Review

Renault Megane E-Tech review: plug-in hybrid estate with company car appeal

3/5

A facelift brings even greater comfort and refinement, along with a state-of-the-art PHEV hybrid drivetrain for improved fuel efficiency

2020 Renault Megane E-Tech

The Renault Megane has always had a bit of a problem. And that problem has been the Volkswagen Golf. Or the Ford Focus. Or even the Vauxhall Astra. Whichever way you look, there’s always a family hatchback rival that’s better to drive, smarter, cheaper, or more comfortable. 

Small wonder, then, that the Megane hasn’t exactly flown off dealer forecourts here in the UK. But that might all be about to change.

For one thing, it’s just had a mid-life facelift that has brought smarter detailing, more generous equipment levels and a new RS Line version that promises more overtly sporty styling – as is all the rage these days.

More important, though, is the arrival of this new plug-in hybrid (abbreviated to PHEV) version: the Megane E-Tech. It’s available only as an estate, but with its low CO2 emissions and five-year warranty, it should appeal both to company car drivers and private buyers alike.

On paper, at least. The big question, of course, is whether it’s any good in the flesh. Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. So read on – and don’t forget to register or login to find out our decisive verdict.

Pros: Smooth, slick powertrain, comfortable ride, long warranty

Cons: Stodgy steering, poor predicted resale values, no AEB emergency braking on Iconic version

Under the skin

As the E-Tech badging would imply, the Megane shares its powertrain with the new Clio supermini and Captur small SUV hybrids, the latter of which is a plug-in too and so gets the same 9.8kWh battery. 

That’s paired to a combination of two electric motors, one of which provides motive power along with a 1.6-litre petrol engine for a combined maximum output of 138bhp; the other is a starter-generator, much as you’ll find on the modern glut of mild hybrids, which as its name suggest, takes care of starting the engine, recharging the battery – and changing gear.

Changing gear? That’s right – because the E-Tech’s gearboxes (there are two of them working in tandem to provide a total of 15 gear “modes”) don’t have any clutches or synchromesh. Instead, a control unit instructs the electric motor to spin up each new gear ratio to the correct speed before slotting it in neatly. 

The result, Renault says, is less resistance between the engine and the wheels, and therefore greater fuel efficiency. Nevertheless, as ingenious as the system is, it is a complex way of doing things; if it turns out to be reliable, that won’t be an issue, but if electronic niggles crop up further down the line it could prove costly to maintain or repair.

There are two models to choose from; the base-line Iconic gets cruise control, LED headlights and dual-zone climate control as standard, though there’s one rather serious omission from the spec list: automatic emergency braking (AEB), which is pretty much an industry standard bit of safety kit these days, and proven to reduce the risk of a head-on collision. 

The RS Line version that we’ve got here does at least add automatic emergency braking as standard; there’s also a rear parking camera, a larger sat-nav screen, heavily bolstered seats trimmed in artificial suede and, of course, that sporty bodykit. 

Comfort and ease of use

As with most other plug-in hybrids, the Megane’s gearbox is automatic, but due to its complexity there’s no manual mode, so if you want to swap the cogs yourself, you’re out of luck. There is, however, a ‘B’ mode, which ramps up engine braking, and thanks to the Megane’s regenerative braking function, that helps charge the battery, too.

Whichever mode you’re in, the gearbox is so adept at picking the right ratio for the role you’ll rarely, if ever, find yourself missing the fact you can’t override it. What’s even more remarkable is the silky smoothness of the gearchanges – even if you concentrate, you’ll barely be able to tell when the gearbox has switched ratios.

This seamless acceleration makes the E-Tech feel like a pure electric car, and when you’re running in electric mode, the silence of the engine only contributes to that sense. Even when it kicks back in, though, the petrol engine is muted; you only really hear it if you nail the accelerator to the floor for an extended period, and even then, it isn’t overly coarse. 

Better still is the ride quality; Renault has resisted the temptation to fit fashionable large-diameter wheels, so even this sporty RS Line version gets sensible 17-inch rims with fat tyres that help the Megane soak up lumps and bumps in the road.

As a result, it wafts along quite happily, untroubled even by the craters you’ll find on Britain’s under-maintained rural back lanes. This, in short, is a relaxed and relaxing car to drive – in the finest traditions of the best French cars.

