’t appear to be a turbo at all.
Charged with imbuing the 1320kg Coupe with a performance appropriate to its couture, the engine responds with a good deal of aural fuss and insufficient forward motion. A quoted 0-62mph dash of 7.8 seconds never feels quite on the cards, and by the time the Coupe breaks the 100mph barrier the engine’s booming away like a pub-bore on one too many pints.
Despite relentless rain of biblical proportions, the Coupe remained respectably sure-footed, new electric power steering rewarding with sufficient weight and accuracy to suggest that, in non-Renaultsport guise, this is one of the company’s better helms to date. Body roll through corners is well contained and the Coupe respectably composed, whilst the somewhat early onset of predictable understeer must be attributed to the relentlessly soggy conditions.
Erm, trouble is, I drove the five-door in drier conditions, and must confess to having enjoyed it more. There’s no doubt the pleasing diesel is partially responsible. But the ride’s far more comfortable and, whilst body roll is more noticeable, it’s never excessive, merely communicating rather more smoothly the extent to which you’re loading the suspension, the Coupe evincing the suspicions of a tendency to lurch, rather than flow, from strut to strut up front.
Ultimately, then, a Coupe armed with the 1.9 dCi unit might well prove to be the optimum combination. As to whether large numbers of you will opt for it in response to a two grand saving over the Scirocco…
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