Renault Megane

Its looks divide opinion, but the French hatch has always been a strong buy. We pick our favourite

Megane I There’s no doubting that Renault’s pretty hatch is an appealing budget family car. Prices for the original model now start at less than £1,000, and for that you get plenty of equipment and room, plus a good choice of engines.

Avoid the weak 75bhp 1.4 petrol, and go for the 1.6 or 2.0-litre instead. The 1.9-litre diesels are great and return nearly 60mpg – and the £150 premium for an early car is worth it. If you are spending more than £2,000, the 1998-on 1.9 dTi adds more power and offers longer service intervals, up from 6,000 to 10,000 miles.

Coupé and cabrio models come with petrol engines, and there’s a rare four-door. But the five-door is most practical – its split-folding rear seats boost load space from 348 to 1,200 litres.

Safety is a Mégane strong point, and ABS is standard on post-1998 models. The long kit tally includes an immobiliser, fingertip stereo controls and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. RXE spec with air-con is worth £200 over a mid-range RT.

If servicing isn’t kept up to date, reliability can suffer. Dealers charge up to £700 for the 70,000-mile cambelt change, while major checks (every 40,000 miles on petrols) are £500. Immobilisers are unreliable, too – many have been bypassed.

Megane I facelift It’s easy to spot facelifted cars – the 1999 makeover saw fairly substantial changes to the Mégane’s front end.

Under the skin, the suspension was also stiffened, and three new petrol engines were added to liven up performance. The cabin is relatively untouched in comparison, although revised cars do get four airbags as standard.

Diesel buyers should look out for the first 1.9-litre dCi common-rail engines, which arrived in 2000. A good five-door 2001 example in special-edition Fidji trim will set you back £4,000 – that’s against around £3,600 for a comparable 1.6-litre petrol.

Post-2000 cars benefit from longer servicing intervals, as all engines switched to 18,000 miles. Just ensure the 72,000-mile belt change has either been carried out, or that the price reflects the fact it hasn’t. One Renault dealer quoted us £1,100 for this seven-hour job.

Faulty rear shock absorbers are a common problem on revised cars, but they’re easy to spot and cost only £61 plus fitting. Ignition coils are another weakness, and head gaskets can blow on the 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrols – so check for yellow goo inside the oil cap.

Megane II The second-generation Mégane is famous for its radical rear end. But it doesn’t only look more dramatic than its predecessor; it’s more refined, better to drive and comes loaded with equipment, too. The oil-burners now match the petrols for choice, and the dash is more elegantly designed and features better-quality plastics.

A three-door hatch and an estate joined the five-door and saloon models, as did a clever coupé-cabriolet variant, which featured a folding metal roof instead of the old soft-top.

Oil-burners are plentiful, and the line-up starts with the non-air-conditioned Authentique. But all models are well equipped, with remote central locking and six airbags as standard. The Mégane II was also awarded a five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests in 2002.

Reliability can be patchy, but low running costs boost the Renault’s second-hand appeal. Service intervals are relatively long, at 18,000 miles, although once again, the 72,000-mile cambelt change is really expensive – we were quoted £1,025. If you experience any starting problems, these could be the result of a failure of the top-dead centre (TDC) sensor in the first cylinder, which is a common fault.

Megane II facelift You’ll have to be clued-up to spot the revisions to the latest Mégane, but new headlamps and a tweaked grille differentiate it from the earlier model. The range includes the Renaultsport 2.0-litre turbo and a 165bhp GT, with a milder version of the same engine.

There’s also a new 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel and, from this year, a more powerful 173bhp dCi. Further down the range, the best-selling 1.5 dCi engines were boosted to 85bhp and 105bhp, and the 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrols come with variable valve timing for a better spread of power – although this switch was made before the revamped range was introduced.

Early low-spec 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrols start at around £6,500. Discounts are rife on new cars, though, so don’t overpay – Renault sells a new Freeway 1.4 for £9,000. The TDC sensor problem was resolved, but 1.6 and 2.0 VVT petrols can suffer from broken camshaft pulleys, which take four hours of labour to fix.

Nevertheless, all sub-60,000-mile examples will still be under warranty, which makes these cars a great used choice. Just remember, 1.9 and 2.0 diesels with the FAP particulate filter have shorter service intervals of 9,000 miles.

Megane specifications

Megane I Price range: £700-£2,700Manufactured from: 1996-1999Engines: 1.4, 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrols; 1.9-litre dieselInsurance groups: 4-13Beware! Blown head gaskets on the 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrols, immobiliser failing to activate, sunroof motor problem, rusting exhaust manifold, erratic electrics

Megane I faceliftPrice range: £1,300-£4,800Manufactured from: 1999-2003Engines: 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrols; 1.9-litre dieselInsurance groups: 4-14Beware! Failing ignition coils, blown head gasket, exhaust rattles and rust, illuminated dashboard warning lights

Megane IIPrice range: £3,000-£12,800Manufactured from: 2002-2006Engines: 1.4, 1.6, 2.0 and 2.0-litre turbo petrols; 1.5 and 1.9-litre dieselsInsurance groups: 3-17Beware! Interior rattles, doorlock failure, shock absorbers, problematic automatic lights and windscreen wipers

Megane II faceliftPrice range: £7,000-£15,000Manufactured from: 2006 to dateEngines: 1.4, 1.6, 2.0 and 2.0-litre turbo petrols; 1.5, 1.9 and 2.0-litre dieselsInsurance groups: 3-17Beware! Hesitant starts and acceleration when cold could point to broken camshaft pulley, numerous electronic glitches

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