Dare to dif­fer

Gor­geous de­sign and perky per­for­mance sep­a­rate this hatch from the crowd

Mercury (Hobart) - Cars Guide - - ROAD TEST - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

AROUND TOWN

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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