THERE’S no hiding place in the family hatchback segment. Mid-sized five-doors continue to feature heavily in the top ten sales charts and any manufacturer not offering a strong contender will be at a major disadvantage. But that’s good news for the likes of you and me, with a constant stream of new and updated models that offer more for your money.
The latest new offering is Renault’s Megane, updated for 2012 and three years on from the first introduction of the third generation model. Clearly labelled as an update rather than a whole new offering, first appearances will quite rightly confirm that there have been modest tweaks to the outside. At the front there are gloss black inserts in the bumpers with a little chrome detailing, while on higher-specification models LED daytime running lights are both practical and attractive. There are new alloy wheel designs and a broader colour palette too, but you’ll still spot it’s a Megane without too much trouble – it’s a car for the discreet rather than the flashy.
The model line up has been tweaked too; entry level models are now dubbed Expression+ and as a result gain an upgraded audio system (with a much-better user interface) and Bluetooth connectivity thrown in, while at the other end the GT Line TomTom version adds an electronic parking brake and a reversing camera as standard, two useful bits of technology.
But arguably the most important changes for the 2012 Megane are in the engine room. Already well regarded for its diesel options, the Megane gets the pick of its latest units that are already delivering the goods in the Scenic models. A 110bhp version of the 1.5-litre diesel is arguably the pick of the bunch; out on the road it has sufficient power and is pretty refined, yet it is capable of 80.7mpg and a remarkable 90g/km of CO2 – the lowest in the class. Even if diesel isn’t your thing, a new 1.2-litre TCe turbocharged petrol offers up respectable performance alongside 53.3mpg combined and 119g/km.
Climb aboard and it all looks pretty familiar – they are some new fabrics dependent on the model but in general the latest Megane is as before. The layout may take a little getting used to for those new to Meganes, particularly the instrument layout which mixes analogue and digital displays, but with a little time it becomes second nature. More significant is the change to the audio system, now offering a straightforward USB and auxiliary input, larger and clearer buttons and simplified control method.
The Megane remains one of the most spacious cars in the class too. The broad exterior curves translate into good interior space, with front seat occupants enjoying all the head and legroom they could need and even in the back taller adults can get comfortable without having to stoop or struggle. The same goes for the boot, which offers up a well-sized 372 litres with the rear seats in place.
On the move the 2012 Megane remains a refined and easy-going car to drive. Even the more modestly-powered versions are happy enough to get on with the job in hand, with sufficient torque and decent refinement. Anyone wanting a bit more vim will need either the 1.6-litre or 2.0-litre diesel units, but for a balance between sufficient performance and impressive efficiency the 110bhp diesel has it all sewn up.
Behind the wheel the Megane has a thin layer of smoothness covering all it’s controls; the steering is accurate but not super-sharp, the gearshift is positive and the suspension offers control and good ride quality, although in pure driving pleasure terms the class-favourite Ford Focus has the edge. Choose a higher-specification GT Line TomTom and you get sports suspension as standard – that certainly delivers a firmer ride but overall the balance is best served by the regular model. If it’s extra-large thrills you’re after then the Renaultsport Megane is the way to go.
But the Megane’s strength is that it covers so many bases so well. It’s refined, economical, well-equipped, easy to drive and good value for money. Any car that can tick that many boxes deserves due consideration.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Renault Megane 1.5 dCi 110 Dynamique TomTom £19,800
Engine: 1.5-litre diesel unit producing 110bhp and 177lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 118mph, 0-62mph in 12.1 seconds
Economy: 80.7mpg combined
Emissions: 90g/km CO2