The compact hatchback segment is one of the most competitive arenas for car manufacturers, with every popular brand having a go at taking the crown. Renault’s Megane has been a big player for a number of years, and the whole range has been refreshed for the 2012 model year.
This third generation model was launched in 2009 and as well as a five-door hatch, there are three-door coupe, load-lugging Sport Tourer and Coupe-Cabriolet versions to choose from. As well as a visual fillip, there are new engines and improved specifications across the range, plus some innovative safety and convenience features.
Unlike the second-generation Megane which was well-known for its unusual looks (remember the “shakin’ that ass” advert?) The 2012 car is a little less cheeky, so it’s less likely to put off conservative buyers. This version has a number of detail tweaks to smarten it up; most noticeable are the LED daytime running lights which are standard on Dynamique TomTom models and above. The lower grille has also been reshaped and there are new alloy wheel designs and a greater choice of body colours.
Even with these upgrades the Megane’s looks are a very subjective thing: to some eyes the relatively conservative design will appeal, others might prefer the more radical Ford Focus or classy Volkswagen Golf.
With no changes to the internal dimensions of the Megane it is business as usual in terms of practicality. The high roof and steep tailgate provide lots of room on the inside. The big glass area adds to the feeling of space and in the five door models front and rear passengers have a wide opening through which to climb aboard.
Head and legroom is very good wherever you’re sitting and even putting one taller passenger behind a tall driver won’t cause discomfort. Noise levels are also impressively low, particularly with the smaller 1.2-litre petrol engine although wind noise levels do become noticeable at higher speeds. The only demerit in terms of comfort is the ride quality on GT and GT Line models, which feature stiffer suspension. Unless you’re a stickler for stiffness, the softer ride of the other models is preferable.
Performance & handling
The 2012 Megane rolls up with three new engines alongside a choice of existing powerplants, although some of the less-popular choices of old have been binned. There are two new diesels — a 1.5 dCi with 110hp and a 1.6 dCi with 130hp. There’s not much between them in terms of capacity and power, but the 1.6 has a little more torque and is better suited for drivers carrying more people and luggage. Even so, the smaller 1.5 dCi is willing and pretty refined.
Equally interesting is the new 1.2-litre TCe unit which uses a turbocharger to make up for its small capacity. For a car of this size the 1.2 is remarkably effective, and while it’s clearly no fireball the 0-62mph time of around 10 seconds should be more than enough for most people.
The handling is safe and secure, if not razor-sharp (you need a Renaultsport Megane if that’s what you’re after) but for the rest of us the compromise between comfort and handling is good. GT and GT Line models with the stiffer suspension provide an unimpressive ride, yet don’t offer a considerably improved driving experience.
Economy & environment
If you want to keep fuel bills and your emissions low then the Megane has plenty of options to choose from. On the petrol side the new 1.2 TCe is a little gem, providing more than enough go for most people yet is capable of 53.3mpg and 119g/km of CO2 if you tread carefully. This engine replaces the thirstier 1.6-litre petrol.
The new 1.6-litre dCi occupies the middle ground in the three-engine diesel range and despite the healthy 130hp manages 70.6mpg and a very low 104g/km. The 1.5-litre dCi really grabs the attention; for a car of this size to be capable of 80.7mpg and only 90g/km is remarkable.
Equipment & value
To keep pace with the competition Renault has improved the specification across the range. The entry-level model is now the Expression+. This adds Bluetooth and an upgraded audio system with USB and auxiliary input, alongside 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning and front fog lights.
The mid-level Dynamique TomTom remains broadly the same bar some LED daytime running lights, while the top-spec GT Line model now has an automatic parking brake, hill start assist, a rear parking camera and a high-spec audio system.
There’s a bit more choice in terms of personalisation too, with roof graphics for the Expression+ model and upgraded interior trims. Overall the specification is relatively generous and the options list is modestly priced.
With the last generation Megane scoring a full five stars in the EuroNCAP test it should come as no surprise that this version scores the same. Even so Renault has added some sophisticated safety options such as a lane departure warning system (although annoyingly there appears to be no way to turn it off) and automatic high/low beam headlight control — something that rarely appears on cars in this segment.
The 2012 Megane has received a relatively modest facelift, looking only fractionally different from last year’s model and bar the engine range has no mechanical tweaks to change its driving behaviour. But you could argue that there’s not much that needs changing: in the right specification it looks good, drives well, is spacious and well-equipped.
The new engine options give a significant boost in terms of running costs, making the Megane one of the cheapest compact hatchbacks on the market. The driving experience and exterior design are overshadowed by cars like the Ford Focus — but if these elements are of secondary importance then the Megane makes a lot of sense.
Model tested: Renault Megane Expression+ 1.6 110
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds
Top speed: 118mph
Emissions: 159g/km CO2