Renault Megane Sport

We Brits are big fans of practicality. As a result, we buy more MPVs than any other country in Europe and, when it comes to mainstream models, the hatchback is most definitely king.

It's difficult to know exactly who will buy the Sport Saloon. It's a good car, with excellent refinement and comfort. But it has a less practical boot than the model it replaces and offers little advantage over the more flexible M�gane hatchback.

We Brits are big fans of practicality. As a result, we buy more MPVs than any other country in Europe and, when it comes to mainstream models, the hatchback is most definitely king.

So the market for four-door saloons, although healthy on the Continent, is much weaker here. Ford's Focus four-door, for example, accounts for less than 10 per cent of the model's sales.

It was a very similar story for the ungainly-looking last-generation Renault M�gane Classic, and the French firm is keen to avoid making the same mistake again. Now called the Sport Saloon, the newcomer shares only its front wings and grille with the hatch.

In fact, it has the same floorpan as the Sport Tourer estate and forth-coming Grand Scenic, making it over a foot longer than the hatch. More conservative than its razor-edged siblings, the car is easy to distinguish from other Meganes.

We tested a 1.9 dCi in the range-topping Privil�ge spec. At £16,100, it isn't cheap, but if you can live without part-leather trim, a large glass sunroof, xenon headlamps and a sat-nav system, then the range kicks off at a far more reasonable £12,100.

For that, you get a car that's much roomier inside than the class average. The lengthened wheelbase results in acres of passenger space, with the rear legroom particularly impressive. Headroom is generous, too.

Sadly, the huge interior comes at the expense of practicality elsewhere. Whereas the Classic had the largest boot of any four-door car in its sector, the Sport Saloon's luggage area is compromised by the stylised rear end. The boot is too shallow, and the opening is narrow. Given that the previousgeneration M�gane's only advantage over the hatch was its vastly superior load space, we think customers might be disappointed by the new model.

And that's a shame, as the saloon is better to drive than the hatchback. It has a stiffer feel, while the responsive steering is well weighted for a family car. The extended wheelbase brings improved ride comfort, and in 1.9 dCi form, with a six-speed box, the M�gane is brisk in town and refined at speed.

There's an excellent driving position, and the controls are well laid out and easy to use. A large glass area allows fine forward visibility, but the view to the back is hampered by the large C-pillars and a high boot line. A wash-wipe would be welcome at the rear, too, as the glass quickly gathers dirt.

The newcomer is a classy addition to the small family saloon class - a dwindling market in the UK. And competent though it is, it's unlikely that the Megane will bring it back to life.

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