An old favourite in Singapore returns, at least in name. But does the Renault Mégane sedan have what it takes to succeed in a hotly-contested market segment?
WARSAW, POLAND — If you’ve been on the planet for, say, 30 years, you might remember the Renault Mégane Sedan. It was a proper hit for the brand here, and nearly a dozen years ago it helped Renault sell about twice the number of cars in Singapore that it sells today.
Inexplicably, the brand dropped the model and replaced it with the Fluence, a car that Renault sourced from Samsung Motors, its Korean affiliate.
Now the Fluence is on its way out and the Mégane Sedan is back. Or will be soon, anyway. It’s going to be launched here early next year together with the new Mégane hatchback. Renault isn’t saying when, but January’s Singapore Motor Show is a good bet.
Whether they get here sooner or later, the new Méganes are handsome cars. They’ve been styled to look broad, and the width gives them an air of heft and solidity. The headlights have interesting character lines that work well (and let you identify the cars from a distance), while the rear end’s slim lamps add a bit of visual class. Overall, it’s easy to like the way the Mégane Sedan looks, and it exudes a bit more elegance than the class norm.
That class includes four-door sedans that serve as classic family transport, by the way. So rivals as diverse as the Toyota Corolla Altis and Volkswagen Jetta are in the Mégane’s crosshairs.
How does it stack up against them? It’s not an easy question to answer, because this is a car about duality. It’s strong in important ways, but falls short of the mark in others, often frustratingly so.
While the styling makes the Mégane Sedan look like a thing of substance, for example, a closer look at it reveals slightly misaligned panels and uneven shutlines. We drove pre-production cars, said a Renault rep, and the actual cars for the market will be better. Let’s hope so.
It’s a similar story inside. The front of the cabin is full of impressive materials, with soft-touch plastics everywhere and a quality feel that doesn’t quite equal German build, but certainly approaches it.
Then you climb into the back, and it’s like you’ve stepped into a different car, one with cheaper, harder and lower-grade plastics, particularly for the door panels.
The controls are impressively tidy, thanks to a large central touchscreen that’s like a big tablet. How large depends on the grade of car you buy. Details aren’t final but a base model will come with a 7.0-inch screen, while a Privilege version should have the 8.7-inch one we tried at the car’s launch. The Privilege pack should also add front parking sensors (in addition to rear ones, plus a camera), self-steering park assist, and Multi-Sense, which is what Renault calls its system of driving modes.
More duality here: while the dashboard’s layout is clean, the buttons are all over the place. There’s a cruise control switch near the parking brake though the system’s control buttons are on the steering wheel, meaning you need different hands to activate it.
And some Multi-Sense switches are near the gear lever (the ones for ‘Sport’ and ‘Comfort’) but the button for ‘Eco’ lives elsewhere, near the air-con controls.
Still, it wouldn’t be a French car if it wasn’t quirky like that.
What’s always been a Mégane Sedan hallmark though is a big, useful boot. The new one gives you 550 litres to play with, and that’s a heck of a lot. Audi’s A8 has 520 litres of boot space, for instance. Basically, Renault’s Altis-fighter has a bigger boot than Audi’s biggest saloon.
If you’re not a piece of luggage you’ll find the Renault similarly accommodating. The rear of the cabin has enough space for three adults. Leg and headroom are pretty impressive, and if you have young kids you’ll be able to hang onto your Mégane Sedan without their outgrowing it.
But maybe the one thing of greatest relevance to the family man is the Renault’s tiny appetite for fuel. It’ll be launched with a 1.5-litre turbodiesel, pretty much the same one that powers the Fluence today.
It’s rated for an incredible 3.8L/100km, which makes it as frugal as a hybrid car. You won’t get near that in real world driving conditions (we’re too embarrassed to say what we got) but it’s still a fairly sippy engine. And diesel is cheaper than petrol anyway, so whatever you spend now to keep your 1.6-litre petrol car in fuel, you’ll probably save four figures a year off your current expenditure at the pumps.
It’s a decent performer too, with mid-range poke that’ll let you keep pace with traffic handily. You won’t miss the top-end zing of a petrol engine, since the handling is set up more for friendly stability than crisp agility anyway.
That a turbodiesel is frugal shouldn’t surprise anyone, but what does come as a shock is how quiet the Mégane Sedan’s engine is. More accurately, it’s surprising how quiet the engine is in this car. The 1.5 dCi is used in a number of Renault models (not to mention, Mercedes and Infiniti ones) and has never sounded good. At best you can put up with it by pretending it’s a robot trying to sing, but here it’s been insulated so well that you can almost forget that it’s a diesel. That’s from inside the car, mind you. Outside, it still rattles like someone filled the crankcase with loose nuts.
Still, the quietness of the engine works well with the car’s ride quality, which on Polish roads is smooth and calm. Renault uses dampers tuned individually to specific Mégane models, and the results are impressive, with the car gliding over bumps in a way that reminds you how family cars ought not to ride like go-karts in some futile quest for sportiness.
Would I buy one? If nothing else, the Mégane Sedan is a damn sight better than the Fluence it replaces, and I’d consider it if I wanted space and refinement, along with a huge boot, and if I hated paying for fuel. Which I do. If that sounds like you, then add it to the shortlist.
NEED TO KNOW Renault Mégane Sedan 1.5dCi Engine 1,461cc, inline 4, turbodiesel Power 110hp at 4,000rpm Torque 250Nm at 1,750rpm Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch Top Speed 190km/h 0-100km/h 12.5seconds Fuel efficiency 3.8L/100km CO2 98g/km Price To be announced Available First quarter, 2017
PLG_AUTHORINFOBOX_FRONTEND_AUTHOR: Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len has covered cars and the car industry since 1995. If it has an engine and wheels, you can count on him to be all over it like a monkey on a banana. Ju-Len believes in rear-wheel drive, V8s and world peace.
Follow him on Twitter @leowjulen