Doesn’t it feel like we only had a new Megane about three years ago? Well we didn’t, it was in 2008, so now there’s a fresh one and here it is, outside my office, trying to look more grown up and expensive than the old model. Unfortunately, these efforts are immediately undone by the key, which is a woeful wedge of cheap plastic that actually creaks when you squeeze the buttons. A car key is a little avatar of the car itself and therefore a vitally important indicator of how you’ll feel about the whole thing before you even see it. So this isn’t a promising beginning. Fortunately, you don’t need to fondle the Megane fob to get inside because it’s all keyless, but first impressions don’t get much better once you’ve jabbed the bulbous starter button and selected a gear. This is the GT version, currently the sportiest and toppermost model in the range until RenaultSport pulls its finger out, so it has a seven-speed, double clutch gearbox, operated by a surprisingly tall and old school lever with horrible, low-rent action. A gearlever, even one needed only to slap the transmission into drive, should feel sturdy and precise, giving a suggestion that it’s linked to the finest mechanical parts, built to millimicron tolerances and swathed in a liquid gossamer of delicate oils to create a high quality piece of engineering that will last for an eon. The Megane’s lever does not hint at any of this. It’s light and flimsy and suggests that the mechanism below is made of thin plastics pinned together by people who don’t give a toss. Between this and the lousy key, it’s not a good start to the car even if, on first acquaintance, the actual driving experience seems okay.
This Megane sits on big alloys and is meant to be sporty so you might imagine it rides like a racing bike. Actually, it’s firm but not at all terrible, and this is a surprise. Almost as much of a surprise as what happens when you apply some steering at anything above walking pace and discover the alarmingly sharp turn-in. There’s a reason for this; the Megane GT comes with something called 4 Control, which is basically four-wheel steering like you used to get on a Honda Prelude. Or a Mazda 626. Or, if you’re bored of nerdy 1980s references, like you still get on various types of Porsche. The trouble is, the way the Megane attacks a corner is actually too sharp, making it feel over-eager and puppyish in a way that is at odds with its size and the dead-eyed nature of the electric power steering itself. There’s a similar mismatch between the engine, which is quite grunty, and the gearbox, which has moments where it gets confused and dithery. Putting it in sport mode makes the steering artificially heavier and the gearbox more aggressive, neither of which really helps. Not a completely terrible car to drive but one that needs more time at the proving ground.
Renault has designed some nice looking cars recently. That little Captur crossover is pleasant, and the latest ne-pas-pour-le-Rosbifs Espace is a tremendously handsome thing. There’s also a big car called the Talisman that’s quite nice, but not made in right-hand-drive. The Megane’s styling, I’m not so sure about. The front looks very wide and dramatic, to the extent that it appears out of scale with the rest of the car, like someone whose head is too big for their body. It seems like they’ve tried to make the back look wider than it is too, mainly by having the lights leak onto the tailgate but the effect is awkward, like something an American company would have tried in the ‘90s. Sandwiched between all this you’ve got the central section of the car which is actually quite bland and features a terrible window line that suddenly rises upwards on the back doors in the most weak and lazy way, as if they decided having a flat beltline was boring and just made a limp flailing motion at the clay model. It’s such a damp, wet handshake of a design feature that it irritates me. Particularly knowing Renault can do so much better. And then not offer it for sale in the UK.
Keyless entry and start isn’t a novelty. But somehow Renault has found a way to make this facility more annoying with a feature that makes the car lock itself almost as soon as you get out. So, you step from the driver’s seat, close your door, and by the time you’ve walked around the car to, say, retrieve your child from their car seat on the rear passenger side, all the doors have locked and, just to really piss you off, the keyless feature is disabled so you have to root around in your pocket to find the cracker toy tat they call a key. Today, after once again being driven nuts by this idiotic feature, I discover that the locking is triggered by the fob leaving the car’s detection zone. So you can foil it by getting out and sidling carefully around to the other side, as if trying to rub yourself against the bodywork. Yes, you look like a tit but at least you don’t experience the teeth grinding annoyance of your own car trying to lock you out or incarcerate your first born.
Keyless entry isn’t the only bit of tech on the Megane, as you might guess. It’s also got a big touch screen in the increasingly fashionable portrait aspect, from which you can control all the usual nav and stereo functions in the slightly sluggish, wipe-your-finger-on-your-jeans-and-try-again manner of an off brand iPad clone. The screen itself is surrounded by a flat, shiny frame which contains touch sensitive buttons for volume, the home screen, and driving data. That’s not its primary purpose, however. It’s primary purpose is to collect fingerprints and then show them to you as an unattractive greasy smearfest whenever direct light catches it. It’s sunny today and that makes it especially noticeable. With its variable sizes and styles of button below the screen and its cheapo air-con controls, the centre stack is not an attractive piece of design when clean, never mind when it’s covered in small flat clouds of hand grease.
This Megane is a bright and rather nice shade of blue. It’s good, and makes it stand out amongst all the greys and silvers on the road. But it also seems to attract the wrong sort of attention and wind people up. Perhaps it’s the car itself, or perhaps it’s me and this car is making me drive like a bellend. Either way, today a man behind me became annoyed by my attempts to make a perfectly normal left turn and then this evening a bloke in a Fiesta got into a total rage because I merged ahead of him, prompting him to dive onto the outside at a roundabout, put down his window and give the internationally recognised signal for ‘wankeeeeer’. Which was particularly surprising, as he was a driving instructor. It could be me, but given all the other design flaws in this Megane I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that those almost-monobrow tail lights accidentally show a flashing cock and balls when you brake.
Today I give a mate a lift and he rightly scoffs at the awful, 1980s aftershave advert bits of the interior. I don’t know why they thought so much blue trim was a good idea, but it’s not. Also, it’s getting to the point where we need to sit car makers down and stage an intervention about carbon fibre. The structural, functional stuff is all fine and dandy. The faux patterned shit plastered over dashboard trim fillets and the back of the key, as it is in this Megane, is the kind of nonsense that must cease. It’s not attractive and it looks cheap. And it’s not as if anyone gets into your car and thinks, oh wow, did this irregularly-shaped dashboard panel come off a Formula 1 car? No, they think, oh wow, you’ve been rummaging in the bins round the back of Halfords again. It’s got to stop.
The Megane is going away and, frankly, this is a relief. Stropping along a fast A-road it’s not bad, what with its lusty engine and tight damping, but even that is let down by the inadequate gearbox programming and the fake, over-dramatic way it turns-in to medium speed corners. Beyond that, there is little to love. It looks quite good, but only from the front. And its few plus points are horribly overshadowed by the driveline jerks, numb controls, joyless nav screen, stupid keyless locking logic and a dozen tiny ways in which it feels either underdone or wilfully cheapened in the vain hope that you won’t notice. I can’t think why you would have one unless you were a Renault enthusiast or a Renault dealer. If you’re definitely in the market for a practical but slightly sporty five-door hatchback you could save yourself £1400 by getting a Ford Focus ST and, having spent a week with the Megane GT, I can only recommend that you do.
The car talked about here is a Renault Megane GT Nav TCe 205 EDC. It has a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine making 202 horsepower. 0-62 takes 7.1 seconds and top speed is 143mph. It costs £26,150.