SA’s first official taste of the Renault Megane was in 1996 when the company made a return to our shores after it pulled out of the country a few years prior because of political turmoil.
Available in a variety of body styles including hatch, coupe and later convertible, the model was one of the first in its segment to boast four airbags as standard. It enjoyed lukewarm success in the face of its German and Japanese rivals, in spite of being the safest vehicle in its class.
Enter the second generation in 2003, and the model seemed to turn a corner as it offered a groundbreaking design — thanks to the pronounced derrière — all the safety items and, later, a performance oriented RS variant. The latter was the most powerful model in its segment, pushing out 165kW and 300Nm, giving it a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.5 seconds. Sadly, the interior appointments were rather low rent in comparison.
The third generation, which was launched in 2009, was more conventional in design, but retained the safety hallmarks, while the interior appointments were improved, although still nowhere near its German rival, the Volkswagen Golf. The RS variants were a hoot to drive and remain compelling to this day.
Now the company has ushered in the fourth generation, which is striking in design, thanks to French flair. The front end boasts C-shaped LED daytime running lights while the 3D-like rear light clusters are reminiscent of the Audi A3 hatch. At 4,357mm (26mm longer than its predecessor), with a wheelbase that has been stretched 28mm to 2,669mm, there is more head and legroom in the cabin.
The cabin appointments have been given the requisite attention. Gone is the cluttered drop-down console of the previous model with its aftermarket-looking infotainment screen, and in is a tablet-like touchscreen infotainment system dubbed the R-Link 2. Available in seven-inch and 8.7-inch formats depending on model, it integrates Bluetooth connectivity, navigation and even climate-control settings. It all works intuitively, but the latter is a bit tricky to use while on the move, although perhaps owners will get the hang of it after a while.
There is also ambient lighting with seven colours to choose from. Its form-hugging, extensively adjustable front seats are exceptionally comfortable.
Three models are on offer, starting with the entry-level Dynamique boasting a normally aspirated 1.6l engine pushing out 84kW and 156Nm via a five-speed manual gearbox.
A rung up the ladder is the GT-Line, boasting a 1.2l turbo petrol making 97kW and 205Nm. It is allied to either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch automatic (EDC in Renault parlance). The current flagship, the GT is powered by a 1.6l turbo petrol unit that makes 151kW and 280Nm through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
At launch we managed to sample both the GT-Line and GT variant, the latter equipped with 4 Control rear-wheel steering, first seen in the Laguna coupe.
Both models we drove demonstrated exemplary ride quality that would easily give the VW Golf a good run. In fact, the new Megane and the Peugeot 308 rate right up there in my books.
The GT proved a decent package, offering smooth power delivery right across the rev range.
The clunky dual-clutch transmission from the Clio RS has been dispensed with and in its place is a more refined and intuitive gearbox, a marked improvement over its RS sibling.
At a starting price of R279,900 for the Dynamique, R339,900 for the GT-Line manual (R354,900 for the EDC variant), and R449,900 for the GT, the GT-Line seems to make a strong case for itself.
The GT seems to be treading on Golf GTI territory with the manual variant of that model costing R466,280. The Renault comes with a host of standard equipment, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the GTI on performance.
That said, the new Renault Megane is an accomplished, well put together package that deserves to be on your shopping list should you be in the market for a C-segment hatch.