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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Hot-weather testing: behind the scenes with Renault's new Megane GT 

The Emirates present ideal extreme summer conditions – which is why ­Renault chose the UAE to test the mettle, and metal, of its sporty new Megane GT

Renault Megane GT hot weather testing at the Autodrome at Motor City, Dubai. Christopher Pike / The National
Renault Megane GT hot weather testing at the Autodrome at Motor City, Dubai. Christopher Pike / The National

Our cars are designed to endure the most-punishing extremes of temperature on Earth. And when it comes to putting a new car model through hot-weather testing, there aren’t many places that fit the bill as literally as Dubai at the sweaty peak of summer.

Few Renault employees know this better than Mark Carson – the French manufacturer’s director of customer service and quality for the GCC, Levant, Jordan and Egypt is based in the UAE.

He believes that the Emirates present ideal extreme summer conditions – which is why ­Renault chose the UAE to test the mettle, and metal, of its sporty new Megane GT.

It’s a precocious, slicker sibling to the affordable, sensible Megane, and Renault recently flew in two examples of the performance hatch for testing at Dubai Autodrome race track, in city traffic conditions and up and down the mountain roads of Jebel Jais.

“We need to make sure our products are adapted to the market,” Carson explains, trackside at the Autodrome. “It’s the reliability, durability and the quality. If we deliver a product that’s not adapted, word of mouth will travel and our brand won’t grow.”

Hot-weather testing does exactly as the name suggests: challenging cars in conditions of significant temperature, while experts monitor various aspects of performance.

The Megane’s interior during the Autodrome testing is far from resembling a laboratory, though. It appears relatively standard apart from a bunch of coloured cables and wires gathered just inside the passenger door, beside the foot well. In the rear seat, an engineer sits silently as she ensures that the computers are soaking up the data pouring along the cables from the car, as we first idle, then set off around the track. Crucially, for drivers in this part of the world, the hot-weather testing includes air conditioning, and specifically its effectiveness or otherwise when temperatures spike, including the sound that it makes as it cranks out chilled air.

“One of the most-critical points for us is AC performance,” Carson confirms. “If the AC is no good in the car, no one will buy it, or few people will. [The acoustics are] very important; it’s great to have cold AC, [but] if it’s so loud you can’t hear the radio…

“That’s the purpose of testing. We need to understand how the car will perform in high temperatures, especially with electronics today. You can do a lot in wind tunnels, [but] reality is a different thing; this is reality.”

Central to this particular round of hot-weather testing are three engineers from Renault’s Technocentre France, plus one from transmission supplier Getrag, who have also all been driving the GTs in somewhat cooler conditions in Scandinavia to test its ability when the mercury drops.

Data is crunched daily and adaptations made to further testing if necessary to allow the team to gain insights that will inform final tweaks to the model.

“We sold, as a group, 3.18 million cars last year,” Carson says. “We need to make sure, wherever we are in the world, the product’s adapted. The most important thing, from my point of view, is not what we deliver today, it’s in three years’ time; the customer buys the car today and will want to still have a quality product that’s been durable over time.

“It’s about the life journey and expectancy of the customer. We want loyalty and retention – we’ll only get that by making sure the product is durable and ready for the market.”

Carson says that Renault has begun to use the Middle East more frequently for testing.

“It’s one of the most extreme places in the world,’ he says. “For this market, for what we want to do, it ticks all the boxes. There’s temperature, humidity, the dust element. The three play a contributing factor.

“The car is built to specification for this part of the world. This is the icing on the cake – we come away with a complete picture; tests will finalise everything and we’ll go away and then we’ve got our product.

“In the majority, it’s fine-­tuning software. Today, everything on a car is controlled by software in some shape or form.

“The components should be built for durability. An AC compressor here probably runs for 365 days. When we speak to our supplier, they know to design a component robust enough to stand those conditions.”

Out on the Autodrome tarmac, with 202hp and 280Nm of torque at its disposal, the Megane GT packs a more-than-respectable punch, albeit a smooth, considered one. And you will be pleased to learn that the air conditioning works effectively – and discreetly – on my demo lap.

Despite boasting only four cylinders, the GT’s 1.6L engine produces a satisfying grumble as it sends us down the straights with pleasing momentum, and we negotiate bends without fuss. It’s a family car, yes, but with a good deal of fire.

Engineer Erwann Le Gloannec is one of the drivers putting 5,000km to 6,000km apiece on both of the cars during the Dubai leg of this testing mission. Although tall, Le Gloannec enjoys decent headroom perhaps not promised by the GT’s squat exterior.

He shows me a laptop graphing different gearshifts based on full-load acceleration, engine speed, torque measurements, boost pressure and ignition advance. Other factors that he is considering include drivability and the power train. He confirms that the car also performed well 1,500 metres up Jebel Jais in the middle of the day.

“[At] 10 degrees more, we can expect the same behaviour,” he says, as he continues to push the GT’s dual-clutch, seven-speed automatic gearbox.

Emmanuel Guiffault, marketing director for Renault Middle East, enthuses trackside about the Megane GT. He notes that the company are facing uncertainty regarding future new-car sales with several strategies, including dropping technology from higher segments into its more-affordable cars, such as smartcard locking in the Megane.

“We clearly have ambitions of growing,” he says. “The UAE is a very important market for Renault. We have to adjust products to customer expectation.

“We’re adding some design. We don’t want to be compared to premium brands; we just want to add, on top of value for money, a twist – for people to be proud to buy.

“The total market is down, [and] was already down last year; this first quarter, it’s down again. For us, it’s an opportunity, because people are looking for more value for money.

He hopes that the first effect from the introduction of VAT in 2018 on the UAE motor industry will be a boost to this year’s sales.

If it is enough to convince people to buy before remains to be seen, he says. “Equivalent change of taxes in Europe had a very big impact.”

Unfortunately, that change will likely come too soon for buyers to pick up the Megane GT without VAT, with the French company’s suits mooting a January launch – pricing is also still to be confirmed. But if demand is half as hot as the testing in Dubai, Renault could have a hit on its hands, regardless.