THE latest generation of the Renault Megane has strutted its stuff on UK shores for some four years now.
With a variety of versions available, customers have been able to choose between practical, everyday cars to pootle around town, or snarling, big-wheeled examples of French hot hatchery from the Renaultsport division.
Now Renault has moved to plug the gap between the two styles of Megane by bringing out a new trim level – the GT.
The package is designed to be a step up in excitement from the regular Megane, but without the extremes of the full-blooded sporty cars or the hefty price tags. Performance with practicality, if you like.
Available in three or five-door guises, the GT sits between the Dynamique and Renaultsport models. Prices start at £16,170.
Visually, the GT is bulked up by a full bodykit, as well as twin chrome exhausts and a GT-branded chrome plate between the pipes, aping the metal that protects race cars from red-hot exhausts. The suspension has been lowered by 10mm for a sportier look and 17-inch alloys fill the wheel arches.
Inside, the front seats receive extra bolstering, while the centre console gets brushed-steel effect plastic inserts. Real metal makes it to the drilled aluminium pedals and foot rest, while swathes of silver also make the leather-rimmed steering wheel where a GT logo sits prominently.
Renault has not just added cosmetic flair to the Megane GT – it has also tweaked the mechanicals.
The chassis has been fettled with new shock absorbers, stiffer front and rear springs and anti-roll systems, while the power steering has been re-jigged to take the changes into account. Creature comforts include automatic headlights and wipers, electric heated mirrors, electric windows front and back and ESP with traction and understeer control.
There are two choices of engine in the new range. Petrol devotees get a 2.0-litre turbo unit with 165bhp, which means performance of 0 to 62mph in 8.3mph seconds and a top speed of 137mph. Combined fuel economy is 36.7mpg.
Likely to be of more interest to fleets is the 2.0-litre dCi diesel engine, which produces less power than the petrol lump at 150bhp, but much more torque – 250lb-ft at 2,000 rpm. The diesel will hit 62mph from standing in 8.7 seconds and has a top speed of 130mph, all with impressive claimed combined economy of 51.4mpg, as well as being the second-fastest diesel in the sector after the new Volkswagen Golf GT TDI 170.
Renault sees the Golf GT as a direct competitor alongside the likes of the BMW 120i and 120d, the Audi A3 and Alfa 147.
The petrol Megane GT emits 184g/km of CO2 and the diesel 146g/km, which means they fall into the 23% and 19% benefit-in-kind tax bands respectively.
From a wallet point of view, the GT looks competitive with prices ranging from £16,170 to £17,670. Renault expects it to make up 10% of overall Megane sales, of which 75 to 80% will be the diesel version. More than 50% of GTs are expected to go to fleets.
With the GT’s sporting pretension, Renault decided it was a good opportunity to simultaneously unveil its latest and hottest hot Megane, built as a special edition to celebrate Fernando Alonso and the Renault F1 team winning their second respective world championship this year.
It boasts possibly the longest name of any car ever – the Megane Renaultsport 230 F1 Team R26 – but for ink-saving reasons I’ll refer to it henceforth as the R26.
With a whacking 230bhp, the R26 features a limited slip differential which, for the non-technically minded, uses engineering black magic to virtually eliminate the torque steer that can plague high-powered front-wheel drive cars.
The car is built on a revised version of the Megane Cup chassis and can hit 62mph in 6.2 seconds. The R26 is aimed at track-day enthusiasts and will cost £19,570.
Behind the wheel
THE cosmetic changes to the GT make it, in my opinion, the best looking ‘normal’ Megane yet, adding a beefiness that – combined with some stylish metallic paint colours – really grabs the eye.
Inside, everything feels solid and dependable, with the exception of the plasticky and cheap-feeling fake-metal centre console. I’m not a big fan of the tacky GT logo slapped on the steering wheel either.
I drove the diesel engine first. It’s the same unit found in the latest Laguna, and very good it is too.
Smooth, with a wide band of torque, it’s perfect for cruising on motorways and is responsive enough to enjoy on the back roads, too. My only criticism would be that it feels a bit too refined for the GT’s sporting ambitions, but it’s a minor quibble.
The petrol engine is also excellent and probably gels with the GT’s performance-orientated image a little more than the diesel. 165bhp makes for rapid progress and the exhaust noise at higher revs makes what can be a perfectly relaxed mile-muncher come alive when you want it to. The changes to the chassis hit a decent compromise between comfort and performance stiffness depending on what is required. The ride is never too harsh, but neither does the GT wallow in the corners.
As for the R26, I can’t see it appearing on many fleets, but it’s a riot and probably Renault’s best recent performance hatch. Bags of power from very low down, fan-tastic handling and a wonderfully boomy exhaust note. Great fun.
Renault has hit a pretty good balance between everyday practicality and sporty performance. With two great engines and agile handling, the GT should suit those looking for a car that can handle business trips while being enjoyable to drive.
|Model:||GT 2.0 dCi||GT 2.0 T||Renaultsport R26|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||150/4,000||165/5,000||230/5,500|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||250/2,000||199/3,250||229/3,000|
|Max speed (mph):||130||137||147|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||51.4||36.7||33.2|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||146||184||200|