DTW tested the Renault Megane in 2010 and found it wanting. Another chance arose to test the car and so we can now offer a second opinion. What still irks and which aspects seem less unpalatable with the passage of time?
Our first test in 2010 involved a mid-range petrol-engined five door-hatch. This time DTW went for the 130 dCi estate in “Limited” garb. My casual research indicates this is the base model but it doesn’t feel all that base to sit in. Air con, blue teeth, electric windows and cloth upholstery are all included in the asking. Ringing in my ears as I sat in the car were the words of a neighbour who derided the Megane’s interior for being “plasticky”. As I settled down inside the Megane and peered around I did notice a lot of plastic; such is the nature of car interiors these days, chum. What can he have meant?
By and large nothing about the way the car was assembled or the material choices alarmed me, no more than the interiors of other and newer cars in the same class I have inspected recently. So, at first glance, the Renault is holding up well despite its advanced years. Car Buyer agree with me on the interior as well so I am not dissenting from the consensus here.
Handling and ride
The 2010 test has left me with an abiding hatred of the Megane: its ride shocked me with its ineptitude. On smooth roads and driven calmly it never failed to agitate and annoy me. Thus this test provided a very surprising counterpoint. The 2015 dCI 130 has a rather good ride under most circumstances and at its worst is still as good as the average. Part one of the test involves urban roads. It is only now that I remember that I didn’t notice anything.
So it must be alright under those conditions. Ditto motorways where the Megane flows quite unobtrusively along. Rural roads don’t upset it either. At present the gravelly uphill climb test track is closed for use so I tried the Megane, unladen, on a 2 km unpaved green road that snaked up, over and down some west Jutland moraines. It coped admirably and never felt less than secure and at ease. Lastly, the trump card: the Megane simply glided along the gravelly coastal track as if floating on velvet. I could imagine driving a very long way on such a bad surface and not noticing a thing underwheel. Remarkable. What kind of tyres does the car run on? 205/55 R16 Michelins. Jolly good stuff.
On the handling front, nothing leapt out at me to cause alarm and the vehicle tracked straight under all conditions with no understeer or odd behaviour apparent. I don’t – as I always have to write- put cars to the nine tenths test.
This is perhaps a cause for some further investigation. On two instances I found myself applying sudden and non-linear pressure to get the car to slow as required. Both times involved a car in front slowing unexpectedly. My reflex braking was not enough and after a small lag, my conscious mind stepped into insist on much firmer efforts than I would have expected. Put another way, I had to think about braking. Generally, under normal driving, the brakes had a smooth and progressive quality and the deceleration was easy to modulate. So, it’s a bit bipolar and this may merely be a quirk of one car.
Behind the wheel
If Renault appear to have retuned the Megane’s suspension to great effect, they have failed to do anything about the car’s single biggest failure, the ergonomics of the heating and radio controls. I can’t stress it enough: having a car designed so that changing fan speed or turning off the radio can cause an accident is a very serious demerit.
I had cause to use the fan controls the moment I set off in the car and immediately decided I would leave them alone so angry did they make me. But I couldn’t avoid using them and had to face again the basis for the Megane’s wholly unsatisfactory controls.
It stems from form determining functionality. The controls look quite nice with their two smoothly formed frames enclosing the buttons. However, the framing of the HVAC controls meant I misunderstood the design and hunted sideways (left to right) in the search for the fan speed control I needed to look up and down (for a tiny button).
The button to reduce fan speed is visually separated from the fan-increase button by that horizontal central oblong. And like the Opel Zafira, the symbols are not visually distinct enough, being nearly the same size. Finally, button operations for fans speed and temperature are good for packaging and saving money but fundamentally unergonomic. Dials and dials only are the only acceptable means to control these continuous variables like heat and volume.
The radio on/off switch is a button 5 mm in diameter. The volume control is no thicker than a pencil and is hard to reach as it lurks under an overhang on the dashboard. The design of this and the rest of the HVAC contravenes Fitt´s Law for no good reason. Why am I going on about this? Because in every day use these controls could confound your plans for a safe arrival and imperil the safety of you, your passengers and other road users.
Getting past all that, the rest of the car is just fine which makes that gross failure all the more poignant. Imagine a really nice and lovely person who had the one flaw such that the mention of hats would bring forth a torrent of verbal abuse that would last an hour. The Megane is like that. Basically it’s an alright car but with one staggeringly dumb drawback. And that bit of the car hasn’t changed since 2010.
The steering is a bit wooden. The six speed gearbox is still a bit unhelpful. I remain firmly convinced that fifth does nothing at all but confuse you during medium-speed driving around town. Was I in fourth or third or fifth or what?
Practical matters pertaining to daily use under normal conditions hereinunder luggage capacity et cetera
The boot volume is a creditable 525 litres. Only one lamp is provided in the boot, on the left side. I did not like the lack of an ashtray. The storage under the armrest was too small to be of much use but I suppose it could hold lots of USB sticks which would be helpful if you store music in that way. The Renault website does not reveal the luggage capacity with the rear seats folded down. That’s because the Megane estate holds more than the Laguna estate. And oddly more Laguna estates are sold than saloons (where sold at all).
As ever, the rear of the car is no place for children: the waistline is too high. Get a Meriva if you don’t hate your small brood. There is no centre armrest. The door armrests are narrow perches of no possible use to anyone, being narrower than a Mars bar. The head-restraints are fiddly to put up and down. The luggage bay cover is miles better than Ford’s though.
And for the driver we find the same problem as in the Hyundai i30: you can’t rest your arm on the top of the door when the window is wound down fully. It’s too high up. The view out of the car to the rear is appalling. Parking sensors help parking but not at other times. Par for the course these days. Why is this now accepted?
The Megane has a kerbweight of about 1252 kgs (quite light, I think) and that means the diesel engine has an easy time of it. Which leads me to casually say that the Megane had no trouble overtaking and generally moving about at a decent clip. Nothing to win prizes with but very believable. What you notice is that the car picks up its skirts at around 1500 rpm and really moves off. Below that it acts in a less frenetic fashion.
Renault promise 70 mpg for this six speed, front-wheel drive diesel engined estate or “sports tourer” as they fatuously describe it. I got 52 mpg which seems creditable in itself. The Megane’s fuel tank’s capacity means the car can be driven 693 miles before finally needing a refill. How many litres does the tank hold then? That could be a maths question from a secondary school book, no? I do know the answer by the way. Since it took me so much trouble to track down Renault’s dimensions from their obtuse website I will not give up this valuable secret very easily, thank you.
On DTW’s standard Calais-Cap Ferrat route, you will need to stop once, about an hour or two from your destination. That means stopping in Frejus and maybe having a meal. The total trip will require 14 gallons of diesel.
Concluding Ruminations that Draw Together the Abovegoing Observations
That HVAC design really kills this car for me. It has nice looks, a huge boot, comfortable and supportive seats, a fine ride, wooden steering, and is easy on fuel. But those controls. Those controls. Were it not for them I would take this car over a Ford Focus. But I can’t. They are that bad.