Nine-time 24hrs champion gives the current crop some tips
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£27,735 when new
Are half the words in this Renault Megane review going to be the car’s name? No, because life’s too short to keep calling it the Renault Megane Sport Tourer GT. And because there’s so much technology going on here. Which is a clue to this car’s problem. First things first. Is this a hot hatch that’s become a hot wagon? No. It’s not an all-wheel drive VW Golf R Estate or Seat Leon Cupra rival. The proper RS Megane happens in 2017. Until then, this is the appetiser, the best Renault can do. A heavily Renault Sport-badged version called the GT, complete with its own body kit, 18-inch wheels, very sporting bucket seats up front, a flat bottomed steering wheel, paddles, but only front-wheel drive and a middling 200bhp.
You’ve driven that hatch version of this? Yes, we first came across the GT here, and weren’t taken with it. Renault’s thrown many modes and too much tech at an undeveloped-feeling car. Modes that change not just engine and steering response, but ambient lighting and dial colour, and enhance the engine sound. Then there’s the four-wheel steering, designed to give you better in-town agility and better high-speed stability. Problem is, nothing gels either into an entertaining steer, or an exceptionally refined or comfortable whole. It whiffs of the mediocre, despite having the computing power of an Airbus. How’s the estate? Sport Tourer, you mean? It’s a reasonable estate car, we ought to say. The boot’s a 521-litre hole as a five-seater, but tug the handles in the boot wall to flip the rears down and there’s 1,504 litres on offer. A Golf Estate manages 605/1,620, and a Peugeot 308 SW offers 660/1,775 litres. Despite this, Renault claims the loading bay is the longest in the class, at 2.8 metres. The Renault’s loading sill is low and wide, but the boot opening itself feels a tad constricted for the sake of the styling. But it’s competitive, and as Volvo has ably proved, people are more than happy to sacrifice the last word in raw litrage if their wagon can wear its suit well. But as a fast family car? Look elsewhere. The 4Control all-wheel steer is schizophrenic and unpredictable. And despite putting just 200bhp through the front wheels, the GT manages to torque-steer like an old Astra VXR and still not feel quick. The dual-clutch behaviour is all over the place – not helped by clumsy throttle mapping that makes town driving a head-nodding pain – and you can’t take control with the metal paddles because they’re mounted too high up the steering column to leave space for the indicator stalks and volume control buttons. It’s too much garnish, too much complication, and a fundamentally simpler, less gimmicky machine like a Ford Focus ST Estate or Skoda Octavia vRS is actually more able as a result. Okay, devil’s advocate: what’s good? It’s a refined car, this new Megane, if you choose a Comfort or Neutral mode setting and just mooch. Road noise is very well suppressed, and it’s light years ahead of the old Megane as a product of desire inside. It’s not as nice to touch as it is to look at, but Renault’s on the right path, at least. How much? For the GT, the wagon Megane is £27,450, with all the toys as standard. We’d be looking to the likes of Ford and Skoda, with bells on. Thing is, the old Megane GT estate had fewer toys, fewer ideas above its station, and was far sweeter to drive. Impressive as the glut of tech here is on paper, it leaves us thinking Renault Sport has massively got its work cut out to turn this thing into a flagship hot hatch when the 300bhp Civic Type-R fighter arrives imminently.