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.