- Part Two: A death in the family sees the Megane doing more than it was born for
- Part Three: Renaultsport mastery and rear steering help push GT wagon to the pointy end
- Part Four: The product shines but does the aftersales experience?
- Part Five: Who'd have thought four-wheel steering would work so well on gravel?
- Part Six: A memorable six-month affair with Renault's Megane GT wagon comes to an end
IF there ever was one car that combines a few of my favourite things in one package then the new Renault Megane GT wagon would come stupendously close.
For starters, it’s a Renault, and therefore a descendant of the seminal 16 – you know, the world’s first front-drive hatchback, launched in the mid ’60s. That thing actually changed the car, while the hotshot TS ushered in the GTI era. Overachiever much?
Secondly, we’re talking about a French wagon here, so whether you’ve experienced one as a ‘Familiale’, ‘Break’, ‘Estate’ or ‘Safari’, it’s sure to be effective. As thousands of African taxis can attest.
Lastly, being a GT, this Megane has mechanical four-wheel steering – just like the third-generation Honda Prelude, the world’s first production car with the tech, and Wheels’ 1987 COTY. That this particular variant’s chassis was devised under the canny eye of the Renault Sport (RS) division boffins is just icing on the cake.
Yes, the Megane GT TCe205 EDC 4Control Break, with its 151kW/280Nm 1.6-litre turbo and seven-speed EDC dual-clutch transmission, is like the mutant marriage of what I’d want in my fantasy family car. More or less.
But there’s also another reason why it’s here. Regular current-gen Meganes have so far left us underwhelmed. Though competent, they feel too … ordinary, with little character and not much flair. Something, by the way, that baby-brother Clio oozes. We’re hoping the GT’s RS-ification restores our faith in the series.
Packaging-wise, it’s on the money. Handsomely presented, the wagon offers extra rear-seat legroom compared to the hatch, courtesy of a 42mm wheelbase stretch, as well as a long, flat and wide cargo area. We’re talking about a family-friendly, driver-focused alternative to an SUV here.
Our GT heaves with standard kit like autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beam, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, sat-nav, a reversing camera, parking sensors all ’round, auto on/off lights and wipers, automatic parking, paddle shifters, Alcantara upholstery, heated sports front seats, sunroof, ambient cabin lighting, privacy glass, obligatory body kit and 18-inch alloys. And that’s on top of the 4WS and RS chassis tune.
Starting from $39,490, AOC-309 also includes a $1490 Premium Pack (all-LED headlights and a Bose audio upgrade that deletes the space-saver spare for a puncture inflation kit) and $600 metallic paint. Total outlay: $41,580 plus on-roads.
Almost immediately after getting our hands on it, the GT went on multiple country trips, criss-crossing Victoria like a pub band with big dreams, all interspersed with heavy urban commuting. Which makes our 7.7L/100km on 98 RON impressive.
There is a sort of Jekyll and Hyde character to how the Renault drives, however. For docile schlepping, Comfort or Neutral is all you need, with strong off-the-line acceleration and ample torque for the transmission to quietly settle into a higher gear. Easy.
Conversely, selecting Sport around town is infuriating because the EDC maxes out the revs in each ratio, forcing manual upshifts to quell the engine howling and rabid-terrier forward lunge. Yet, given a stretch of open road, in this mode the Megane provides rapid, punchy and effortless oomph, doing more than enough to earn its GT credentials.
As with the Prelude 4WS, the 4Control bites into a corner sharply at first, for instant and unexpected turn-in, but on the other hand, at speed, it feels utterly planted and unflappable, with a welcome amount of feedback and feel, so the tech works. And, initially at least, we’re pleased with the absorbent ride from the quality Continental ContiSportContact 225/40R18 rubber. It’s certainly better than that of most equivalently priced SUVs.
Which is what we want to ascertain over the next few months. With its added dollop of style, space, spec and speed, is the Megane GT wagon a smarter alternative?
Part Two: A death in the family sees the Megane doing more than it was born for
CARS, of course, are much more than transport.
Unexpectedly, during month two, our Renault Megane GT also became an instrument of change, reflection and even solace.
