What are you driving?
It's been a bit too easy, of late, to forget about the Renault Megane. That's not to be insulting towards Renault's five-door family hatchback, but more an observation that the market has shifted so dramatically towards SUVs and crossovers, that sometimes one could be forgiven for thinking that no-one makes a straightforward family hatch such as this anymore.
One would be wrong, though, which is a good thing - it would be awful to contemplate a market where a car as all-round impressive as this has disappeared from the market. This is the fourth generation of the Megane, and arguably it's the best one that Renault has yet made. Certainly, it's more handsome than any previous version, and it's definitely going to be more reliable than the rather flaky second-generation model of the early 2000s.
It's just been given a mild update and, crucially, that includes a new engine. This is a 1.3-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder unit, which is shared with both Nissan (which is part of the same group as Renault, of course) and Mercedes (which shares some engines and front-wheel-drive model components with Renault and Nissan). So yes, if you buy this car, you can boast that it's actually got a Mercedes engine. Our test car not only had 'Flame Red' paintwork (a welcome relief amid the sea of grey or black cars that we normally see), but was also in GT Line trim. This means a chunky body kit and nice alloy wheels that can, from a distance, just about fool you into thinking that this one might be the mighty 280hp Megane RS.
It's also well-equipped. For €27,615 as tested (or about where many SUVs start their pricing) you get 18-inch alloy wheels, a big touchscreen with TomTom live services and mapping, a DAB radio, Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free calls, USB and aux-in sockets, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, voice control, rear parking camera with front and rear parking sensors, 'Visio' safety system including lane departure warning, traffic recognition and automatic high/low beam lights.
Name its best bits
Remember how we just said this humble Renault has, basically, a Mercedes engine? Well, in fact, it's got a rather better version of this engine than any Mercedes, in that it's far, far more refined in the Megane than it has proven to be in any Merc we've driven. In the A-Class hatchback, for example, this same engine has a rather tiresomely gruff sound to it. Here in the Megane though, it's much better - quieter, smoother and more pleasant to sit behind on a long journey.
It's punchy too - you can have this engine with 160hp, but this is the 140hp version. Now, you'd assume that makes it the weaker sibling but, again, you'd be wrong. To go with that 140hp, it also has a very decent 240Nm of torque, plus the Megane hatchback has a relatively trim kerb weight of 1,353kg. So actually it has very decent performance. Better than decent, actually - you could almost accuse it of being a junior hot hatch. OK, so a 9.5-second 0-100km/h time isn't that exciting on paper, but on the road, the Megane TCe feels a lot feistier than that.Pleasingly, the grunt doesn't come with a cost at the pumps, or at least not much. We easily squeezed 5.8 litres per 100km fuel consumption out of the Megane (that's 48mpg), which is not only not bad, it's about what we'd expect overall from a similar diesel. Incidentally, this engine comes with the latest generation of 'Gasoline Particulate Filter' or GPF in the exhaust, which means it's about as clean as can be from the point of view of nasty, noxious, emissions.
Inside, you also get some sporty add-ons, such as a contrast-stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel, and really deep bucket seats that are superbly comfortable. I'm less sure about the driving position, though, which is quite noticeably offset to the left, nor the metallic blue GT Line trim in the cabin, which looks slightly like you've left the protective plastic film on them. In fact, I spent a couple of minutes trying to peel off the film, before I realised that there wasn't any there, and they were supposed to look like that...
The rest of the cabin is nice - plenty of space, good overall quality and a very handsome upright 8.7-inch touchscreen. The menu and button layout on that screen can be a bit fiddly at times, but you'll probably get used to it.
Anything that bugs you?
As I mentioned, the driving position is a bit offset to the right, which does take some of the shine off those gorgeous bucket seats. Beyond that, there's just a faint hint of disappointment that the Megane doesn't back up its handsome styling with similarly gorgeous (so to speak) handling. The steering is fine from a weight and accuracy point of view, but there's little-to-no feedback, and the suspension is a little short of travel so that on really bumpy, challenging roads, it runs out of ideas a bit too quickly. There's nothing majorly wrong here, and the Megane is actually perfectly fine to drive, it's just that the full-on Megane RS is utterly brilliant to drive, and we just wish that a little more of that RS fairy dust could sprinkle down to this end of the range.
And why have you given it this rating?
It's actually pretty hard not to like the Megane, especially in this spec. The 1.3 petrol turbo is both powerful and economical enough to make you wonder why you went with diesel in the first place, while those wonderful seats really lift the cabin and make it feel like a much more special place. If it were just a little bit sharper to drive, I think it would maybe qualify for an extra star.