Road Test: Renault Megane Expression. 1.9 Dci

With its focus on safety, comfort and economy, Renault’s turbo-diesel Megane 1.9 dCi makes a lot of sense.

By: Cameron McGavin. The Age.

  • Diesel engine is gutsy and economical
  • Quiet and comfortable ride
  • Competent handling
  • Classy and comfy cabin
  • Loads of toys and safety gear
  • Bad
  • Auto gets weaker engine
  • Not the sharpest-driving small sedan
  • Steering lacks feel

The Expression might be the base-model Megane sedan, but it’s anything but basic inside, with climate-control air-conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, trip computer, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights and a CD sound system with remote controls all part of the $24,990 deal.

Going for the diesel power adds $3000 and alloy wheels, while specifying the four-speed auto ups the ask by another $2500. That’s still considerably less than you’ll pay for rival European diesel sedans like VW’s Jetta, however, and more or less on a par with Japanese diesel players such as the Mazda3 diesel.

Under the bonnet

  • Three Half Star

With 96 kW of power and 300 Nm of torque from just 2000 rpm, the dCi turbo-diesel four falls just a fraction short of the VW and Mazda competition’s peak outputs. But it’s still 57 per cent more torque than the Megane’s petrol engine can muster, and at substantially lower revs.

The result is an admirably relaxed on-road character. There’s no need for revving the engine hard or rowing the manual gearbox in general driving, such is the solid supply of low-rev pulling power on tap, while restrained noise levels enhance the laid-back vibe. Floor it at low revs in a high gear and some turbo lag is apparent, but for the most part it responds as promptly as you could wish.
Renault claims a frugal 5.8 L/100 km economy for the six-speed manual tested here, which is a match for the VW Jetta, better than the Mazda3 and enough to eke out more than 1000 kilometres from the 60-litre tank. We couldn’t match that, but our 6.1 L/100 km average still gave a potential touring range of more than 900 kilometres. But if you choose the four-speed auto, the torque drops to 260 Nm. It’s thirstier, too, returning an official 6.8 L/100 km.

How it drives

  • Three Half Star

The long-legged gait and big touring range of the diesel engine combine with the Megane’s compliant ride and low noise levels to make a superb long-distance cruiser. Throw in the excellent seats, which leave no aches or pains even after a couple of hours, and the Renault would be our pick of the small diesel bunch for a long trip up the Hume.

The car’s mellow character is retained in the city, with low-speed urban obstacles like tram tracks and patchwork repairs barely intruding on the calm of the cabin.

Good visibility, respectably quick steering, and the slick six-speed manual shift further add to the Renault’s urban nous.

Keen drivers, however, will find a bit less to like as the steering lacks feel and linearity, while the comfort-biased suspension can be confused by sustained undulations or mid-corner bumps. But overall, the Megane displays all-round poise and competence.

Comfort and practicality

  • Four Star

The Megane sedan rides on a longer wheelbase than the hatch and the result is a better back seat and bigger boot. Few will find much to complain about in the back – there’s sufficient space for all but the very long-legged and the bench is supportive and comfortable. You even get retractable side and rear sun blinds, a nice touch when many big-dollar prestige players charge extra for them.

The Renault also manages a positive impression up front with its swish design, airy ambience and soft-touch plastics.

Ample seating adjustment and tilt/reach-adjustable steering make finding the right driving position a cinch, while small-item storage – which includes under-floor and covered armrest bins – is well thought out.

There is the odd control placement issue, with the cruise control master switch located out of sight and the hidden remote stereo controls requiring familiarity to operate. The cup holders, too, don’t hold on to drinks as well as they should.

Safety

  • Four Star

Renault has had a big safety focus for several years and the Megane’s strong five-star rating in NCAP independent crash tests is proof of this. It has the full safety kit, with twin front, side and curtain airbags, ABS (with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist) and stability/traction control all standard.

Overall verdict

  • Three Half Star

In pure product terms, the Megane diesel sedan makes a lot of sense, especially if you value comfort or have long-distance driving on the agenda. Its uniquely French character could also be a plus for buyers bored by the Japanese and German small-car alternatives.

The Megane is not the most sporting small sedan going, but when the turbo Megane hatch looks after that market and keen drivers are unlikely to choose a diesel anyway, it’s hardly a kiss of death.
Independent surveys suggest Renault still has some way to go to match the best brands for reliability, while its comparatively sparse dealer network could be a big minus for some.

If anything stops buyers in their tracks, it’s likely to be these sort of post-purchase considerations.

Nuts & Bolts

Price $27,990 man (auto: $2500 option).
Engine Size/Type 1.9-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel.
Torque 96 kW/300 Nm.
What’s it got? Twin front, side and curtain airbags, ABS with EBD and BA, stability/traction control, climate-control, power windows and mirrors, cruise control with speed limiter, trip computer, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, side and rear sun blinds, remote locking, front foglights, 16-inch alloy wheels, engine immobiliser, 3 year/unlimited km warranty.

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