Up until then, the French wagon’s combination of performance, handling and sophistication had surprised and delighted. Still does. A happy and charming addition to family life. It still is.
Sadly, however, our beloved Labrador Retriever Romy died early one September morning, in my partner’s arms from age-related illness. She was 13. I was in Europe on a work assignment when I received the dreaded Skype call. Her tail wagged feebly in acknowledgement as distraught words sobbed out of my mouth from across the world. And then, in an instant, she slipped away. Our sense of loss is profound.
Qantas ensured I was home as soon as possible, and the following weeks were a blur of tears and heartache. I don’t know how we would have managed but for the love and support of family and friends. That’s life I guess.
We eventually decided to clear a lifetime’s worth of Romy’s gear, which led to a spring clean that was a decade in the making. Nothing like starting afresh.
As this is a long-term car report and not a therapist’s couch, I should report here the Megane GT shone as a wagon, carting loads of clothing, small furniture, kitchenware, books and other items like it was designed to.
A wide aperture, low flat floor with the rear seats folded (via a handy quick-release lever) and an uncomplicated luggage cover helped. We thought a van would be necessary for the many trips to the Pet Rescue op shop or tip, but only a pair of drawers wouldn’t fit.
The Renault also stepped up in another way, when being at home alone during the daytime (as a freelancer) proved too sad. Feeling snugly located in the heavily bolstered driver’s seat and with the volume turned up, I welcomed the Megane GT’s kick-ass sound system with its simple song selection set-up, finding random, lovely, wistful comfort in tunes from Luluc, Arcade Fire, Alex the Astronaut and LCD Soundsystem.
It was a soothing, cocooning world in which to grieve, and provided a fresh appreciation for my sporty Euro wagon. And more importantly a reminder of what really matters.
RIP, our little hairy daughter.
Part Three: Renaultsport mastery and rear steering help push GT wagon to the pointy end
THE DEVIL, they say, finds work for idle hands. So with much of the month off, I found time to truly explore the GT side of my Renault Megane wagon.
Colleague Nathan Ponchard had already used AOC-309 as an effective tool to scout for a fresh road loop for Car of the Year. After his first stint behind the lovely wheel of the Spanish-built wagon, our road-test veteran was impressed with its combination of character, agility and comfort. Quite the step up from the bread-and-butter versions, he declared.
Appetite suitably whetted, I too undertook an intrastate blast through south-eastern and central Victoria’s more alluring roads. And as the clicks accumulated, likewise something clicked in me. Namely how masterfully Renaultsport’s chassis magicians have transformed the chassis. Yes, the regular Megane’s core is fundamentally sound, but the GT-specific componentry and tune, combined with active four-wheel steering, infuse true hot-hatch interactivity.
Docile but never dull in Comfort or Neutral modes, pressing the ‘R.S. Drive’ button (that looks like an air purifier symbol) ahead of the electric park brake to select Sport ushers in a number of engine, transmission and steering tweaks that are the automotive equivalent of growing a set of satanic horns.
That additional low-rev turbo shove (plus racier instrument choices, as well as a synthesised baritone exhaust note that I actually enjoy) when booting the 151kW/280Nm 1.6-litre GT hard through corners reveals just how reactive its Sport-primed steering is, especially when turning in, and how controlled the rear end is carving back out again.
The handling feels super alive, ultra-planted and utterly non-corruptible, with that devilish RS DNA and darty four-wheel steering endlessly egging you on – just like a GTI ought to. Tight and tricky turns are easily tamed, aided by bolstered seats, big paddles and slick dual-clutch responses. I could live with this thing in perma-Sport mode.
I’ve enjoyed the comfort and versatility that this expressive estate offers but I never really appreciated how athletic the Megane GT is for a 4.6-metre, 1430kg wagon with a 580- to 1504-litre rear hangar. That badge is closer to an RS than I had expected.
Room for improvement? Inevitable tyre drone over coarse highway surfaces; the otherwise dependable adaptive cruise control disengages below 30km/h so it cannot crawl along in traffic jams like the best systems do; and why doesn’t the nearside mirror dip when reverse parking? That ought to be standard at $42K.
