EVERY family has them: that quirky uncle or aunt, grandfather or cousin who adds a little colour to tribal gatherings.
Not that rude bugger in the corner that makes you cringe every time he opens his mouth – because let’s face it every family has one of those too – but that dashing eccentric whose comedic ways and neglect of the mainstream can cut a swathe through the thick post-Christmas lunch haze.
They are often the last to arrive but disguise tardiness with a dramatic entrance and crazy explanation. They rarely dress to fit the occasion and appear uninterested in current affairs yet can hold their own in conversations ranging from religious doctrine to the latest celebrity tweets.
It is this kind of nonsensical pizzazz that reminds me of the French. The flair coupled with nonchalance that makes even the mundane seem interesting.
Their love for style is well known but they also have a penchant for the unusual.
Take the Renault Megane Hatch for example. Perfectly elegant and respectable on the outside, full of idiosyncrasies within. A bonnet release in the passenger foot well, cruise control near the handbrake, needing a degree to change the radio from AM to FM and controls for the rear window wiper that give no indication of the direction that will bring action.
Taxing, but oh so quirky.
The Megane Hatch is much more generous than most competitors in this segment with a host of extras making for a refined travelling experience. The sloping dash creates an illusion of more space, while the instrument panel adds sporty touches. The digital speedometer is particularly arresting.
Giant numbers give a quirky feel but also make it impossible to ignore those moments when you creep over the limit. Front-seat passengers are more favoured than those in the rear, but the back pews still have decent legroom and seat comfort. Storage spaces border on the minimalist although the boot seems better than average and the seats fold flat to accommodate larger items.
On the road
The Hatch has a sportier suspension than its Fluence sibling (that also costs the same) but still offers a smooth ride, handling uneven road surfaces with determination. The steering is light but responsive ensuring driving around town and parking are fairly run-of-the-mill events. Both the six-speed manual and CVT offer 195Nm of torque which is available only at 3750rpm, meaning that it is a long wait before the Hatch reaches its full potential. The CVT drone is evident when the car is pushed, especially up steep hills when you are better off using the six-step selector to work through the gears. You get the feeling this 2.0-litre engine would like the freedom to break loose, but overall the drive is balanced and fairly enjoyable.
What do you get?
Renault has made it its mission to deliver on quality, offering more standard features than competitors. The entry-level Dynamique comes with 16-inch alloys, Bluetooth, four speakers and aux input with USB connection, cruise-control, automatic wipers and hands-free keycard.
The Privilege adds leather upholstery, glass sunroof, sat-nav and rear-parking sensors. Safety comes in the form of stability control, anti-lock brakes and dual front, side and curtain airbags.
Renault has thrown its new, improved Megane Hatch into a segment bursting at the seams. Likely competitors are
Mazda3 ($21,330), VW Golf ($21,990), Hyundai i30 ($19,550), Ford Focus ($21,490), Toyota Corolla ($20,990) and Kia Cerato ($20,240).
The Hatch is more suitable to upwardly mobile singles and couples than as a family staple. It has a snazzy, quality feel and delivers a comfortable, reliable ride. It’s low-key enough for everyday use but retains the ability to impress.
Renault claims 7.9 litres/100km on the CVT model, but our test vehicle was closer to 9L/100km. Not bad for a car like this but not amazing either. Of course all new Renaults come with a five-year unlimited kilometres warranty and three-year roadside assist.
The new-edition Hatch looks quite different from its predecessor with designers opting for a more “blend-in” effect. Still, the swooping steeply raked headlights, strong lines and well-proportioned behind make for an eye-catching look.
This new-edition Megane Hatch is likely to create enough interest, despite the crowded market, to be a competitor. It may need a bit more power, but shines in respect of quality and inclusions, and is much more affordable than
Renault’s previous offerings. The true surge may come when the diesel variant is available later this year.
Model: Renault Megane Hatch.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive hatch.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed CVT.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 103kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 195Nm @ 3750rpm.
Consumption: 7.9 litres/100km combined average.
Bottom line: From $22,990.
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