Renault Megane looks like a dream and drives like one
Lithe, powerful beauty a fitting testament to French company’s rich automobile credentials
On my busman’s holidays I like to steal the keys to my other half’s Mini Cooper and enjoy the bump, the grind, the irresistible go-kartyness of a bundle of fun that is so cute you could pinch its little wheel arches.
As we all know, the Mini first became cool when driven by Mr Bean. But it reached its apogee of coolness when piloted by Jason Statham and chums in the remake of movie The Italian Job. By then it had become, in most of its iterations, a hatchback, courtesy of parent company BMW’s inspired reinvention of the car in 2000.
And because I like to think of myself as more Statham than Bean – at least when at the wheel – it is not difficult to cast my (sorry, her) mighty Mini Cooper as a fantasy chariot for tough-guy Hollywood heroes.
But now, alas, my head has been turned and I must confess to my infidelity with a new paramour, a car that puts the “hot” into “hot hatch” and has me all a-quiver with a touch of my right foot. Let me introduce you to the Renault Megane GT, which I like to refer to privately as Meg. After Meg Ryan, naturally.
Renault’s long history in motor racing has inevitably (and deliberately) influenced matters out on the workaday Tarmac; and although the five-door Megane that embraced me in its Alcantara bucket seats was unavoidably more conservative in aspect than the sadly discontinued three-door version, here was clearly a fun-loving filly that couldn’t wait to take on the nearest Volkswagen Golf GTI. And that was before the engine was even revved.
Squaring up to such high-class opposition means putting your money where your horsepower is and the Megane has plenty of that. Its 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine generates 205bhp (only five ponies short of the GTI’s two-litre power plant) at 6,000rpm and posts a top speed of 233km/h, having warmed up with a 7.1-second sprint from zero to 100km/h.
It will move you 100km for every six litres of petrol, most entertainingly when the Sport driving mode is engaged and the paddle shifters behind the adjustable, chunky steering wheel are brought into play. Fortunately, unlike many of their brethren, these are large enough not to seem to disappear behind the wheel when a pesky corner looms and demands that it be turned. That would simply ruin the experience of charging up and down the seven-speed, twin-clutch gearbox, not least when the synthesised engine grumble plays its merry tune as the rev counter gallops towards the red zone.
Performance is allied to style in the Megane, with its aggressive-looking snout giving on to curvaceous front wings and then to five-spoke, 18-inch Magny Cours alloy wheels. Wheels which, cleverly, and at the behest of Renault’s 4Control system, help to keep the car on the road by turning in opposite directions at front and back during cornering, thereby reducing understeer. This takes place, say the Renault Sport engineers, at up to 80km/h, to help manoeuvrability. At higher speeds, the wheels turn in the same direction to aid stability.
It is not a 21st-century car if it doesn’t offer all sorts of “driving assistance systems”, and the front-wheel-drive Megane has plenty of those too. One such gizmo eliminates blind spots by detecting any vehicle you can’t see in your mirrors; the Easy Parking Assist, meanwhile, does what it says on the tin and measures potential parking spaces before you try to turn in to any spot from which you might have to leave without 100 per cent of your paintwork.
Upfront indoors, the seven-inch touch screen is a blessed relief from the rampant over-complication that often afflicts such console centrepieces, giving straightforward, unfussy access to driving mode selection, vehicle performance data and the usual entertainment, navigation and device connectivity functions. Never mind your mobile phone: swipe, zoom and pinch have found their true home.
The thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal display (TFT) virtual instrument panel is a joy for boys who have never grown up. Easily personalised via the touch screen, with various layouts and colours to choose from, it cements in place that adolescent racing-car thrill initially encouraged by the Megane’s twin exhausts, mean-machine grille and low profile – thanks particularly to the panel’s subtle, stylised chequered flag.
The middle of the generally plush, soft-to-the-touch cabin isn’t flush with legroom for those occupying the cushy split rear seats; and the tallest passengers back there might find themselves altitudinally challenged for headroom where the Megane drops its come-hither shoulders. But unless they’re XL-size guests they won’t feel too much of a squeeze. Nor will their luggage, in the surprisingly deep 434-litre boot.
Even when Sport isn’t selected as its default mode, a crisp ride and jaunty handling come as standard with the HK$336,800, racy-yet-practical GT, which will top the Megane range until the even more exhilarating RS arrives next year with a startling, head-turning whoosh. Until then, this lithe looker, longer and wider than previous incarnations, will grace anybody’s driveway. Especially mine.