Renault Megane Coupé 1.5 dCi Expression

Hatch-based three-door goes back to diesel basics for maximum economy

Next to the rear-wheel-drive BMW and hybrid Honda, the Renault is the most sensible choice. On paper, its 85bhp diesel and hatchback roots don’t sound very exciting, but it has a lot going for it.

The positives start on the outside, because the Mégane is arguably the best looker of the bunch, thanks to its low roofline, swept-back headlights and angular rear windows. Even with our car’s relatively small alloys and plain silver paint, the Coupé is the prettiest model here. Upgrade those wheels (£307), and you’ll easily match the sporting visual appeal of its competitors.

Inside, it’s rather bland in comparison, although the centre console is well laid out. If only the excellent built-in TomTom sat-nav system had more intuitive controls and didn’t look like such an afterthought! The stereo is also needlessly overcomplicated.

The rest of the switchgear and the dashboard feel solidly built, and the cabin features decent quality soft-touch plastics throughout. But the grey cloth seats add to the sense that this car isn’t exciting as its rivals, and while there’s a digital speedo, it jars with the rest of the design and feels like a gimmick.  

At the back, huge C-pillars mean reversing is a real problem, and the small side windows make the rear feel smaller than it is. Yet while headroom in the back is limited, there’s a decent amount of space behind the front seats – the Renault is the only car to be able to seat three in reasonable comfort. The hatchback tailgate helps the Mégane score on practicality, but with the seats in place, the 344-litre boot isn’t the largest here – the BMW offers 370 litres. Drop the seats in both cars, however, and the Mégane’s useful 1,024-litre capacity holds the advantage.

While the Renault is down on power in this company, it performed well at the test track. Off the line it can’t match either of its rivals for acceleration, but strong mid-range pace made it quicker than the CR-Z through the gears. In real world conditions, the Mégane rarely feels underpowered, only losing ground at higher cruising speeds.

Surprisingly, the conventional diesel Renault also fared better than the futuristic hybrid Honda at the pumps. In our hands, the French model returned 53.8mpg – trumping the CR-Z by nearly 15mpg. It was also 12mpg-plus up on the diesel-powered BMW. Emissions are the best on test, too, but Renault could do much more to improve these figures. The Mégane is the only car not fitted with a gearshift indicator, stop-start or even an economy-boosting sixth gear.

Ignore the fuel returns, and the Coupé is an agile performer.

It rides 12mm lower than the five-door version, and has stiffer suspension. This ensures the car remains composed in corners without sacrificing comfort.

Unfortunately, light steering undermines the Renault’s sporty credentials. It’s fine in town, but can’t match the BMW’s feedback.

So, while the Mégane isn’t the quickest, most refined or engaging car on test, it is the greenest, the prettiest and the best value.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: Three-door Mégane blends fine looks with an ultra-frugal diesel engine and strong cornering agility – all at a great-value price.

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