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Renault Megane 5-door 2009 Road Test

Sat, 08 Nov 2008

At the time of writing I did not know if the new Renault Megane had been voted European Car of the Year.

But it had been, it wouldn’t have been a typical COTY political decision, or another carve-up between the Italians and the French.

The new Megane is so comprehensively and refreshingly better than the old one, it deserves the title.

True, most of the engines are carry-over belt cammers. But the 1.5 diesels are all under 121g/km and the 1.9 130 is a punchy goer.

What’s specially good about the car, apart from the looks (which grow on you), is what Renault has done underneath.

It’s almost as if they rediscovered ride comfort. Like Ford did to the back of the FIAT 500 to turn it into the Ka, they’ve softened the springs and increased the roll stiffness.

And here they have been even more clever than Ford because, instead of welding an extra bar into the ‘U’ shaped twist-bean, they have made the beam into an almost square section tube, which is lighter.

They also worked very hard on the steering. Not only is the rack built into the front suspension subframe, the sensitivity of the electric motor assistance has been hugely improved by some very clever software.

Unlike a lot of cars these days, including some versions of the new Fiesta, you can feel through the steering exactly what each of the car’s four road wheels are doing.

Show it a bumpy road (which we did) and the soft suspension simply soaks up all the ridges and potholes. Even on the 205/55 R16 tyres out top of the range Privilege came on. (Lesser Meganes come fitted with 195/65 R15s, like my Focus Econetic.)

Naturally, on corners, it isn’t the sharpest pencil in the box. It does eventually understeer. But it under full control and the informative steering tells you exactly when to wind off a bit of lock and keep mother in law in the back seat happy. I guess one word to describe the handling is “squishy”, without intending to be in the least bit derogatory. If you prefer ride comfort to race-car handling, as I do, this car gives you the best combination in its class you can buy.

You can see what I mean in the film.

Other pleasing aspects of the car are a decent 372 litre boot, with extra space under the floor. Proper fold-down rear seats creating a rear warehouse capable of absorbing 1,129 litres of luggage. A really nice looking dashboard, well made, with pleasing materials. Sensational optional line-of-sight satnav. A decent digital speedo bang in front of you. Bump-strips nicely blended in at the bases of the doors. And a general feeling of quality that, like the Laguna coupe, is worthy of something from Audi, BMW or Mercedes.

The story of what’s under the bonnet is not quite over. Because as well as the 2.0 130TCE, there’s a 1.4 130TCE on the way with 190Nm torque, that I guess will eventually replace the 110PS 1.6. There’s also a CVT automatic to come. A 150PS diesel torquer converter automatic. And a 160PS diesel manual 6-speeder.

A surprise to some is that, though Renault is French, like the Vauxhall/Opel Corsa, the VW Polo and a whole heap of Fords, the Megane is actually Spanish. It’s built at Palencia, north of Madrid, not so far from where Fernando Alonso comes from. And they seem to have applied the same attention to detail to the production process as they have for the new Laguna at Sandouville. Previous Franco-Spanish productions worked very well indeed, so there’s no reason why their Carmen shouldn’t get together. (At least I think Bizet was French.)

So, whether it’s European Car of the Year or not, or even runner up, or not, the new Megane deserves your attention.

Unlike the old one with its protruding posterior, you’ll never suffer endless ribbing for buying a ‘bum’ car.

Test of Renault Megane Coupe at www.honestjohn.co.uk/road_tests/index.htm?id=357

For prices, availability, specifications, powertrain details, dimensions, and performance figures please click the tabs.

More at www.renault.co.uk

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