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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Road test: 2018 Renault Megane

The Megane could instil a relative dose of pride not often inspired by a no-frills ride

What the Renault Megane’s interior lacks in innovative technology is compensated for by individual Gallic design touches inside and out. Antonie Robertson / The National
What the Renault Megane’s interior lacks in innovative technology is compensated for by individual Gallic design touches inside and out. Antonie Robertson / The National

Renault is keen to talk up how its elite motor-racing know-how translates into its road cars, with its dealerships plastered with photos of chequered-flag-chasing track pinnacles. Considering its current lowly standing in Formula One right now, it could be suggested that is not a particularly wise move.

Either way, roaring off the start line is probably last thing on your mind while piloting the fourth-generation Megane, in its plainclothes incarnation (the souped-up GT is a slightly different story, as detailed in our recent feature on its hot-weather testing in Dubai.

When I plonk myself into the driver’s seat of my 1.6-litre test car and turn the ignition key, my first thought revolves around the words “hire” and “car”. It emits a whiff of rental-fleet mediocrity.

The Megane sure revs, though. Indeed, whenever you put your foot down, that is the primary thing it does do, only without any actual impressive forward momentum. In an age of engine downsizing, when carmakers wring increasingly impressive performance out of dwindling cubic-centimetre totals, I start to doubt that this engine is actually a 1.6L.

My test car’s PE spec possesses few features you wouldn’t have found in a small family car five years ago. Maybe 10. There is a USB slot, but do you get a touchscreen via which to play your files? Sorry. No dice.

But here is where things flip: the Megane costs from Dh52,900. You are in the territory of the Toyota Corolla and omnipresent hire-car staple the Mitsubishi Lancer, yet that price is set to undercut. And while the interior isn’t in any way striking, with its ugly dog’s-leg hand brake, it does offer some strange embellishments on dash and door that look like – but I am almost certain are not – carbon fibre. At least Renault is trying.

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From the outside, the bulbous nose, offset by daytime-running LED lights, won’t be to everybody’s liking, but it has a lick of individuality about it, in a habitually uninspired segment. Not quite French flair or Renault’s hallowed “va va voom”, but enough character to ensure that you won’t be shamefully shielding your face when you retrieve the Megane from car parks and valets. It is slightly larger than the previous generation, meanwhile, and that increased scale shows: the rear seats don’t feel cramped and boot space is more than adequate.

The ride quality is surprisingly smooth; the continuously variable transmission means acceleration is similarly jolt-free, if lackadaisical, with an optimistic manual up/downshift option. And the light steering gives fairly precise handling, where in some competitors you feel an errant twitch from the driver could lead to a horrific multi-car collision. The claimed fuel economy might be generous judging by my own driving, however – the aforementioned high revving and my attempts to hurry along the Megane to something approaching highway speeds saw me comfortably eclipse even Renault’s urban-driving figures.

The sedan is a bit of a pariah variant, given it is not sold in Renault’s native France – rather, it is sent into emerging territories to bid for market share. But if you need a well-put-together small family car, the Megane could pique your interest and instil a dose of pride not often inspired by a no-frills ride. Just don’t harbour intentions of dashing along the outside lane on anything other than special occasions.