Dare to differ
Gorgeous design and perky performance separate this hatch from the crowd
TODAY we’re testing a car you may have never even heard of.
It’s the Renault Megane GT, the most expensive variant in the 2017 Megane range.
The fourth-generation Megane hasn’t exactly prospered since its launch in October last year. In January, we bought 69 Meganes. We bought 3473 Mazda 3s.
Perhaps it’s got something to do with Renault’s choice of name for the base model. Would you really want to drive a “Zen?” If your kids are Twinklepop and Tinkerbell, possibly.
Priced at $38,490, the GT is powered by a 151kW 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, matched with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic also used in the smaller Clio RS200.
For now, GT is the performance variant in the range, until the hardcore Megane RS arrives in 2018 to take on Ford’s Focus RS, Audi’s RS3 and the rest of the 200kWplus bitumen-burner brigade.
This Megane is a larger car than its predecessors and much more stylish too, with a raked profile and curvaceous sheetmetal.
GT’s interior is similarly chic, with high-quality, soft-touch materials and interesting tech, in contrast to previous Meganes which have had low-rent cabins. It’s also more space-efficient that most French hatchbacks, with decent rear-seat legroom and a big, deep boot.
The test car’s Iron Blue metallic colour carried over into the cabin, with blue strip lighting in the doors, dash appliques, stitching and seat trim, for a bigdollar designer label effect. The steering wheel and gear lever are wrapped in silken Nappa leather, and Alcantara upholstery is standard.
So Megane GT is a car that looks and feels more expensive than it is.
You sit low and snug, in a twin cockpit-style front section. A heavily-bolstered, generously-padded faux race seat is good for a long day’s drive in complete comfort, despite the absence of lumbar adjustment.
An all-digital dash features four selectable TFT instrument displays on a seven-inch screen.
A Premium Pack option, priced at $990 and fitted to the test car, includes an 8.7-inch portrait infotainment touchscreen (replacing the standard seven-inch landscape screen), Bose audio and LED headlights.
I found the portrait screen, with its vertically-stacked controls, more intuitive to use than the usual landscape layout in most cars. It has pinch and zoom, bright, clean graphics, logical menus with large icons and seamless Bluetooth.
However voice control is hit and miss. It worked OK for phone and audio, but the navigation wouldn’t accept addresses for Australia. It kept insisting I was in Austria.
Lazy at low revs, the 1.6 wakes up from 2000rpm, where its turbo torque moves the Megane around town easily enough in Comfort and Neutral drivetrain settings, returning a frugal 78.5L/100km on premium.
The seven-speed isn’t as happy in traffic as a conventional automatic, especially at crawl speeds where it sometime engages and releases the lower gears with a jerk and a lurch.
Ride comfort is reasonable on most surfaces, but firm suspension and low profile (40 aspect ratio) tyres can thump on road joins and occasionally give the body a jolt.
You get automatic parking — handy if you have three weeks to back into a space — but the absence of automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert is a major demerit.
ON THE ROAD
GT features rear-wheel steering, where in corners the back wheels are turned a few degrees in the opposite direction to the fronts at speeds up to 60km/h, while above 60km/h they point a few degrees in the same direction.
It’s used occasionally by performance car makers, such as Porsche, which fits it on some 911 models, to improve lowspeed agility and high-speed stability. The GT darts enthusiastically and accurately into corners, and tracks true at speed, though steering feel and precision are compromised by moderate torque steer, or tugging at the wheel, under power.
Brakes are powerful and progressive. It’s a toey, tactile, secure handler, as Renault hot hatches always are, but on choppy bitumen the ride can become rugged, with excessive tyre and suspension noise.
In Sport the 1.6 pulls harder through the mid-range and kicks again at 4000rpm, from where it spins smoothly and strongly, with a deep four-cylinder note, to just past 6000rpm.
At 7.1 seconds (using launch control) the GT is quick enough to enjoy but still half a second off Golf GTI’s pace.
The seven-speed’s shift timing, speed and smoothness are much better when the car is hustled along; elongated paddles allow you to shift gears yourself, though they are fixed to the steering column so midturn shifting can be tricky.
In cruise mode at 100km/h the 1.6 can do close to 5L/100km, so it’s almost as economical as a diesel.
An unusual blend of luxury, technology, sporty-ish performance and gorgeous design, Megane GT is typically French in that it’s different to everything else and, despite its flaws, an easy car to love. Maybe it’s the Zen factor? Or, as we say in the suburbs, the vibe.