Will the latest Mégane spark a much-needed renaissance at Renault? After the disappointing new Twingo and Laguna, the firm needs to rediscover the flair that made models such as the 5 and Espace huge hits.
The third-generation Mégane is clearly inspired by its Laguna stablemate, but the result is much more successful. Gone is the old car’s distinctive rear end and in its place come sweeping curves and smooth surfaces. Elements of the design – the oversized rear lights in particular – look contrived, but the hatch is attractive and modern. It won’t divide opinion like the Honda and, crucially, it makes the latest Focus look dated.
Climb aboard and you will see an equally sleek cabin. While its curvy design, soft-touch plastics and neat console are attractive, the digital speedo at the centre of the instruments looks gimmicky beside the classy Golf. The stereo buttons are also too complex and the cruise control switches on the leather steering wheel are unlit, which makes them tricky to find at night.
Standard kit is competitive, and against the top-of-the-line models in this test Renault’s mid-range Dynamique spec is far from disgraced. Cruise control, front foglights and Bluetooth phone connectivity are all standard. Although question marks remain over build quality – we managed to break the small piece of trim that supports the parcel shelf during our test – the new Mégane is both stylish and well specced.
The Renault’s 372-litre boot is beaten only by the Honda in this group. However, the Mégane has sacrificed passenger space in favour of carrying ability, as rear legroom is the most restricted of our quartet.
On paper, the 1.9-litre dCi diesel looked as if it would struggle to keep pace with its rivals. A power output of 128bhp and 300Nm of torque are the lowest figures here, but the new Mégane is also the lightest car in our test and turned in a strong performance at the track. It matched the more powerful Ford on the benchmark 0-60mph sprint, and its time of 9.6 seconds trailed the Golf by only one-tenth-of-a-second.
This punchy performance doesn’t come at the expense of fuel economy, either, as the Renault posted an impressive return of 38.5mpg – the best of our quartet. Its big 60-litre tank gives a range of more than 500 miles – comfortably more than its rivals.
Hit the road, and the Mégane backs up these attributes with a capable chassis. It is neither as supple nor as engaging as the excellent Ford, but the suspension provides a smooth ride and entertaining handling. And while the Renault doesn’t have the outright grip of the other cars here, the steering is well weighted and precise.
The Golf is more refined, the Civic more capable and the Ford more fun, but the Mégane’s blend of abilities makes it a strong all-rounder. Still, its big selling point remains its price. The mid-spec hatch costs £1,519 less than the next cheapest car in our line-up. In a market where value for money is key, that’s a prime statistic which will make the Mégane a hot favourite with many buyers.
Model tested: Renault Mégane dCi 130 Dynamique
Chart position: 3
WHY: Mégane gets new lease of life. Our test finds out if it’ll be competitive with the class best.
A huge improvement over its predecessor, this is now a serious player. It’s distinctive and has the most frugal diesel here. Legroom is a bit tight, though.