The third generation Renault Megane is being shuffled off to the retirement home many thought it had been ensconced in for years, to be replaced in 2016 by an all-new model, the launch ambitiously heralded with a Renaultsport-developed 202bhp GT five door hatch to prove the range’s dynamic, sexier credentials.
So what’s new about the Renault Megane GT?
Well, there is a new platform based on that in service with the Espace and Talisman, which frees up more interior space, an iPad style centre console, far more handsome, muscular styling, distinctive LED wings for lights, a better quality cabin and for the range topping model (until Renaultsport goes really bonkers), four-wheel steering, launch control and an EDC gearbox that can handle multiple downshifts at once.
Is this a real Renaultsport car then?
Not really. The GT, according the chaps from Dieppe, is a car for those buyers not ready to go the full beans for a Renaultsport car. The four-wheel steering system, called 4Control, is supposed to bring a feel of RS agility without the extreme cornering commitment needed in those magical products, yet without sacrificing everyday practicality.
Presentationally, the GT certainly looks RS-ish, with angular 18 inch alloys, deep spoilers, the now-de rigueur fake diffuser, and twin exhausts. Inside, wonderfully supportive bucket seats and RS detailing complete a classy look. The new Megane cabin is on a whole new level compared to the dour environment of the previous car and nearly as high quality as a Peugeot 308. But not quite, especially with the hard plastics around that big central screen and on the lower surfaces.
How does the new Renault Megane GT drive?
A 202bhp 1.6-litre turbo delivering a 0-62mph time of just over seven seconds suggests some fun to be had, if not the sort of experience to leave you in a state of uncontained ecstasy.
To start with, you have to get the Megane in the mood, by poking the RS button, which marginally quickens the steering over other more mundane modes (on a rack which is already 40% quicker than other more mundane models), emits a rortier noise through the speakers, hangs onto gears longer and makes the throttle noticeably more responsive.
Quick rather than outright fast, at full throttle the GT snaps up through the gears keenly enough. At the first corner, the four wheel steering kicks in. Turn-in is already fairly sharp, but the action of the rear wheels moving by a degree or so to point in the same direction of the fronts is stark. It tucks dramatically and fires round, refusing understeer and with tremendous grip and poise.
So much so that it takes a few bends to really compute what’s going on, not least because if you commit really hard you often find yourself in a slightly odd false oversteer position, whereby you are winding off lock mid-bend.
Then at speeds below about 50mph, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to help with agility, but especially if you pull away hard from a T junctions, it’s a bit like a being in a runaway shopping trolley, seesawing off down the road.
The gearbox: it’s not quite right. At full revs and full throttle it shifts cleanly enough, but in the mid-range it really can’t decide to stick or twist, sometimes holding for oddly long periods, other times adopting a more relaxed gear. And the insipid paddle shifters don’t add anything to the experience either.
The result is a car that is a strange concoction of tremendous fun at times and infuriating eccentricity at others, that character trait appearing mostly when it’s pushed very hard. Renaultsport has developed a car for people who quite like driving, but aren’t especially skilled or committed to the more savage Meganes to come. Hit the brief with a bullseye, I suspect.
There are other Meganes on their way though than just the GT?
Yes. We also drove a 130 dCi diesel which proved to be extremely refined, rode well and without 4Control, which only comes on the GT, showed itself to be a entertaining and very decent day-to-day rattler. There is the usual range of low emission diesels with CO2 emissions below 100g/km, and in about 18 months, a full Renaultsport model (possibly without EDC or 4Control), but not as a coupe because the demand isn’t there for that body shape.
As a car, the fourth generation Renault Megane is light years beyond the current range: classy, solidly built, good looking and surprisingly interesting in a sector hardly bursting with innovation. Pricing will be confirmed in the new year.