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!