The last time these two cars met, the conventionally powered Renault cruised to an easy victory. However, the Honda CR-Z has now come out fighting with a host of updates, so the revised Renault Megane Coupe will need to raise its game to stand a chance of repeating its win.
We already tested the tweaked 2012 Renault as an estate last year, but the styling changes are even more eye-catching on this svelte three-door coupe. The Megane is curvier than its rival, yet a high waistline and steeply raked rear windscreen ensure that it still makes a strong visual impact.
The bright blue paintwork and anthracite alloys of our GT Line test car help to distance it from the humdrum hatchback, while the distinctive LED strips in the foglight clusters give it a modern gloss. Yet unlike the Honda, sleek looks don’t dent practicality: visibility out the back is better thanks to a rear wiper and the standard reversing camera.
Plus, as it’s based on a hatch, the Megane’s wheelbase is 215mm longer than the CR-Z’s. As a result, there’s room for adults to sit in the back and the boot will hold a decent 344 litres.
At first glance, the Renault’s interior seems more basic than the Honda’s and equipment like leather heated seats (£1,250) is optional rather than standard. Yet on closer inspection, sporty touches such as red stitching on the gearstick and a perforated leather steering wheel give it the edge. The climate and stereo controls are both neater than the confusing layout in the CR-Z, and although the driving position is set higher, it’s easy to get comfy behind the wheel thanks to the well placed pedals and supportive sports front seats.
Yet when you first start the Megane up, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed by the initial clatter from the ageing 1.5-litre diesel engine. It sounds quite out of place in a sporty coupe like this, and the Renault lagged behind the Honda at the track – taking a full two-and-a-half seconds longer to go from 0-60mph.
And despite a healthy torque advantage, it was slower in-gear, too. Part of the blame for this lies with the Megane’s taller gear ratios, but the biggest issue is turbo lag: the engine feels flat below 2,000rpm.
Things improve on the road, where well weighted controls and a supple ride mean the Renault remains engaging as long as you stay in the power band. And the diesel soon settles down to a quiet thrum at higher speeds, which aids refinement. This makes the Megane a lot easier to live with than the CR-Z, and although it can’t match the latter’s performance, its conventional diesel engine is more efficient than the Honda’s hybrid. It qualifies for free road tax thanks to 90g/km emissions (32g/km lower than the Honda’s) and returned 38.4mpg economy in our hands.
Add Renault’s comprehensive 4+ aftercare package, which includes servicing, a warranty plus four years’ breakdown recovery, and the Megane looks like the better bet financially.
So the Renault is the sensible choice thanks to its frugal engine and roomy cabin – but can it beat the more focused Honda to remain one of our favourite cost-effective coupes?