Renault's fourth generation Megane family hatchback is now a smarter proposition - in more ways than one. If you're shopping for something Focus or Astra-shaped in this segment, it'll probably no longer be one of the first cars you'll immediately think of, but this improved version of the MK4 model is clever, sensible and very good looking, with extra sophistication inside - and under the bonnet, where E-TECH plug-in hybrid tech is now offered at the top of the range. In short, it might surprise you.
Ordinary family cars can no longer be... well, ordinary. People want polish these days, a smarter feel and hi-tech features that make them feel pampered and premium. Which means that in the Focus-sized family hatchback segment, they may well find themselves looking at models like this one, Renault's rejuvenated fourth generation Megane. With the French maker's position as one of Europe's biggest car makers severely under threat and a slimmed-down range of conventional models forced upon dealers by this brand's commitment to electric power, it's hard to over-state this Megane's importance if you happen to run a showroom with the yellow-backed silver diamond above the door. Hence the efforts Renault has gone to improve it, smartening the look, improving media connectivity and adding in a clever Plug-in hybrid E-TECH variant. All of this is crucial, for in the Golf and Focus family hatchback segment, this Renault has to take on and try and beat some of the very best cars you can buy. Can it? Let's find out.
This fourth generation Megane's switch to a fresh CMF platform helped a lot in improving its dynamic responses but mainstream versions of this car still prioritise lowering your heartbeat rather than raising it. Ride quality is one of this car's most competitive traits. The engine options in the volume part of range are very simple, both four cylinder units: there's either a 1.3-litre petrol powerplant with 140hp. Or a 1.5-litre Blue dCi diesel with 115hp. Both can be had with either 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual clutch auto transmission. Renault also offers an E-TECH plug-in hybrid variant which sees a 1.6-litre petrol engine mated to two electric motors and a multi-mode clutch-less transmission. The system puts out 160hp (around 20hp more than the equivalent plug-in package that Kia offers) and features a 9.8kWh, 400V battery that allows a range of about 30 miles; plus the ability to travel at up to 84mph, on electric power alone. The only other variant in the range beyond this is the Renaultsport R.S. hot hatch, which uses a 1.8-litre turbo petrol unit now uprated to 300hp in standard form, a state of tune previously limited to the track-ready 'Trophy' version (which continues). Again, there's a choice of manual or auto (paddleshift) transmission. With most more ordinary Meganes, you can order the brand's 'Multi-Sense' driving modes system, one of those able to alter steering feel, throttle response, stability control settings and auto gearchange timings to suit the way you want to drive. Heck it even changes the engine note in an effort to put you in a sportier mood.
As before, this car comes in Hatch and Sports Tourer estate guises and has been only subtly updated as part of this fourth generation design's facelift. The first thing you'd notice if you were familiar with the original version of this MK4 model is the headlights, no longer of the old fashioned halogen variety but now of the Renault 'LED Pure Vision' type, with beams that increase the beam range by nearly 30%. The front fog lamps and rear tail lamps are also now LED-powered. Plus there's a redesigned front bumper, chrome-trimmed fog light surrounds, extra air deflectors, dynamic 'scrolling' indicators and a more pronounced front wing design. Inside, there's a new vertical 9.3-inch centre-dash infotainment screen in top variants (it's 7-inches in size in lesser versions). With its new Renault EASYLINK connected multimedia system, it offers a wide-range of multimedia, navigation and infotainment services, as well as Multi-Sense settings. Top variants also get a 10-inch digital instrument cluster display. And a rim-less electrochromic rear view mirror. Plus there centre console controls have been restyled. Otherwise, it's the usual Megane recipe. A couple of adults can be accommodated reasonably comfortably on the back seat, though leg space is at a bit of a premium. . The boot space you get varies quite a bit, not only with body shape but also with the powerplant you've chosen to fit up front. With a conventional TCe 140 petrol engine, the standard hatch offers 473-litres - it's 563-litres with the Sport Tourer estate. With the dCi 115 diesel fitted, the standard hatch offers 394-litres - or 504-litres with the estate. With the E-TECH Plug-in hybrid powertrain installed, cargo space falls significantly - by 116-litres over the TCe petrol unit, which means that in the E-TECH Sports Tourer estate, you've got 447-litres to play with.
