REVIEW DATE: 24 May 2007
The Diesel Versions Of The Renault Megane II Are A Beguiling Blend Of The Radical And The Realistic. By Andy Enright.
How things change. Wind the clock back just five years and the prospect of driving a diesel family hatch was, for many road testers, an assignment tantamount to constructive dismissal. These days things are a lot different, with the diesel versions usually prompting a frenzied rush for the keys. Take Renault's Megane II as an example. With an almost bewildering range of state of the art common rail diesel engines to choose from and a body that will stop passers-by in their tracks, the truly desirable diesel hatch has arrived.
Although time will doubtless dilute its impact, it's still something of a kick to flip open the garage door and be greeted by a car that looks like an escapee from a motor show stand. Renault have a name for this effect. - 'X Appeal' - and claim that this has been responsible for encouraging sales. Of course, selling diesels in the UK isn't a tricky job at the moment with more than 40% of all new registrations drinking from the black pump.
The Megane II range offers a number of variations on the diesel theme. Those on a tighter budget can opt for 86bhp or 106bhp versions of the 1.5-litre dCi engine in Euro IV compliant form and not feel particularly hard done by. Should funds permit, most would consider the 1.9-litre version worth the additional outlay, in its latest 130bhp guise. The range-topping option is an advanced 2.0-litre dCi packing either a handy 150bhp or a serious 175bhp in Renaultsport guise. The 150bhp version still returns 52mpg average economy and the 175bhp will race from 0 to 60mph in eight seconds. As you'd expect, the Megane II offers an exclusively common-rail diesel range. So buyers of the entry-level model aren't saddled with diesel technology from the Industrial Revolution. The 1.9-litre dCi 130 is currently the only Megane oil-burner offered with automatic transmission.
Available in both hatchback bodystyles, plus saloon, estate and Coupe Cabriolet guises, the diesel models are offered in three-door Extreme, Dynamique and GT trims, or five-door Authentique, Expression, Dynamique, GT and Privilege guises, along with the usual limited run special editions. Going into all the permutations of trim, body and engine availability would probably use all the space we have available for this road test, so let's just say that the diesel range breaks down into a wide range of different models and leave it at that.
"Unlike many rivals, the Megane II offers an exclusively common-rail diesel range"
Although the 1.5-litre engine is a little slower than its big brother, one benefit of sharing the same high-tech engineering is that fuel economy is superb. A touring fuel consumption figure of over 70mpg is scarcely credible for such a sizeable car and the average figure of 60.1mpg still beggars belief. The sprint to 60mph in the 86bhp version will take just over 12.7 seconds and a top speed of 106mph means normal motorway cruising is relatively relaxed. One of the main reasons diesel is set to make petrol-engined cars a quaint extravagance is emissions regulations and the Megane II's 1.5-litre 86bhp engine underscores this superiority, emitting a mere 120g/km of CO2 per kilometre.
The 1.9-litre engine has a useful mid range punch, in 130bhp form taking barely more than 9 seconds to get to 60mph with a top speed of 124mph. Average fuel economy of over 47mpg and emissions figures of 148g/km are about as good as it gets for this sort of car. The spread of torque isn't as wide as in some rival offerings, but the gearchange is good enough to make flicking up and down the gearbox good fun. The 2.0-litre is by far the most impressive powerplant, using variable geometry turbocharging and piezo-electric injection technology to produce a stonking 340Nm of torque at 2,000rpm in 150bhp form. The 175bhp Renaultsport dCi model is more muscular still.
Today's Megane II doesn't differ all that much from the original, with Renault sensibly deciding to gently massage their winning formula rather than drastically change it. More observant members of the public might spot elongated, sleeker headlamps and alterations to the grille which see everything come together in a 'V' shape either side of a more prominent Renault badge at the front. The rear benefits from it's own re-sculpted bumper and revised light clusters while, inside, the instrument binnacle features chrome-ringed dials with white background lighting.
Genuine innovation is much in evidence. Take Renault's anti-submarining airbag, a device which leaps forth from the seat cushion to protect the pelvis. This replaces the traditional (and some would say uncomfortable) hump at the front of the seat and is a neat solution that provides both comfort and unparalleled safety, effectively making it impossible to slide beneath the seatbelt in the event of an accident. Like the Laguna II, the Megane features a card rather than the traditional key, and multiplex wiring systems ensure that all of the usual refinements such as rain-sensing wipers, cruise control with speed limiter and automatic headlamps are available. Spend more and you can even specify a full-length sunroof and Carminat satellite navigation.
As long as you're comfortable with the avant-garde styling, it's difficult to see any impediments to the Renault Megane II diesel models' relentless march up the sales charts. All the engines and body styles have a lot going for them. The pricing is refreshingly realistic and the great strides in quality and safety put the Megane onto the shortlists of buyers who would previously never have contemplated the mid-range Renault. Such a bold move from Renault deserves a reward. It looks like they're reaping it.
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