Renault Mégane review (2012 onwards)
What: Renault Mégane (2012 onwards)
Where: Lisbon, Portugal
Date: March 2012
Price: £16,275 - £23,290
Available: April 2012 (available to order now)
Key rivals: Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra, Hyundai i30, Kia Cee'd, Honda Civic, Toyota Auris, Citroen C4, Peugeot 308
Summary: the 2012 Renault Mégane's visual updates may be minor, but there are some major new engines under the bonnet - could this be enough to tempt us out of the opposition?
We like: impressive new engines bring strong refinement, performance and economy
We don't like: overly complex secondary controls, little to make you choose this car over rivals
Renault may be experiencing a little local difficulty with the UK market right now, but that doesn't mean it's about to drop dead. And in spite of slashing the range back to a core selection of models, it's not just nervously waiting for the exciting all-electric ZOE supermini and Twizy, er, city thingy to arrive, either.
So here we are with the 2012 revisions to the Mégane range. This is one of the Renaults that's faced cutbacks rather then extinction on British shores, but instead of moping the French brand is pushing forward with minor visual modifications to each of the variants, and a trio of new 'Energy' engines.
new LED headlights
Even if the tweaked bumpers and new LED daytime running lights represent the most obvious elements of the rather limited cosmetic makeover, there are also new alloy wheel designs, a change to the entry-level stereo and some updated cabin materials as well.
The Energy engine selection consists of a brand new 1.2 TCe 115 turbo petrol, a significantly reworked version of the 1.5 dCi 110 turbodiesel, and the Mégane debut of the impressive 1.6 dCi 130 turbodiesel that's already made its mark in the Scenic and the Nissan Qashqai, and joins the Mercedes-Benz line-up shortly.
In addition to this there are also changes to the Mégane Renaultsport, which gets upgraded to 265hp - but we'll deal with that in a separate review.
The new 1.6-litre dCi 130 replaces the old 1.9-litre turbodiesel, providing more oomph with more mpg and vastly improved refinement. Named for its 130hp output, and tested in the Mégane Sport Tourer estate - the heaviest of all Mégane variants - it impressed with its lively performance.
Doesn't leave you wanting for much, this little diesel. It revs cleanly to around 4,500rpm, and sounds smooth and refined all the while; with its maximum 236lb ft torque available at just 2,000rpm, you can also make brisk progress without trying too hard.
debut of 1.2-litre turbo petrol
The other truly new debut for the Mégane is the 1.2-litre TCe turbo petrol, which we tried in the five-door Hatch. This uses a new block compared to the previous 1.2 turbo, and now produces 115hp with 140lb ft of torque - 90% of which is available at just 1,500rpm.
It's a downsized engine that really seems to work. Complete with a six-speed manual gearbox, it punts along with pleasing conviction and sounds meaty enough to avoid any sense of under endowment - and that's when you can hear it at all, which isn't actually very often. Refinement is strong with this one.
You might be slightly less impressed to discover that it's slower 0-62mph than the conventional 1.6-litre petrol it's ultimately designed to replace. Despite more power and torque, the 1.2 TCe makes the sprint in 10.9 seconds, the 1.6 in 10.5. The turbo and a standard start-stop system make it much greener, however.
Another major addition is a significantly overhauled version of the long-standing 1.5 dCi 110. While outright power remains unchanged, torque is up 15lb ft to 191lb ft, and it's now said to be both much punchier and much quieter as well as considerably greener. Sadly it wasn't available to try in the Mégane.
Ride and handling
No major changes here. Which means light but generally well-judged electric power steering assistance, and a comfort-to-cornering balance that treads a decent middle ground on the regular specification cars but verges towards the sporty (and occasionally uncomfortable) on the Coupé and the GT Line trim.
The back end of the Sport Tourer can become a little light and wallowy through extended faster turns, but even this gives a good account of itself on a twisty road. The Mégane may not leave you beaming from ear to ear, but it's unlikely to provoke much in the way of frustration, either.
That said, the brakes are a touch snatchy, making it difficult to scrub off a small amount of speed smoothly, and the optional EDC (Efficient Dual Clutch) automatic gearbox continues to have its idiosyncrasies. Sluggish responses when pulling away from a standstill and strange shift points being its worst foibles.
The problem here is that while the Mégane is good to drive, it's nothing more. You're hard pressed to think of anything that it does particularly badly - though we know from our long-termer experience that the Coupé's suspension settings don't always agree with British road surfaces - but it just doesn't sparkle.
It's a similar story with the Renault's cabin - it's not a terribly unpleasant place to spend time, but it gives you few reasons to pick the Mégane over any of its major rivals. And there are one or two areas that really ought to make you think twice.
For 2012 there are new trim options, but detail issues either remain or increase. The new radio system, for example, brings Bluetooth and USB connectivity to all models - great - but leaves a blanking panel on the lower centre console in its wake, and remains overly complex to operate.
The (spec dependant) TomTom satellite navigation system continues to be tricky to fathom - not just in terms of its control interface (which you do get used to over time) but also the mapping display itself, which proved consistently tricky to follow throughout our launch drives.
Still, we do like the unconventional instrument display with its big, brightly lit digital speedo, and the Sport Tourer does offer a generous 524-1,600-litre boot, that's both sensibly proportioned and low of lip. A fold flat front passenger seat helps makes for an even greater extension of the load space, too.
Economy and safety
The new 1.5-litre dCi 110 is the economy star; with its standard stop-start system and further efficiency improving fine-tuning it emits just 90g/km CO2, regardless of body shape. An outstanding achievement for this class of car, and equivalent to a claimed 80.7mpg.
Formula One tech
Many of the efficiency improvements on this and the other new engines in the range are apparently directly related to Renault's involvement in Formula One. The 1.2 TCe and the 1.6 dCi both feature stop-start, and achieve claimed figures of 53.3mpg with 119g/km and 70.6mpg with 104g/km, respectively.
The Mégane was already packed with all the latest stability control and six airbags - although it's actually eight airbags in the case of the Coupé - and holds a five-star Euro NCAP rating. However, 2012 does see the introduction of Renault's optional Visio System.
This gives you an automatic main beam function and lane-departure warning. The latter beeps insistently whenever you're about to cross a white line without indicating - a boon for stressed and distracted parents perhaps, but gladly you can not only adjust its volume and sensitivity, but also switch it completely off.
The MSN Cars verdict
The Renault Mégane is a perfectly pleasant car in most regards, and the new engines we've been able to sample so far offer exceptional levels of refinement in combination with strong performance and commendable economy.
Renault is also keen to point out that its reliability levels are on the up, with the latest figures from Germany's highly regarded ADAC (equivalent to the RAC or the AA in the UK) showing a 40% reduction in first year issues for the Mégane.
The problem for us is that, though the new engines are impressive, the rest of the package gives you no absolutely compelling reason to choose this car over any of its rivals. It just doesn't get under your skin in the manner of a Focus or a Golf.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1.6 110, 1.2 TCe 115|
|Engines, diesel||1.5 dCi (90, 110, 120 Stop & Start), 1.6 dCi 130, 2.0 dCi 160|
|Power, hp||90 - 160|
|Torque, lb ft||111 - 280|
|0-62 mph, secs||8.5 - 12.9|
|Top speed, mph||112 - 134|
|Mpg combined||40.9 - 80.7|
|CO2, tax||90 - 159 / 10 - 23|
|Ratings||Renault Mégane Hatch 1.2 TCe 115 GT Line|
|Ride & handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|