Renault Megane

It's one of the most dramatic looking cars in its class, but increasing competition from Ford, Honda and Volkswagen has finally forced Renault to book its shapely Megane in for a facelift.

Mixing good looks with a no-nonsense driving experience, the latest Megane has a great deal to offer, even in today's tough family car market. The quiet but punchy new engine won't burn a hole in your pocket, and the styling changes will please the brand's fans. However, alongside Honda's latest Civic, the Megane no longer looks as remarkable as it once did.

It's one of the most dramatic looking cars in its class, but increasing competition from Ford, Honda and Volkswagen has finally forced Renault to book its shapely Megane in for a facelift. Changes include colour-coded plastics (now an optional extra, at £450), meaning the trademark rear end appears bigger than ever!

The French hatchback also features translucent tail-lights, while at the front, softer-edged headlights and a rounded bumper provide the Megane with sleeker styling than before. Buyers can choose from six fresh alloy wheel designs and five paint colours, including our test model's Extreme Blue.

Inside, there are new, easy-to-read dials and softer trim for the dash and centre console. A carbon filter has been fitted to the air-conditioning to stop unwanted smells getting in, and the automatic wiper and headlamp sensors respond more quickly and intelligently to the road conditions.

The facelifted car retains the reasonably generous boot that was a feature of previous Meganes, but both the Ford Focus and Honda Civic can carry more luggage. Still, climbing into the three-door's back seats is relatively easy, while rear passengers have adequate legroom - although reaching for the seatbelt will be an uncomfortable and fiddly affair for occupants in the front chairs. We weren't impressed by the lack of headroom, either, but overall the changes make for an impressive package.

Under the bonnet, Renault has fitted a new 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine that offers performance to rival many hot hatches. And on the road, it's this, rather than the design changes, that has really given the Megane a new lease of life.

The gearchange is slick and effortless, and the 150bhp dCi powerplant is very refined. It develops a maximum 340Nm of torque at 2,000rpm - which is 13 per cent more than the 1.9 dCi. However, it can still achieve 52.3mpg on the combined cycle, giving the new M�gane one of the best economy to power ratios in its class.

What makes this even more impressive is that the performance is evenly distributed throughout the rev range, ensuring consistently sharp throttle responses. This unit is a perfect example of modern diesel technology - and it's a far cry from the uncontrolled turbo boost noticeable in earlier oil-burners. Yet while the newcomer has plenty of power on tap, we couldn't help feeling the Sport badge on our test model was misleading. Although this variant looks racier than the five-door, its suspension set-up is exactly the same, which is focused around comfort.

And while the over-assisted, slightly insensitive steering might be ideal for eating up miles on motorway journeys, it lacks the precision necessary for zipping along country lanes.

For a sporting drive, buyers would do better to opt for the Renaultsport F1 Team edition of the facelifted Megane. This not only offers track-tuned suspension, but also delivers revised steering.

However, if you're in the market for a quick and stylish family hatchback with an engine that combines punch and economy, this new diesel-powered Renault is certainly worth a look.

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