Otherwise, in a world now awash with SUVs, the Megane GT wagon stands unique, dealing diligently, and proudly, with everyday mundanity yet with enough chassis dynamism to tempt devilish drivers.
Though the Megane’s large touchscreen does require familiarisation, all the fundamentals are there, from the rear camera and effective climate-control systems to the beaut DAB+ digital radio and superb (optional) Bose audio sound. There are plenty of personalisation options too.
But switching between the different screens, while easy to work out, is fiddly in operation on the move, and the graphics are not especially attractive.
Part Four: The product shines but does the aftersales experience?
AFTER many weeks of flawless reliability, I was beginning to wonder whether anything would break or fail in my Renault Megane GT. Just like the Peugeot 308 Active I ran for nearly 17,000km a few years back, here was another French car stubbornly refusing to misbehave.
Then a large crack appeared like an earthquake fault line across the lower windscreen, just like that.
There’s no blaming flying stones from speeding semis coming the other way. Nor any errant deep potholes – certainly the unmarked tyres and 18-inch alloys would attest otherwise.
A phone call to Renault had the car quickly booked in for a replacement. I was informed that sudden windscreen cracking is a known problem with the fourth-gen Megane, and that as a result parts are in short supply.
Maybe it’s a body flex issue? I hear occasional creaking from around the sunroof. Anyway, the dealer organised a replacement GT wagon (a lovely grey example) for the week or so it would take to rectify. I’d be contacted when it was complete.
However, some days later a call from the friendly and helpful service desk revealed that the wrong type of windscreen was delivered from France and that another one was already on its way post-haste.
Amusingly, the ordered item turned out to be for a Renault Scenic people mover not even sold in Australia. Such unexpected frankness from the remorseful dealer came as a surprise, but was truly appreciated, because any BS could have been spun.
Anyway, two weeks later I was back in my striking blue GT with a clean and crack-free screen, and that would have been that.
I would’ve forgotten all about the ordeal but for one related consequence: not only had the dealership failed to refill the washer reservoir (it was completely empty), the spray jets had been misaligned, shooting up towards the sky like a gun-slinging B-movie cowboy.
I discovered both at 6am rushing towards the airport after a night of drenching rain. Not just the windscreen was smeared.
The bottom line is, no matter how good the product is – and the Megane GT wagon has truly exceeded my expectations so far, both as an involving semi-sporty hot-hatch-style runabout and a comfortable, spacious and practical carry-all – if the after-sales service is not up to par then the whole brand experience is soured.
Like its cars, Renault has to ensure its dealers step up too.
Part Five: Who'd have thought four-wheel steering would work so well on gravel?
SINCE the middle of last century, French manufacturers have enjoyed a reputation for producing cars of exceptional softness when it comes to dealing with lumpy road conditions. Anybody who has ever driven a Citroen DS would understand. Its hydropneumatic suspension technology – which uses interconnected oil-filled spheres rather than primitive springs – set a template that saw Gallic marques blessed with the reputation of offering the cushiest of rides.
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And burdened, too, as many more recent models from the country of fromage and escargot have delivered anything but comfort. While history might smile at the thought of wonderfully supple grand tourers like the Renault 16 and Peugeot 504, a Peugeot 407 on big wheels will punish any posterior it encounters. Aie!
Our long-termer Megane GT wagon, however, is certainly a traditionalist of sorts. In the five months under our stewardship, it has ably straddled that fine line between chassis agility and welcome absorbency, delivering a rare combination of cosseting thrills. No doubt the tasty Continental ContiSportContact 225/40R18 tyres help. And all without fancy adaptive dampers. Just Renaultsport engineering excellence.
Such thoughts were front of mind when faced with several lengthy journeys over gravel over a series of weekends. I was afraid that the loose dry surfaces and ever-present potholes would make for unpleasantly jarring progress. However, after a few kilometres of cautiously slow manoeuvring, it became clear that the multi-link ended Megane GT could not only handle the ridges, ruts and cuts strewn all along the forward path, but also soak these and more up, without making me wince and grimace at the sound of crashing components underneath.
