Armed with a fresh design and bristling with new features, can the latest Megane Sedan finally take the fight to the established Jetta?

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Armed with a fresh design and bristling with new features, can the latest Megane Sedan finally take the fight to the established Jetta?

My Reading Room

IT is often said that the French have just as much flair for car design as the Italians, but going by the past three generations of Meganes, it would seem as if Renault designers were otherwise asleep.

In Singapore, the previous Megane was only available in hatchback and convertible versions. The model’s saloon variant, the Fluence, has a smooth-sounding name, but is rough around the edges, even by bread-and-butter standards.

The new Megane Sedan, on the other hand, is a lot more attractive than its predecessor. It has plenty of road presence, too. When you see it, you cannot help but give it a second glance.

The Megane, however, still faces an uphill climb. Its strongest European rival, the Volkswagen Jetta, remains a popular choice for buyers seeking a relatively affordable continental saloon with a spacious cabin, large boot and zippy performance.

And despite its age (the current model was launched here six years ago), the Jetta doesn’t look old. Volkswagen’s penchant for handsome but quiet designs, along with timely updates, means its models can still look fresh while their successors are being readied.

The Jetta’s cockpit, however, does reflect its age. Despite being more spacious, the only elements that stand out are the sporty alloy pedals.

The Megane’s more upmarket interior, on the other hand, is sure to delight potential buyers. Apart from its snazzy digital instrument cluster, which has five selectable themes, the Megane also boasts a colourful 8.7-inch infotainment display.

Said display, which is touchscreen-operated, lets users customise the home page and tweak options such as the ambient lighting and drivetrain settings. The menus are fairly straightforward, and it won’t take new users long to learn.

The Megane also has a blind spot monitor for better safety, and an electronic parking brake for added convenience.

My Reading Room
My Reading Room
My Reading Room

Life: Megane’s backseat more easily accommodates three occupants, but it’s less practical than the Jetta’s, which has bigger storage points.

Right: Megane’s turbo-diesel unit sounds rough when idling, while the Jetta’s turbocharged petrol motor only sounds buzzy as it approaches 5000rpm.

My Reading Room

Jetta’s cockpit is dated and feels less upmarket than the Megane’s, but is more userfriendly.

When it comes to backseat accommodations, however, the Jetta is still more spacious. Its only downsides are the tallish floor hump and rearward-protruding centre console, which effectively force the centre passenger to sit with his/her legs apart.

Centre occupants in the Megane’s backseat, on the other hand, won’t feel awkward since the rear floor is almost flat and the centre console is less intrusive. But it doesn’t have the 12-volt outlet that the Jetta has, so folks cannot recharge their devices on the go.

In terms of outright performance, the Jetta has no trouble making the Megane look as if it were standing still.

VW’s turbocharged 1.4-litre motor delivers 122bhp and 200Nm – the latter figure from just 1500rpm. Despite the Jetta’s slight hesitation when moving off from the lights, it clocks a decent century sprint time of 9.8 seconds.

As expected, the Jetta feels quite punchy, and its 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which shifts faster than the Megane’s 6-speed dual-clutch unit, ensures a more seamless transfer of power.

With a zero-to-100km/h time of 12.5 seconds, or 2.7 seconds slower than the Jetta, you’d probably expect the Megane to be relaxed, if not lethargic. After all, its 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engine only produces 110bhp, or 12bhp less than the Jetta.

But if you forget about those figures and give the Megane a chance, you’ll actually find it to be a lively drive.

The Megane may be down on ponies, but it delivers 50Nm more torque. At moderate to highway speeds, it is this extra twist that makes the saloon feel a lot more dynamic than its paper figures suggest.

In fact, the Megane is actually more responsive than the Jetta, especially when you accelerate away from the lights. As with most turbo-diesel engines, it’ll make you feel like you’re being carried on a wave of torque.

Although Renault’s turbodiesel engine runs out of puff at 4000rpm, you don’t need to push the motor hard in the first place, since it delivers the goods at lower revs.

If needed, the Megane and Jetta both have Sport modes to maximise drivetrain responsiveness. Utilising the manual override function is more fun in the Volkswagen because it has paddle-shifters. But surprisingly, the -/+ points in the Renault’s shift-gate are in the “correct” order, which will definitely please moreenthusiastic drivers.

Handling-wise, the Jetta feels more nimble because of its slightly stiffer damping. But the Megane wins in terms of ride comfort. Its pliant ride and quiet cabin (you can barely hear the diesel powerplant) make this French number more suited for road trips up north, too.

The latest Megane has not only taken the fight to the Jetta, it has also managed to upstage it with a cushier ride, niftier features (especially in Privilege specification) and a more eye-catching design.

The Renault’s only downsides are its smaller cabin and the fact that its diesel motor attracts a higher road tax.

How long this French “uprising” will last ultimately depends on Volkswagen. If the German carmaker’s recently launched models are anything to go by, the Megane will probably have a big fight on its hands when the new Jetta arrives.

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

ENGINE 1461cc, inline-4, 16-valves, turbo-diesel.

MAX POWER 110bhp at 4000rpm.

MAX TORQUE 250Nm at 1750rpm.

POWER TO WEIGHT 83.3bhp per tonne.

GEARBOX 6-speed dual-clutch with manual select 0-100KM/H 12.5 seconds.

TOP SPEED 190km/h.

CONSUMPTION 27km/L (combined).

CO2 EMISSION 95g/km.

PRICE INCL. COE $124,999 (after $30k CEVS rebate).