By Andy Enright
The Renault Megane has long been one of British motoring's staples, sold alongside big sellers like the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Peugeot 308 and Volkswagen Golf yet it's a vehicle that, over the course of its development, has varied greatly from generation to generation. The car we're looking at here is, if anything, Renault's return to a modicum of conservatism after the styling riot that was the bubble-butted Mk II that ran from 2002-2008. Used examples are plentiful and there's plenty of choice as far as engines and trim are concerned.
It's a general rule in car manufacturing that companies can afford to be a bit wacky with the vehicles at the periphery of their model ranges. The low-volume image cars can help build the brand by generating column inches while the bread and butter stuff needs to be buttoned-down and conservative if it's to make big sales figures. Every once in a while, there's an exception to that rule. Ford's original Focus was something very different to the ultra-dull Escort before it and even today the Focus' interior looks pretty bold but the gamble paid off. Renault's attempt at jolting the mass-market to attention wasn't quite as successful with the Megane II and its successor, launched in 2008, reverted to a handsome but more conventional hatchback silhouette. First shown at that year's Paris motor show, the new car concentrated on offering far superior build quality and a more sophisticated look and feel.
The Megane body spawned a three door coupe, a five-door Tourer estate as well as a two-door Coupe-Cabriolet model, but we're concentrating here on the five-door which made up the bulk of sales. This arrived in dealerships with a choice of no fewer than six engines. The range was added to with the I-Music models at the end of 2009. A replacement was finally unveiled at the start of 2012 which retained the same shape but tidied up some of the detailing while also improving efficiency. At the same time, Renault pared back its UK model range to concentrate on just a handful of its most profitable lines.
What You Get
The Megane has short front and rear overhangs, a long 2.64m wheelbase, a steeply-raked roofline and a wide track, all helping it appear planted on the road. It certainly exudes a feeling of much higher quality than its predecessor, with thin cut lines between the different body panels. Great care has also gone into the quality and finish of the materials used and there are nice touches like the soft-touch finish on the dashboard cowling that's resistant to daily knocks and the ageing effects of sunlight. The way that the windscreen wipers are concealed beneath the bonnet line is another neat feature.
Climb in and the first thing you notice at the wheel is the innovative dashboard which features an analogue rev-counter alongside a digital speedometer which also incorporates the cruise control/speed limiter display. When this function is activated, the speed selected by the driver is displayed at the top of the speedometer which is itself ringed by a sequence of lights that take the form of an arc around the central display. In speed limiter mode, the red segment lights up as the speed increases, while the selected speed begins to flash if exceeded. Space in the cabin is unexceptional but the boot volume of 372 litres in the hatch (assuming a spare wheel) figures amongst the best in the segment.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Megane's powerplants have a good reliability record but customer satisfaction surveys show the Renault still has some way to go to approach the class best when it comes to reliability of electronics and servicing costs. The cabins look great when new but after surveying a few used examples, some of the dash materials can look a little scratched quite easily. sure the car is in perfect condition. Check for crash damage, make sure kids haven't damaged the rear upholstery or seat backs and ensure that sunroofs, central locking and alarms all work.
(based on a 2011 Megane 1.4 TCe - ex Vat) You'll need to budget around are around £130 per corner for tyres while a clutch assembly is £230. Front brake pads are £45 a set with the rears costing £35.
On the Road
There are quite a few interesting engines to choose from. The 2.0 TCe 180 is the enthusiast's choice but a more affordable option that's well worth looking at is the downsized 130bhp 1.4-litre TCe unit. Its 190Nm maximum torque is generated at 2,000rpm, a far lower and more accessible point than you'd get from a normally-aspirated engine. The car will cover the 0-60mph sprint in 9.6s and reach a top speed of 124mph, so its performance is comparable with rival family hatchbacks packing 1.8-litre engines.
The 90 and 110bhp diesel engines share a 1.5-litre capacity which looks small for a diesel engine powering a family hatchback. Still, with maximum torque of 200Nm and 240Nm respectively, they are flexible enough for most requirements. The 0-60mph sprint is dispatched in 12.3s by the 110bhp car with the 90bhp model requiring another half a second to cover the increment. If it's extra pace you're after, the 1.6-litre dCi engine is one way to go. Here, there's a much more substantial 130bhp on offer and much more torque. The sub 10s 0-60mph time doesn't tell the whole story because the real enjoyment is in the surge of acceleration that the engine produces in the mid-range for overtaking or powering up inclines. The range-topping 2.0 dCi 160 unit is even better in most respects but priced accordingly.
The Renault Megane grew up in third generation guise. Yes, it lost a little of its personality in the process but it's undoubtedly a better car for most people than its predecessor. The engines are all solid and while the diesels may not be the most characterful, it's hard to argue with the running costs. I'd be tempted by a 1.9 dCi 130 powerplant if choosing a diesel or a 1.4TCe if I was set on a petrol Megane. As long as you're prepared to put in the legwork and have a look at a few cars, you should end up with a bargain.