But what really surprised and delighted me was just how much fun the Renault is driven with vigour, revelling tight corners. The French boffins have tuned the suspension and calibrated the electronic stability and traction tech to allow for plenty of sideways fun, while only interfering – gently – when the sliding starts to turn into oversteer. At around 100km/h, the wagon would track with surety, heading wherever it was pointed with Olympic skater-like insouciance and control.
No doubt the four-wheel steering aided such athletic antics. Anyway, the moral here is firstly, French cars can still ride brilliantly, and secondly, the dynamic Megane GT wagon with 4WS is a marvel on the gravel. Brilliant stuff!
Part Six: A memorable six-month affair with Renault's Megane GT wagon comes to an end
Wagon practicality meets Renaultsport verve, in an attractive and spacious yet compact package. That it was French and featured four-wheel steering had me hoping for some sort of R16/Honda Prelude mash-up. What I ended up with instead was something rather more substantial.
AOC-309 certainly stood out from the sea of medium-SUV alternatives, with its elegant, low-slung styling, big alloys filling up the wheel arches and smart LED lighting.
Which makes the Megane’s slabby dash seem profoundly mundane in view of such visual boldness elsewhere. Lacking flair, it is the antithesis of the stunning fascia Peugeot is currently serving up. It’s as if Nissan rather than Renault took charge in there.
However, that may explain why nothing squeaked, rattled or broke off, so at least the Spanish factory is putting them together properly. And the trim and materials deployed are generally high quality. There’s decent space for four adults – five if going cosy is okay – and all their luggage. The air-con copes well with heat and humidity, the Bluetooth multimedia streaming barely skips a beat and the actual job of conveying info to the driver is impressively imparted via detailed instrumentation.
Furthermore, the Renaultsport bits really do lift the GT’s ambience. Though not everybody will enjoy clambering over the high side bolsters, the sports seats are pitch-perfect for their supporting role; the chunky three-spoke wheel is terrifically tactile; while initially fiddly to navigate, the ugly touchscreen’s wide range of personalisation provides plentiful colour and distraction – I particularly liked the varying dial designs; and the keyless unlocking and walk-away locking is an incredible boon. Much to like and little to loathe.
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On the other hand, annoyances included a cruise control on/off switch that’s too-easily knocked by elbows due to its silly lower-console positioning. And once in operation downward inclines allow the speed to run away. Oh, and the sunroof blind lets too much sunlight in.
Wagons have been Renault’s Domaine (pardon the pun) for over 60 years, and the Megane’s packaging really reflects such experience. The tailgate opens high, the aperture is wide, the floor flat and long, and there are handy details like remote-release rear-seat backrests. For these benefits alone families ought to be cross-shopping SUVs with wagons. And that’s before pushing the GT’s start button.
A tad unremarkable on paper, the Clio RS-based 151kW/280Nm 1.6-litre four-pot turbo and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission combo transcends the 1430kg wagon’s mass, and the forced-induction lag and hesitation associated with such gearboxes. Instead, it responds eagerly to throttle inputs and then with rousing exuberance as the revs rise. This is a deliciously free-breathing belter of a powertrain regardless of driving mode, made all the more special by consistently low fuel consumption (averaging 7.7L/100km all-up).
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It certainly lived up to the GT badge. Much of our driving was either inner-urban jungle or rural backroad blasting, where the 4WS chassis displayed its broad bandwidth of abilities best: unexpectedly sharp steering at lower speeds imparted a unique acrobatic lightness to this 4626mm wagon, before transitioning seamlessly to a vice-like grip at higher speeds, backed up by brilliant braking performance.
Plus, though firm, an underlying suppleness defined the RS spring and damper set-up. Bumps are duly dispensed with, making for pleasingly relaxed travel, despite the car riding on (Continental ContiSportContact) 225/40R18 rubber. Our Megane’s dynamics are a real highlight, while the only slight NVH demerit is occasional coarse-surface tyre drone.
So, if you seek strong performance, revel in tenacious handling, appreciate a comfy ride and want to stand out from the pack, don’t buy an up-spec medium SUV until you test drive the GT. And I mean really flog it, hard. Such an excellent all-rounder for around $40,000. I’m already really missing it.