Renault Megane GT dCi

Does hot new diesel shake up the oil-burning performance hatch sector?

It's the oldest trick in the book when it comes to boosting sales: jazzing up an existing model range by adding a new version that’s been sprinkled with a bit of magic dust.

However, the latest addition to Renault’s Mégane line-up shows real promise. When the basic product is as good as the Megane – and the team behind the tweaks is the Renaultsport division – you know you are in for something special.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Renault Megane

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The storming R26.R was one of our favourite cars of 2009, and the Mégane 250 Cup was the most thrilling hot hatch at our annual Performance Car of the Year shoot-out earlier this year (Issue 1,134). So the firm’s in-house specialists clearly know how to add sporty spice to an established model.

The new GT flagship stands apart from the rest of the line-up thanks to a range of styling additions. They include a revised bumper with a gloss black insert and black inner headlamps at the front, and a diffuser-style rear. 

Eye-catching 18-inch anthracite alloys add to the GT’s distinctive appearance, and the whole lot is given an extra sense of purpose by the sportier suspension set-up, which lowers the ride height by 12mm compared to regular models. Our test car was also finished in Malta Blue paintwork, which is a new colour unique to the GT. 

Renaultsport fans will find evidence of the tuning division’s work on the inside, with the supportive sports seats providing a good driving position. They’re shared with the Mégane 250 hot hatch and come embroidered with the GT logo.

Elsewhere, the door pulls, air vent surrounds and dashboard all feature polished carbon trim. Other revisions are restricted to the instruments, where an analogue speedo replaces the digital item fitted to lesser models. It’s a welcome change, although the graphic design of the dials, and the rev counter in particular, is in direct contrast to the simple and elegant Golf dash.

Kit is generous, with cruise control, Bluetooth plus keyless entry and start all included as standard. However, the interior is no match for the Golf’s when it comes to space or quality. As the rear seats have noticeably less legroom, carrying three adults in the back will be a squeeze, while material quality trails the VW’s and some of the controls are both oddly placed and too complicated.

The Renault does provide plenty of luggage space with the rear seats in place, as its 372-litre bay eclipses the Golf’s by 22 litres. 

But it doesn’t take advantage of its more intricate chair-folding mechanism, so trails for ultimate load space – and neither model boasts a properly flat load area when the back seats are down.

The GT isn’t designed to offer more space – instead, thrills top the agenda. And on this count, the Renault delivers. Its 158bhp 2.0-litre diesel produces 380Nm of torque and it arrives more smoothly than the dollop of thrust that marks out the Golf. However, it runs out of puff sooner than the VW and doesn’t pull as strongly through the rest of the range. What does this mean for performance? On track, the Mégane GT went from 0-60mph in 8.2 seconds – more than half-a-second behind the Golf. It did eclipse its German competitor during our in-gear tests in fourth, fifth and sixth, though. Ultimately, there’s little between them, even if the Golf does have a punchier delivery.

Still, the Mégane sounds suitably gruff and Renaultsport’s tinkering is apparent on the road, where the firm suspension delivers impressive composure and greater agility. There’s a lot of grip, too, so the GT tackles corners with relish.

Some drivers will find it more engaging than the supremely accomplished Golf in these circumstances, as its precise steering and quick gearshift combine with strong brakes. 

But the ride comfort over broken surfaces serves as a constant reminder that you’ve chosen the sporty option. And at cruising speeds, where the VW excels, shorter gearing means the Renault isn’t quite as calm. 

The biggest downside arrives when it’s time to fill up, though, as the Mégane is thirstier and more polluting than its rival. This has tax implications, which means the VW is still in the frame.

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: Renault’s Clio and Twingo GT have been a success; now, the Mégane gets the sporty trim level. Is it destined to follow suit...?

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