Prices aren't much different from before, so think in terms of a range between £21,500 and £28,500 for mainstream versions, with a premium of around £1,500 required if you want to move from the five-door Hatch to the Sport Tourer estate. There's a choice of two trim levels - 'Iconic' and 'R.S. Line'. The PHEV E-TECH Plug-in variants start from around £30,000. In terms of equipment, it's worth finding the extra couple of thousand that Renault wants to upgrade you from base 'Iconic' trim to the much nicer 'R.S. Line' level of spec. As well as larger 17-inch wheel and sportier bumpers, that premium gets you a screen upgrade inside, the base variant's 7-inch screens for the centre-stack monitor and the instrument binnacle enlarged, respectively, to 9.3-inches and 10.2-inches. In addition, the sportier derivative has lots of nice 'R.S.Line'-themed trimming touches for areas like the dash, the doors, the gearstick and the sports seats. All Megane models these days get full-LED headlamps with C-shaped LED daytime running lights. Plus navigation, all-round parking sensors, climate controlled air conditioning and power-folding mirrors, along with the 'Android Auto' and 'Apple CarPlay' smartphone-mirroring systems. Safety-wise, it's disappointing to find that autonomous braking (Renault's 'AEBS' 'Automatic Emergency Braking System') is only standard with plusher 'R.S. Line; trim. But as well as the usual passive safety features, all models do get the brand's 'Visio Pack', which gives you 'Lane Departure Warning', 'Traffic Sign Recognition' and 'Automatic High/Low beam' headlights.
Let's get to the WLTP figures - which here assume base trim. The TCe 140 petrol model manages up to 47.1mpg and 136g/km in base spec manual form (or 46.3mpg and 138g/km as an auto). The Blue dCi 115 diesel manages up to 62.8mpg and 117g/km in base spec manual form (or up to 61.4mpg and 121g/km as a base spec auto). As for the E-TECH Plug-in hybrid, well that can offer a 30 mile WLTP-rated all-electric driving range: this rises to around 40 miles on the urban cycle. The WLTP figure for combined cycle fuel economy is up to 217.3mpg; the WLTP CO2 reading is up to 30g/km. Which in turn will mean a far lower BiK tax rating (10%) than the one which would apply to a conventional petrol or diesel Megane. Enough to justify this PHEV model's price premium? That'll depend on your tax situation. With this Plug-in variant, you can select an additional 'B' mode via the auto gearstick to increase regenerative braking energy harvesting. Charging time via a Type 2 (mode 3) cable is 3 hours - or 4 hours 15 mins from a domestic socket. Another aspect of purchase that should please you lies in the fact that you won't be fobbed off with the basic three year / 60,000 mile warranty that most rivals offer. All Meganes come with a much more complete four-year / 100,000-mile warranty that includes emergency breakdown recovery. There's also three years' worth of European cover as part of this package.
Renault had to step up its game and significantly improve its fourth generation Megane. It has. At last, the company seems to be focusing on selling cars the UK really wants. Will this improved version of the MK4 Megane be one of them? Well, it's certainly now a much more credible alternative to the usual Astra and Focus-class choices in the family hatchback segment. The question is though, whether buyers in this segment who might have already dismissed this Megane out of hand will take another look at its much improved proposition. They'd do well to consider it. This may not be the European market leader it was a decade or so ago but it remains roomy, quiet, safe and pleasantly plush, even in entry-level form. In other words, a compact family five-door that ticks an awful lot of boxes. And one an awful lot of people we think, would rather enjoy owning....