Renault Megane 1.6 Expression

Does French model deliver on the promise of its style?

Renault has a cracking range of economical and punchy diesels. But what if your budget or annual mileage demands a small petrol-engined car instead? The answer is the company’s 1.6-litre unit, which is available in the Mégane with outputs of 99bhp or 108bhp.

We tested the more powerful variant, and in entry-level Expression trim the five-door is yours for £14,850 – making it the second most expensive car in our quartet. The distinctive hatchback looks thoroughly modern, but the pretty alloy wheels fitted to our model are a £300 optional extra. It comes with less attractive steel rims as standard.

From the outside, the Mégane is more stylish than the revised Skoda and nowhere near as controversial as the space-age Honda, although its oversized tail-light clusters are a bit heavy-handed.

Inside, the interior is a mixed bag. Material quality is patchy, the ventilation controls feel cheap and rear legroom is merely average. The gimmicky digital speedometer is also an acquired taste, although the centre console looks sharp.

All good family cars need a big boot, and the Renault’s 372-litre luggage bay is fine in isolation. But compared to the versatile Honda and spacious Skoda – which offer 485 and 560 litres respectively – it falls short. Fold the seats, and the Mégane also has the smallest maximum capacity.

It does come with plenty of kit, though. Keyless entry is included as standard and Expression trim also features ESP stability control, electric windows all-round and heated door mirrors. A button hidden behind the steering wheel starts the 1.6-litre engine, and the 108bhp unit provides decent pace. At the test track, the Mégane sprinted from 0-60mph in 10.3 seconds – a figure only the more powerful Skoda could beat.

However, the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story because you have to really work the engine hard to extract its performance. And it’s noisy compared to the Octavia’s refined 1.4-litre turbo – even though it’s mated to a six-speed box. This deters you from keeping up with the fastest-moving traffic on motorways. Fuel economy is reasonable, but emissions of 163g/km are below par. Only the Golf puts out more CO2, although the Renault is in the same road tax band as the Skoda.

Where the Mégane scores is with its ride and handling. Sharp responses and light controls make it easy and fun to drive. As with the Honda and VW, it gets a plastic-rimmed steering wheel. This provides little in the way of feedback, but the chassis responds crisply to the accurate set-up. Body control is good, and the supple suspension delivers a smooth ride. Yet in our braking tests, the Mégane squirmed around as it tried to shave off the speed.

So the attractive styling and agile handling are compromised by the raucous engine and patchy quality. The Renault has a tough job on its hands to compete here.

Details

Chart position: 4WHY: We’ve been impressed by the all-new Mégane so far. But how does the basic 1.6 Expression rate?

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