Good: equipment, looks, fuel economy.
Not so good: interior plastics in places, rear legroom, choppy ride on big wheels.
This is the new Renault Megane Grand Coupe. Let's address that C-segment-sized elephant in the room before we go any further: it's a four-door saloon. Calling it a 'Grand Coupe' when it is in fact neither grand nor a coupe is a little cheeky on Renault's part, but you can blame BMW et al for starting the rot. This car replaces the popular Fluence in Renault's range and will be offered with two diesel engines and four trim levels.
It's a handsome thing, the Megane Grand Coupe, although when viewed head-on it appears to be absolutely massive. It's quite imposing in a rear-view mirror, and this €29,940 Signature trim-equipped test car benefits from full LED lamps to complement the distinctive standard C-shaped daytime running lights. Move around to the side, however, and the effect is somewhat less pronounced, with the slightly truncated-looking tail sitting a touch uncomfortably with the rest of the car's design. The rear lights are of a similar design to the Megane hatchback's and at night they pull off a decent impression of a hipster moustache. Different then, but a whole lot easier on the eye than the Fluence it replaces.
Moving inside, the cabin initially seems to offer a big improvement in quality feel. But, woe betides anyone who touches the lower half of the dashboard... Renault must have bought a job lot of resin for that shiny, scratchy, hard black plastic that they've been using for the last twenty years, because there's an acre of the stuff below your eye line. The main control surfaces do feel nice if a little flimsy in some areas. Take the central cupholder for example: it has a neat sliding partition to allow space for your phone or whatever, but it doesn't feel very substantial. Not ideal when you've got two cups of molten coffee in situ, threatening to take flight at the first hint of a bump. The location also makes the gear lever awkward to get at with cups in place unless you have triple-jointed wrists. A small issue, but it's little annoyances like these that work against the Megane when compared with its class rivals.
The R-Link 2 infotainment screen on this trim level is bigger than the standard display (it's now an 8.7-inch item), although Renault has missed a trick in deleting the rotary volume control knob and replacing it with touch-sensitive buttons. I found myself just using the steering column-mounted controls the whole time. The navigation system is good, but for some reason R-Link disconnected my phone every time I hung up from a call, requiring a full reconnect before it would allow any further communication. The whole thing has an air of knock-off iPad about it, (especially the infuriatingly slow map zoom function), but there are enough toys and tricks to keep most entertained. The 'Comfort' interior lighting setting turns the displays and the interior LEDs a lurid shade of distinctly uncomfortable blue, but is configurable thankfully.
Renault claims an improvement in rear legroom, but despite the fact that I am far from lofty, anyone behind the driver's seat complained incessantly until I moved the seat forward. At least the boot is bigger than the hatchback's (though not by much and its aperture is pretty narrow). This trim level has a handy function that allows the boot to open by waving your foot underneath it, even if it does make you look a bit mental to passers-by. Frustratingly, there's no external boot button, and no automatic close function, either.
Hitting the road, the big difference is the fitment of the new (manual transmission only) 1.6-litre 130hp dCi engine. It's far torquier than the ubiquitous 1.5-litre 110hp unit, and the small increase in noise isn't a big issue. It turns the Megane into a fine cruiser, while gear ratios most definitely selected for the pursuit of economy over acceleration. Wind and road noise are minimal, and teamed with excellent climate control and a good sound system, so long distances are no issue for the Grand Coupe. A suite of driver aids are present, with lane departure warning, fatigue detection and frontal distance radar contributing to the car's five-star Euro NCAP rating.
Nevertheless, on bumpier roads, the ride can get quite rough, probably not aided by the 18-inch alloy wheels on the Signature car. The steering is typical electrically-assisted fare: it's light and unobtrusive around town yet vague and uncommunicative at speed, not helped by the Sport mode's unnatural-feeling weighting when you turn more than a few degrees away from dead straight. Eco mode brings dulled throttle response, as well as a scorecard judged on your acceleration, gearchange and anticipation. It's tempting to be a child and drive like an idiot to get the score as low as possible, but it's a nice touch for grown-ups... In fact, the fuel economy steadfastly refuses to be too affected no matter how hard you drive, so it's nice to see the new engine still has the 1.5-litre unit's trait of being a miser on fuel.
That's the lot, and it must be said that, despite its very misleading name, the Megane Grand Coupe is fundamentally better than the old Renault Fluence in pretty much every aspect. That car wasn't really at the races when compared to the likes of the Skoda Octavia and the Ford Focus, although it didn't seem to stop the things selling like hot cakes. In the new car, Renault has been a bit braver and gone for a visual and technology assault, but the quality feel still isn't present. How that will affect sales is yet to be seen, but with pricing starting at a class-competitive €21,990 and Renault's typical warranty and finance offers, the car is an interesting alternative to its small-saloon rivals.