REVIEW DATE: 27 Mar 2009
Can the estate car's brand of practicality still compete with the latest MPVs? Renault thinks it can. Steve Walker reports.
Have you got a young family? Then you need an MPV. At least, that's what the advertisements tell us. On TV and in the press, the MPV is set up as the ultimate route to wholesome family life. Beaming children spill from its wide door openings, bikes, kites and kitchen sinks are lifted from its huge boot and the seats magically flip, fold and twirl so the most can be made of its cavernous interior. It's all very convincing but where does it leave the good old fashioned estate car? It's certainly been eclipsed by the MPV but does it still have a role to play? Renault thinks it does and has found space in its line-up for the Megane Sports Tourer.
Renault does a nice little line in MPVs with its Espace, Scenic and Modus models all adhering to the people carrying formula but it's also got a healthy crop of estates. With Sports Tourer versions of the Laguna and Clio now joined by the Megane model, either there's life in the old estate yet or the French marque has made quite a miscalculation.
A big attraction of the estate over an MPV is the way it performs on the road. The Megane Sports Tourer runs on the same platform as the Megane hatchback and the Scenic MPV but has far more in common with the hatch in terms of its low centre of gravity and hunkered-down driving position. The suspension is lifted wholesale from the Megane with MacPherson struts at the front combined with Renault's clever horned subframe. The torsen beam rear set-up is less advanced than the independent rear suspension found in Ford's Focus but it's more compact and helps the Megane offer more boot space.
The engine line-up includes Renault's economical 1.5-litre dCi diesel units and some clever turbocharged petrol options. The 1.4-litre TCe 130 petrol will be an attractive choice for those seeking strong performance and low running costs while the TCe 180 is a 2.0-litre engine that majors on outright pace. There are also conventional 1.6-litre petrol units and a 2.0-litre that's mated to a CVT automatic gearbox. On the diesel side, a 160bhp 2.0-litre dCi serves as the range-topper and there's an automatic gearbox option but this cuts the power to 150bhp.
".beneath the handsome exterior is more rear passenger space and a very big boot"
The Megane Sport Tourer isn't merely a Megane Hatch with a conservatory on the back. It has a longer wheelbase and an extended rear overhang to ensure it can provide genuine extra practicality. In total, it's 263mm longer than the five-door equivalent and the extra size translates into improved rear passenger space as well as a bigger boot. With 524-litres of space available beneath the rear parcel shelf and the option of folding the back seats down to free 1,595-litres, the Megane has quite a capacity for an estate based on a family hatchback. Renault's designers have incorporated an extremely low loading lip of just 561mm to help when hoisting objects inside and there are also two separate storage zones in the boot itself to bring extra flexibility to the space.
MPVs can look a little frumpy with their high roofs and bulbous dimensions prioritising interior space at the expense of a sleek exterior and this is another area where the estate can gain an edge. The Megane Sports Tourer shares the nose of the hatch version but the rear end is all its own. The roof line drops away towards the back of the car while the side windows taper off as they progress down the flanks enhancing the long, low appearance of the estate.
Renault takes safety very seriously and the Megane Sports Tourer is well equipped in this regard. ABS brakes with brakeforce distribution, brake assist and ESP stability control with understeer control are all included. There's also a host of technology features including the Renault hands free card, dual-zone climate control, cruise control with a speed limiter and bi-xenon directional headlamps.
Renault can also offer not one but two satellite navigation systems with the entry-level Tom Tom Carminat set-up coming in at under £500. It's a fully-integrated system with a 5.8-inch screen and various speed and traffic information built in. The second option is the Carminat Bluetooth DVD navigation system.
The 1.5-litre diesel engines will be the stars of the Megane Sport Tourer show if running costs are your thing. The units are used across the Renault range and are found here in 86 and 106bhp form. In each instance, emissions are below 120g/km bringing significant tax advantages.
Renault appears to be in little doubt that the estate car still has something to offer in the modern marketplace. It has a complete range of load-luggers that sit alongside its popular MPV products and it's easy to see how they could be preferable for some buyers. The Megane Sport Tourer looks the part with its sleek, elongated lines and beneath the handsome exterior is more rear passenger space and a very big boot.
It might not have the flexibility of a leading MPV product but the Sport Tourer blends style and practicality in a manner that should appeal to those who aren't convinced by the people carrier's trickery. The estate remains a refreshingly straightforward style of family car and there's still a lot to be said for that.
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|Renault Megane 1.6 16V 110 Dynamique TomTom 3dr coupe|
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|Renault Megane 1.5 dCi 110 Dynamique TomTom 5dr EDC diesel hatchback|
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|For MEGANE SPORT TOURER|
|OVERALL||7.4 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|
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