18 January 2017

Review: Renault Megane Grand Coupe

Why would I be thinking that the new Renault Megane Grand Coupe might well be the family saloon I'll be recommending most this year? writes Brian Byrne. Maybe because it's really one heck of a good car, and can score because there's still a strong market for compact saloons in the Irish market.

Also, the Megane hatch was my own personal favourite car in its class of last year, partly because of its style, partly because of its specification, but ultimately because it just felt right. The saloon version, otherwise the Grand Coupe, just stretches the overall good feeling further.

Stretches it literally too. The Grand Coupe and the equally stylish and recommendable Sport Tourer wagon variant of the Megane are both longer than the hatch, and share the same longer wheelbase. That last not just means a bit more legroom inside, but also edges up the already good ride another notch.

The extra distance also allows a sporty coupe styling without sacrificing headroom for rear seat passengers. All in all, the profile of the Megane GC is a superbly pleasing automotive design aesthetic, possibly the best style in family car terms that the company has come up with. Ever.

With a fully refreshed range of cars on offer now, Renault has managed to incorporate a set of common design cues and yet retain the individual distinctions so that you won't mistake any model as it approaches you or leaves you behind. Something not always easy to manage, but they have done.

With the Grand Coupe, the company has added a new top grade, the Signature. This version was my review car for this article, and made it even more pleasing. The already stylish and well–conceived interior design is pumped up with full leather and other goodies for the version, incuding full LED headlights. Inexplicably though, there was no seat heating, which I'd always maintain should be mandatory with leather seats.

Renault's current instrumentation I'd put at the very top of the game. Big where it should be, such as in the speed readout graphics, and colourful to the point below where any more would confuse rather than help. The central screen is in vertical mode, like Tesla and Volvo S90 use, and this has advantages in how space is apportioned between elements. Like an iPad, different sets of screens can be finger–flicked through. Another neat trick is the ability to set up favourite settings for different regular drivers. So each can have their own climate preferences, instrumentation style, radio stations, and other details brought up at the tap of their name on the screen.

The review car also had selectable drive settings, Eco, Normal, Sport, Neutral and Personal. For most purposes I found the Comfort to be more than adequate, though the Sport felt useful on more challenging twisty roads.

Of the lots of safety and convenience technology on the review car, I especially liked the visual safe–distance indicator and the underpinning system which would ultimately set off automatic braking if warnings were ignored. I also appreciated one of the under–sung facilities, the automatic headlight dipping. Worked a treat in every night–time situation.

This Megane above all feels well built, a particularly solid car also with a choice of trim materials that exude quality. For now, I'd find it hard to pitch any other European mass market car in the segment as being as good as or better than the Megane, and even some premium level competitors would struggle.

The review car was powered by the 130hp 1.6 of the two diesels available in the Megane range. It's a refined and capable motor, and well insulated from the cabin. The 6–speed manual is a neat operation, though it took me a little time to get used to a slightly long clutch travel.

The compact family car segment is important here, and the significant interest in versions with boots in Ireland — a trait not at all shared with our UK cousins — means that there are a number of very good competing saloons here. Ford's Focus, Toyota's Corolla, and Opel's Astra stand out. Is Renault's latest able to take them on? Certainly. Is the Megane Grand Coupe better than them and others? Well, just now, I think there's a Carlsberg answer.

The Megane Grand Coupe prices start at €21,990. The review car rolled into my driveway at €29,490, which included the Signature stuff and a panoramic roof extra. If this was Dancing with the Stars, it would be getting very high scores. I'll be interested to see the public vote.