Published on Wednesday 12 March 2014 14:29
Ten Second Review
MPVs tend to dominate the limelight with their versatile interiors and clever storage solutions but the estate car will still be a better solution for many families. The recently facelifted Renault Megane Sport Tourer is a great example of a compact estate with sleek looks, solid driving dynamics inherited from the Megane hatchback and lots of space in its well-designed boot area.
Have you got a young family? Then you need an MPV. At least, that's what the advertisements tell us. On TV and in the press, the MPV is set up as the ultimate route to wholesome family life. Beaming children spill from its wide door openings, bikes, kites and kitchen sinks are lifted from its huge boot and the seats magically flip, fold and twirl so the most can be made of its cavernous interior. It's all very convincing but where does it leave the good old fashioned estate car? It's certainly been eclipsed by the MPV but does it still have a role to play? Renault thinks it does and has found space in its line-up for the Megane Sports Tourer.
It's ironic that Renault has probably done more than any other manufacturer to promote the idea that families need an MPV. From the pioneering Espace to the big selling Scenic, the growth in the popularity of people carriers owes a lot to Renault. But nailing all your colours to one mast is never a great idea, so Renault hasn't given up on the good old traditional estate car. All right, it calls it a Sports Tourer, but the basic 'hatch with a long tin roof' deal is as old as the hills.
A big attraction of the estate over an MPV is the way it performs on the road. The Megane Sport Tourer runs on the same platform as the Megane hatchback and the Scenic MPV but has far more in common with the hatch in terms of its low centre of gravity and hunkered-down driving position. The suspension is lifted wholesale from the Megane with MacPherson struts at the front combined with Renault's clever horned subframe. Detail tweaks to the subframe improve directional precision and a redeveloped power steering system responds more swiftly to driver input. The rear suspension meanwhile, has been tuned to produce a more supple ride, as well as offering improved cornering. Plus, there are bigger brakes, able to pull you up to rest from 62mph in a class-leading 37 metres.
Engines? Well the range starts with the older 1.6-litre 110PS petrol unit but you'll probably prefer one of the diesels, now bearing 'Energy' badges to designate their supposed eco-friendliness. Most buyers choose the popular 110PS 1.5-litre dCi powerplant but there's also a 130PS 1.6-litre dCi diesel variant. Those are the usual options but also worth considering is the 1.2 TCe petrol engine, which also wears an 'Energy' badge. This unit might seem a tiddler but punches well above its weight with 115PS at the crank. Renault is also offering this engine in 130PS guise in conjunction with the EDC (Efficient Dual Clutch) automatic transmission. The engineering department has re-tuned the engine by bringing in the turbo function faster and more frequently for enhanced performance.
Design and Build
The Megane Sport Tourer isn't merely a Megane Hatch with a conservatory on the back. It has a longer wheelbase and an extended rear overhang to ensure it can provide genuine extra practicality. In total, it's 263mm longer than the five-door equivalent and the extra size translates into improved rear passenger space as well as a bigger boot. With 524-litres of space available beneath the rear parcel shelf and the option of folding the back seats down to free 1,595-litres, the Megane has quite a capacity for an estate based on a family hatchback. Renault's designers have incorporated an extremely low loading lip of just 561mm to help when hoisting objects inside and there are also two separate storage zones in the boot itself to bring extra flexibility to the space.
MPVs can look a little frumpy with their high roofs and bulbous dimensions prioritising interior space at the expense of a sleek exterior and this is another area where the estate can gain an edge. The roof line of the Sports Tourer drops away towards the back of the car while the side windows taper off as they progress down the flanks enhancing the long, low appearance of the estate. This estate Megane shares the facelifted nose of the hatch version which now features a revised bumper, vent grilles and a hood bearing the enlarged Renault logo set against a gloss black background. Key models have also been revitalised by elliptical headlights and daytime running lights that stretch along the outer edges of the bumper
Market and Model
Engine choices are heavily biased towards diesel units which, with the help of Stop & Start technology offer private or business buyers the best economy, efficiency and emissions performance yet seen in a Megane. The 115bhp 1.2-litre TCe petrol unit, however, is a great example of what downsizing can achieve and provides economy and emissions only slightly worse than the oil burners with the kind of performance you'd more usually associate with a normally-aspirated 1.8-litre motor.
There's a premium of around £1,000 over the five-door hatch version and even the more modest trim levels which includes Bluetooth compatibility, a CD stereo, automatic headlamps, automatic wipers, cruise control, a leather steering wheel and tinted windows. Top spec models get dual zone climate control, electric folding mirrors and a number of other features make an appearance.
Like Renault's Scenic and Grand Scenic, this improved Megane Sport Tourer can be ordered with the Visio System which comprises a camera fixed to the windscreen behind the rear view mirror. It Automatically switches from main to dipped-beam headlights and also controls a Lane departure warning system. Comfort has been further enhanced by a clever Hill Start Assist function, while Motorway Mode indicators facilitate driving: a slight touch of the indicator stalk sets off three flashes to warn other road users that the driver is about to change lane. To assist parking manoeuvres, a camera located at the rear provides a precise image of the vehicle's immediate surroundings and depicts its trajectory to help drivers adjust their line. Last but not least, the dual-zone automatic climate control is now equipped with a quality sensor which monitors cabin air quality and automatically activates the air-recycling mode whenever necessary.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.5-litre diesel engine is undoubtedly the star of the Megane Sport Tourer show if running costs are your thing. The unit is used across the Renault range and found here 110bhp guise. With Stop & Start, it returns around 80mpg and CO2 emissions of just 90 g/km - and so benefits from significant tax advantages. Don't overlook the 1.2-litre TCE 115 petrol unit, though, which makes figures that not so long ago were the preserve of a class-leading turbodiesel. Fuel economy is pegged at 53.3 mpg on the combined cycle, which is a record for a petrol car in this class. Carbon dioxide emissions are down to 119g/km, while the car's range is in the region of 620 miles, which is again similar to the distances associated with diesel models.
Depreciation hasn't been a strong point of Renault medium range cars down the years but this improved Megane fights back with much improved residual figures. That's thanks in no small part to a much greater focus on reliability. Germany's ADAC organisation recently placed it near the top of its class when it came to mechanical durability.
Renault appears to be in little doubt that the estate car still has something to offer in the modern marketplace. It has a complete range of load-luggers that sit alongside its popular MPV products and it's easy to see how they could be preferable for some buyers. The Megane Sport Tourer looks the part with its sleek, elongated lines and beneath the handsome exterior is more rear passenger space and a very big boot.
It might not have the flexibility of a leading MPV product but the Sport Tourer blends style and practicality in a manner that should appeal to those who aren't convinced by the people carrier's trickery. The estate remains a refreshingly straightforward style of family car and there's still a lot to be said for that.