The Mégane Sedan is Renault’s attempt to build a betta Jetta. Has the company succeeded?
SINGAPORE — Not that it should matter, but drive a Renault Mégane Sedan home one day and there’s a good chance your friends and relatives won’t know what to think.
Some will see it as an upgrade from something Japanese or Korean, some will think you couldn’t afford a German car, and others might see it as a foolhardy deviation from the established wisdom of buying a Mazda or Toyota.
Nuts to all that, because at the heart of the matter is the fact that the Mégane is a lot of car for the money.
It’s also a looker, based on the lingering glances our test car drew over the weekend. Some four-door versions of hatchbacks look awkward in the back, but the Renault’s rump is probably its best feature, with its slim, sleek lamps.
The new Mégane itself comes in several flavours, made by combining two bodystyles with three engines. There are two five-door hatchback models (Mégane GT-Line and Mégane GT, a 1.5-litre turbodiesel and 1.6-litre turbo petrol respectively), and three Sedans — a 1.2-litre turbo petrol, and two 1.5-litre turbodiesel versions. The Privilege model here is the posher of the diesel pair.
It’s actually a well-equipped car to begin with, given that even the basic 1.5 T dCI comes with a fancy touchscreen infotainment system, and useful stuff such as auto wipers and lamps, a rear view parking camera and parking sensors, along with key-card cabin access and engine starting.
All the Meganes have six airbags, and if you didn’t know this already, Renault’s safety record is impeccable — it was the first car manufacturer to have its entire product range score the then-maximum five stars in tough EuroNCAP crash testing.
As for the Privilege pack, it costs $7,000 and adds plenty — a glass sunroof, a bit more chrome on the front bumper, a button-operated parking brake, auto folding wing mirrors, front parking sensors, blind spot monitors, and a bigger touchscreen system (8.7 inches, instead of 7).
It also includes “Multi-sense”, which is Renault’s name for its variable driving mode system — Sport for when you’re in a hurry, Eco to save fuel, and everything in between.
The system is customisable, and controls the power steering weight, the engine and transmission, the air-con system, and even the engine note. Everything except the suspension, basically.
Does it work? Actually, yes. Select Sport and the Mégane perks up considerably, taking a lunge at the horizon like a poodle going after a hurled stick. The steering becomes noticeably more weighty, and the engine even growls a bit more.
In the other modes the Mégane isn’t exactly lethargic, mind you. There’s a built-in peppiness to the engine, thanks to a 250Nm slug of torque that propels the Renault with considerable vigour.
The engine is essentially a carryover from the Renault Fluence, and powers everything from the Kangoo commercial vehicle to the Infiniti Q30 (Renault and Infiniti’s parent Nissan have a corporate alliance), but in those applications it’s somehow much noisier.
The Mégane is by no means silent inside, but it’s by far the quietest car with this engine. And while things are calm in the cabin, from outside the car the diesel still sounds like two armies of tiny robots having a massive fistfight, so the insulation must be made of top grade stuff. Unicorn hair or phoenix feathers, possibly.
Less impressive is the dual-clutch six-speed transmission, which is neither as quick as the gearboxes in German rivals (think the DSG units in the VW Jetta or Golf), nor as smooth as the transmissions in Japanese cars.
But it undoubtedly plays a role in the Renault’s tiny fuel consumption. The official number is 3.7L/100km, meaning you ought to be able to hit 1,270km on a single tank of diesel before spluttering to a halt.
We didn’t get anywhere near that (blame the appeal of Sport mode) but even with careless driving we averaged 5.4L/100km, enough to comfortably cross 800km between fill-ups.
Note the wretched eco driving score of 66/100. Our fault, not the car’s…
Yet, for all the engine’s vitality, the handling doesn’t really encourage spirited driving. The steering isn’t full of feedback, and there’s a nose-heavy feel to the proceedings once you try to get through the corners like the devil’s on your tail.
Still, few people buy cars like the Mégane Sedan for that sort of thing, and if you saunter along at everyday speeds the experience is perfectly pleasant. The steering is light, the brisk acceleration makes it a fairly relaxing car to drive, and while it’s damn hard to see out of the back, the standard reverse camera ensures you don’t have to park by ear.
Perhaps more to the point, it’s a spacious, comfortable car. The front seats are supportive, and the back has enough room for adults with one caveat: access to the seats there is slightly hampered by the door opening, which obliges you to dip your head as you climb in.
In spite of the ample rear seating there’s an enormous boot, too, with the Mégane Sedan offering 550L before you fold the rear seatbacks.
Complaints about the Mégane tend to be fairly minor. Some of the controls are confusing, and though the touchscreen keeps the dashboard free of clutter from buttons, using it can feel needlessly complicated. You have to swipe up and jab at the screen to control the fan speed, for instance. Why not just turn a physical knob?
The cruise control switch is between the front seats but the controls are on the steering wheel. To change drive modes you have to press the Multi-sense button and then select from the screen, or you could skip straight to Eco mode with another button… that’s nowhere near the Multi-sense button.
The dash is neat to look at but messy to use, overall.
The cabin’s plastics are also a mixed story. Up front they feel posh and high-quality, and then it’s as if they ran out of money to do the rear of the cabin. The materials back there feel like the came from a different car altogether.
That’s hardly a deal-breaker, though, especially at this price point. As far as family sedans in the Category A COE class go, the Mégane has more than a few things going for it: space, generous equipment levels, and fuel efficiency that’s tough to beat.
There’s a five-year, 150,000km warranty, too, so for the first half decade of its life the Renault isn’t going to take money from you because of ill health.
If you’re a family car buyer, those are the things that matter. Not what other people think of your car.
NEED TO KNOW Renault Mégane Sedan Privilege 1.5T dCI
Engine 1,461cc, inline 4, turbodiesel
Power 110hp at 4,000rpm
Torque 250Nm at 1,750rpm
Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 190km/h
Fuel efficiency 3.7L/100km
Price $116,999 with COE