By: Jesse Adams

Johannesburg - I’ll try to avoid making this review another cliche-fest, but we all know what happens when a newcomer arrives in the South African hatch market. Over-usage of terms such as benchmark, cut-throat, key segment rival and, of course, Volkswagen Golf are unavoidable.

That’s right, the benchmark Golf has another key rival to contend with in the cut-throat C-size hatch segment. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Jokes aside, Renault’s new Megane has landed and it’s got all the cards in the deck it needs to be taken seriously.

Perceived quality isn’t so much a virtue as a requisite these days, and this fourth-generation version piles it on in heaps. From its beginnings in 1995 the Megane has seen a steady rise in material and build standards through generations two and three, but this one is on an entirely new level for Renault. From its alcantara-wrapped seats, to the intricate effects made by LED light clusters, to its vibrantly coloured instrument panel backgrounds, this is a car that can stand toe to toe with established hatch players, and not flinch in quality terms.

The cabin’s dark and moody, with soft-touch everything, and it’s insulated from outside noise at levels comparable with high-end luxury saloons. There are some classy deep blue accents in the dashboard, door panels, seat stitching and around the manual gear knob, and mood lighting which elegantly emanates from the door panels, along with instrument cluster and central touchscreen backgrounds, can be customised with a variety of colour choices.

Hi-tech centrepiece

That 220mm central screen, known as R-Link 2 in Renaultspeak, acts as a very hi-tech and colourful centrepiece for the interior, but it’s not without its foibles. I like that it reacts to swipes and pokes like a normal tablet, and its resolution is fantastic, but in an attempt to unclutter the dashboard, many simple functions such as fan speed, aircon on/off, and basic entertainment settings have been buried deep inside a series of complex menus.

The audio system defaults to radio mode always, and finding the music playlist in my phone required far too much electronic digging on every startup, whether linked via Bluetooth or USB cord.

Further exploration of the R-Link system (I advise doing this while parked) reveals some pretty neat features, such as an exterior air quality monitor, programmable user profiles, giant analogue-look clocks and eco scoreboards (driving efficiently is a game now, you know).

I must also say, that for all of its complications, the R-Link interface does offer the easiest self-parking activation I’ve yet come across, and its integrated Tom Tom navigation system is simple to use.

Best in class

Ride quality is probably the best in class, which is quite a statement considering its torsion beam rear suspension. Other C-segment contenders get reputably smoother independent rear suspensions, but even so Johannesburg’s worst roads could do little to unsettle the five-door hatch. It glided over ripples, holes and cracks almost like they weren’t there.

Our test car was a mid-spec GT-Line, so it also didn’t come with the range-topping GT’s fancy four-wheel steering setup, but I suspect its higher profile 17 inch rubber (the GT gets 18s) offered the more cushioned ride. The base-model Dynamique’s 16-inch tyres might be even better.

Some of the comfort credit must go to the seats, which are quite radically bolstered for a hatch of the non-hot variety. In other words they wouldn’t be out of place in an upcoming RenaultSport RS model. My average-sized torso nestled into these buckets like a puppy in a down duvet, though some bigger bodies might not agree as nicely with the narrow frames.

Rear legroom is on par with other hatches in this segment, and with front seats adjusted midway on their rails there’s plenty of space at the back.

Eager little engine

This Megane’s boot is also noteworthy, because at 384 litres (1247 with seats folded flat) it has the Focus, Astra, Auris and Golf waxed for cargo space. Impressively there’s a full size spare as well.

The middle GT-Line also gets a middle power output with its 1.2-litre turbo making 97kW and 205Nm. It’s an eager little engine, with only a trace of lag, and it spins smoothly and quietly. Most of its punch comes from low revs, so it’s quite a relaxed drive, and with a relatively healthy torque figure it was happy to cruise in high gear with infrequent downshifts.

Our test unit had a six-speed manual, though a twin-clutch auto is also available.

Over a week-long test period on varied road types our car returned an average petrol consumption of 8.5 litres per 100km, but this number would likely improve with less use of aircon and more use of a throttle-deadening Eco mode. Renault claims an unlikely 5.3 litres per 100km for this model, but a quoted CO2 output of 119g/km means it’s exempt from emissions tax.

The new Megane GT-Line hatch is priced at R339 900, with a fixed glass roof, auto parking, blind spot warning, an electrochromatic rear-view mirror and metallic paint the only extra cost options.

Six airbags, ABS braking with EBD, stability control and tyre-pressure monitors are included as standard. All Renaults come with a five-year or 150 000km warranty and a five-year or 90 000km service plan.

VERDICT

The new Megane is a stylish alternative to the usual suspects, with a very upmarket interior and a ride quality that’s second to none in this class. The finicky infotainment system is a small blotch on an otherwise hard to fault package.

FACTS

Renault Megane GT-Line

Engine: 1.2-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Power: 97kW @ 5500rpm

Torque: 205Nm @ 2000rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 10.6 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 197km/h

Price: R339 900

Warranty: 5-year/150 000km

Serviceplan: 5-year/90 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Kia Cerato hatch 1.6 SX - 95kW/157Nm - R344 995

Mazda3 2.0 Individual - 121kW/210Nm - R336 800

Opel Astra 1.4T Enjoy - 110kW/230Nm - R334 600

Peugeot 308 1.2T GT Line - 96kW/230Nm - R357 900

VW Golf 1.4 TSI Comfortline - 92kW/200Nm - R337 100