Metallic paintwork will be the only item subject to individual customer order on the 53-strong hatchback, saloon, coupe and cabriolet range which has been reformulated to provide trim and equipment upgrades in a price- stepping system similar to the feature model programme recently introduced by Ford.
Engines of all new Megane models are also overhauled in a move aimed at upgrading performance as well as cutting fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The lead-in 1.4e engine, revised to produce higher torque and 9% better economy, continues with the eight-valve layout, but every other petrol unit uses 16 valves for greater efficiency. As a result, the current 1.6-litre, 90bhp engine gives way to the new 95bhp K4J 1.4-litre, and the present Megane's 115bhp 2.0-litre unit is replaced by the K4M, a 1.6 which produces 110bhp and returns more than 40mpg in mixed driving.
Though its 140bhp figure is10bhp less than the outgoing 16-valve 2.0-litre engine, the new F5R unit only being introduced in coupe and cabriolet models, produces higher torque and is claimed to return more than six mpg better overall economy.
Detail changes are claimed to be quieter on both the normally-aspirated and turbocharged 1.9-litre diesel engines, and the lower-output unit gets an electronically-controlled injector pump. With the underbonnet changes comes reduced service requirements and the introduction of 12,000-mile intervals for petrol units and 10,000 miles for the diesels.
'There is rather more to our strategy than merely following an idea which has been launched by the market leader. Our package of changes has been welcomed as a positive step forward by every fleet executive who has been involved in our discussions,' said Renault UK fleet director Mike Power at the launch of the new range. The industry representatives we spoke with agreed that enhancing equipment levels and abandoning options would allow us to reduce the complexity of the range. As a result of that, we can make savings in both manufacturing and stocking, and we're able to pass on these benefits to customers.'
Under the 'more for less' plan which is hoped will lead to hardened residual values, the RT 1.4 hatchback - one of the most popular fleet choices - will cost £375 less than the 1.6-litre car it replaces in the showrooms. But upgraded equipment and higher comfort features add up to a packaging benefit worth £1,070 on this version, which will cost £12,600 on-the-road.
Upgrades to Alize, Sport, Sport Alize and RXE trims will progress via steps of £500 for both the hatchback and Classic saloon versions. Similarly, switching from the entry-level model's 75bhp, 1.4-litre eight-valve engine to the new 95bhp, 16-valve version will cost £300 - and another £300 step will buy the 110bhp, 1.6-litre 16-valve.
However, the switch from petrol to diesel will cost £1,000 for the 100bhp 1.9dTi, while Renault's advanced technology 2.0-litre IDE 16-valve engine - Europe's first direct petrol injection unit - incurs a £2,000 premium over the 1.6-litre engine in the coupe.
'Renault is adopting the price-step strategy across all its European markets and the hope is that the streamlining will help improve delivery delays. This is not an issue in Britain, where most models are available in three to four weeks, but we are expecting to see some improvement toward the end of the year,' said Power.
Anti-lock braking, steering with power assistance and height-adjustment and a computer engine immobiliser are now included as standard across all models. And the Megane is claimed to be the first in its class to offer driver, passenger and side airbags as standard for the front seats and three-point inertia-reel safety belts for all five seats. The new cars are also covered by a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty following the introduction of wax into box sections, the use of a galvanised front sub-frame and greater use of pre-protected steel.
On a like-for-like basis, the packaging gives the RT 1.4 a £1,270 advantage over Vauxhall's 90bhp Astra 1.4i LS and makes the car substantially cheaper than the Peugeot 306 LX and Citroen Xsara LX, both of which use 1.6-litre engines to produce 90bhp.
With a five bhp bonus over its outgoing 1.6-litre stablemate, the new 16-valve RT is also claimed to return 3.6mpg better average fuel consumption, and the smaller unit proved to be a surprisingly spirited performer over demanding mountain roads which formed part of the launch test route. Though it is 9% more fuel efficient, the free-revving K4J motor has an unburstable feel and demonstrates the ability to cruise in near silence at the legal limit. As used in the Laguna, the 110bhp 1.6-litre version of the K4 also offers higher performance than its predecessor, along with claimed combined economy of 40.4mpg.
According to Megane project manager Francois Bergougnoux, only the doors, roof and rear wings are carryover items. 'We have aimed to make the new version more expressive and have accentuated the curves in the bonnet. Customers now demand more upmarket details, so we have given the interior a softer look and extended the use of cloth,' he said.
Added Power: 'We have come a long way in recent years, more than doubling our 1993 fleet penetration to 9.5%. We've had success across a wide spectrum of business, from Motability to solus deals with big fleets, and I'm confident this move to make the selection of our products easier will help us keep on growing. Only certain accessories work to add to the value of used vehicles, while there does seem to be a positive effect to be gained from accessories which are built into the basic specification. At a time when RVs are under fire, our price-step concept should make a difference.'
Last year Renault fleet sales were 19.2% up year-on-year at 94,888 putting the French marque behind only Ford, Vauxhall and Peugeot in the best-selling fleet manufacturer's list. And the Megane was the sixth best-selling fleet car last year with sales totalling 47,221 units.