Instead, it’s a case of quite near (if we’re talking about the rorty GT) but still some distance behind where the small-car benchmark sits in 2017. Or even 2013, because the Mk7 Volkswagen Golf remains the hatch to beat. And the new Megane simply isn’t up to the task.
Measured against the five pillars of COTY criteria, the Megane performs well in four of them – Technology, Efficiency, Safety and Value. It brings to the table a pair of punchy direct-injection turbo engines, each tied to responsive new seven-speed dual-clutch gearboxes (or a six-speed manual on the base donk) and even four-wheel steering on the $38K GT. And there’s a generous smattering of tech in every variant, from standard rear daytime running lights on all models (see sidebar) to tablet dashboard touchscreens on up-spec variants and other bits of tinsel to add some showroom sparkle.
Given the performance of the GT’s 1.6-litre turbo (7.1sec to 100km/h), its 6.0L/100km combined fuel number is particularly impressive, and given the wealth of standard equipment in low-end variants, plus a five-year warranty and fixed-price servicing, the Megane range appears to offer genuine value for money.
But the first stumbling block is no collision warning or autonomous braking tech on any variant, even as on option, though Renault’s excellent safety credentials suggest the Megane is otherwise ‘safe as houses’. And then there’s the crucial aspect of ‘function’, and here Renault drops the ball.
The GT is exempt from much of the criticism, seeing its Renaultsport-tuned chassis and four-wheel steering add genuine involvement and precision. It proved grippy and quick on all surfaces, and effortlessly controlled through the emergency lane change, though its ride is overly firm and refinement isn’t great. “A lovable rogue”, as Byron described it, with enough flair to overcome its lack of ultimate polish.
The $27K Zen, on the other hand, was much less convincing. In a class overflowing with talent like the Volkswagen Golf, 308, Astra and Impreza, the boggo Megane is your stereotypical also-ran. It lacks the dynamic cohesion and controlled suppleness of its smaller Clio stablemate, let alone its best rivals, and comes across as an uninspired French hack designed to succeed on paper, rather than dazzle on the road.
It seems like Renault spent the majority of its time developing the GT (and hopefully the forthcoming Renaultsport version), and then rushed to the finish line with the 1.2-litre variants. The Megane Zen isn’t a bad car by any means – cue its interesting design details, zesty drivetrain, and generous front seats – but it lacks the polish of a Volkswagen Golf, and the panache we’d expect from a brand like Renault.
Type: 5-door hatchback, 5 seats
Boot capacity: 434 litres
Weight: 1265 – 1392kg
Layout: front engine (east-west), FWD
1198cc 4cyl turbo (97kW/205Nm);
1618cc 4cyl turbo (151kW/280Nm)
Tyres: 205/55R16 – 225/40R18
ADR81 fuel consumption: 5.5 – 6.0L/100km
CO2 emissions: 125 – 134g/km
Collision mitigation: No
Crash rating: 5-star (Euro NCAP)
Prices: $22,490 – $38,490