Review: 2021 Renault Megane IV

Motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan puts the 2021 Renault Megane through its paces.

The hatchback segment is a brutally tough one for models that fail to rise above the parapet of individual talent. Customers aren’t fools and have researched their next purchase with serious intent.

It’s here we find the newly refreshed Renault Megane hatch stepping out against the Ford Focus, the SEAT Leon – my favourite hatch under €25,000 – and the Volkswagen Golf that’s the best all-rounder.

“It is an honest car that deserved a more comprehensive face-lift and the PHEV version is certainly worth investigating”

For Renault’s ageing Megane to remain relevant and not simply rely on the weathered association of French chic it needs to stamp its authority on one or several of the car’s core strengths.

These should include price, performance, dynamics, practicality and offer some degree of driving brio. In 2021 the competition is now fresher with new generation models, each injected with individual appeal. That makes life tougher for this petrol-engined test car before the all-electric Megane Crossover arrives later in 2021.

The former SEAT boss Luca De Meo is now at the helm of Renault and ready to shake things up. Expect to see fresh models and seven all-electric Renault cars by 2025 on the shared CMF-EV platform.

Look and feel

Red coloured 2021 Renault Megane.

For this generation, the Megane’s facelift replaces the creaky R-Link infotainment for the newer EASY LINK multimedia system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto through a 7” or 9.3” portrait touchscreen system that operates well despite one glitch when the screen froze on this test.

Even with these revisions in place the cabin lags the freshness of the newer VW Golf and feels like it’s at the back of queue chasing the Ford Focus’s already workmanlike cabin.

Added to the Megane’s 2021 facelift are new bumpers, headlights and a restyled grille. One particular high point of the Megane in RS Line spec is the seats. They are exceptionally comfortable and feel like genuine Recaro racing bucket seats.

Price

The bigger challenge for Renault’s Megane is that now Volkswagen and SEAT have similarly priced hatchbacks that compete with Megane head on for price. This throws a light on how a laggy facelift is a minefield for car makers when new rivals emerge with clean sheet designs.

To give the Megane its due, the dashboard, trim and overall fittings are improved and if top quality isn’t your only priority it’s a comfortable car to sit and in drive. That said, if you’re a Megane loyalist you’ll still get the nagging feeling that more complete hatchback rivals are on sale at the moment with aggressive finance deals to consider.

The test car was a Megane IV PH2 R.S Line dCi 115. There are three trim versions to pick. The Play (€24,740), Iconic (€27,140) and the RS Line (€29,140). Starting from €24,290 the press test car was priced at €30,690 (€33,595 with options).  

The test car used the dci 115 four-cylinder petrol engine with 140hp and 240Nm with an excellent six-speed manual. Once spooled up the petrol unit is smooth but it takes 9.4 seconds to reach 100km/h and has a claimed maximum speed of 205km/h.

It’s here where this Megane at this price comes unstuck. It’s around €2,000 shy of the entry-level BMW 1 Series – a proper dynamic hatchback offering the kudos of a BMW badge on the bonnet. In 2020 the Renault Megane sold 516 new units. Contrast that with the Volkswagen Golf’s 2,006 unit sales or the Ford Focus with a bigger 2,502 units (figures from the SIMI). As the Megane falls behind in customer choice how does the current generation French hatch launched back in 2016 square up with this 2021 facelift?

Performance

It’s safe to say that nobody working on the Megane’s facelift lifted the phone to Lotus for tips on how to turn this car a handling maestro. Improved, yes, but the steering’s weighting and response still feels light and less direct when driven back-to-back than, say, the SEAT Leon.

Yet, here’s the surprise bit. That deficit turns out to be the best attribute of the entire car. Drive the Megane into a corner and body roll gets worse until it runs wide with progressive oversteer. You instinctively back off, bringing the car back into line. By comparison the Golf, Leon or Focus will outdrive the Megane on the same stretch of road. But the price of this handling prowess is a harder suspension and a less cosseting rise.

Renault claws something back here by recalling the comfy vibe of the classic Renault 16 or Renault 5 from the company’s back catalogue. Keen drivers will pass a verdict on this fettled Megane after 10 minutes, yet they’ll be missing the point. A boon is the Megane’s suspension lacking the, now common, demonic intent of pulverising your spine over every urban ridge and bump. For that, I still have a curiously soft spot for the Megane. It is an honest car that deserved a more comprehensive facelift and the PHEV version is certainly worth investigating.

The facelift with this car’s spec brings the Megane up to par in some areas but sadly trails in many others. Objectively, the Megane still feels like an ageing car that’s struggling to compete with the best.

As Irish family finances are tighter than ever it’s difficult to recommend the 2021 Megane hatch as it offers little tech that’s new. Likeable and better looking, sure, it only merits a generous three-star rating out of five.

You’ll like: Striking looks, reasonable equipment, comfy to drive.

You’ll grumble: Showing its age, soggy dynamics, poor practicality, dated cabin and sadly beaten by direct hatchback rival.

By Mark Gallivan

Published: 16 April 2021

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