Less successful, however, is the entertainment system. In common with other Renault models, you don’t get a volume knob, so you have to rely on on-screen “buttons” to adjust the volume – a needless and distracting feature.

The software itself can sometimes be rather languid in its responses, too, and there are infuriating details, such as the way the radio station list cuts off the end of each station name, so you can’t tell the difference between several different stations with similar names. 

Size and space

On the outside, the Megane is a touch longer than a Volkswagen Golf estate, but smaller than other rivals like the Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus estates.

That’s part of the reason why it’s boot is on the small side; the other is that space required for the battery has caused the boot floor to be raised, eating into its overall volume. There’s much more room in a Toyota Corolla Touring Sports or the longer, more expensive Volkswagen Passat GTE, although the Megane does at least beat the Kia Ceed Sportswagon PHEV and the Ford Mondeo Hybrid estate in this regard. You’ll also find the rear seats fold down flat, so there’s no step in the boot floor when you want to load bulkier items. 

Further forward, space in the rear seats isn’t quite as generous as in the Corolla or Golf estates, but the Megane doesn’t feel cramped either. Even with the chunky sports seats fitted to the RS Line, there’s enough room for even moderately tall adults in the outer seats, and while the middle seat has a small hump in the floor that impedes on leg room, it isn’t too large.

In the front, those sports seats hug you tightly, providing excellent support all round, and there’s more than enough space. You won’t find quite as many clever storage nooks for your odds and ends as in some family cars, but there are still a couple of decent-sized bins and a serviceable glovebox.

Pounds and pence

The Megane’s price is perhaps a whisker on the high side; it’s a touch more expensive than the Kia Ceed Sportswagon, which is just as well equipped and about the same size, and while it’s cheaper than the larger Volkswagen Passat GTE and Skoda Superb iV, the gap isn’t as vast as you might think.

What’s more, as with all Meganes, the E-Tech’s predicted resale values are mildly terrifying. By comparison with the Kia (or the Toyota Corolla, which is a traditional hybrid, and therefore the obvious alternative if you don’t have anywhere to plug in) you stand to retain far less of your cash when the time comes to sell up. 

However, if you’re thinking about choosing the Megane as a company car, the pendulum swings in its favour. Suddenly, resale values are no longer a consideration, and as a plug-in, its emissions and fuel economy are flattered by Government-mandated laboratory tests. What’s more, even among other plug-ins, the Megane looks comparatively efficient, and with reasonable P11D values, it should incur a relatively small tax bill. 

Renault’s servicing costs aren’t expensive, either, and there’s a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty, so if you are worried about the reliability of those new-fangled mechanical bits, you’ve at least got that to fall back on.   

On the road

What’s more, if you’re a company car driver who spends a lot of time on the road, you’ll grow to love the Megane. At motorway speeds, the quiet engine and well-controlled wind noise leave you in splendid isolation; granted, there’s a little bit of roar from the tyres, but you won’t notice it once you’ve got some music going. Together with that supple ride, this makes the Megane a relaxing car in which to cover miles. 

It has the potential to be a pretty satisfying car off the motorway, too. The E-Tech has reworked rear suspension compared with the standard car’s, and it’s helped improve the slightly wallowy handling a little, so that the Megane now flows freely from corner to corner on a fast A-road with good body control and plenty of grip.

However, try and chuck it around more liberally and you’ll still be disappointed. The steering’s oddly weighted and doesn’t give you much idea about what the front wheels are doing, and combined with the nose’s tendency to roll over onto its outer front tyre if you change direction sharply, that’ll soon dissuade you from the sort of sporty driving this RS Line’s looks might tempt you into. 

The feel-good factor

The Megane’s styling won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the sharply creased bonnet, the headlights that cut into the bumper, the rising waist line and the almost full-width rear lights certainly make it distinctive. Given so many other estates in its class are rather dull to look at, that’s can only be a good thing.

Inside it’s a mixed bag. Some of the materials feel distinctly lightweight – especially the scratchy, shiny plastic on the lower half of the dashboard. Mind you, it’s no worse than the Ford Focus’s effort, and it’s more clearly laid out too; what’s more, those chunky, suede-effect seats lend a rakish air to the Megane’s interior that’ll help you see past its foibles.

Will it put a smile on your face? Probably. It looks slick inside and out, and you’ll likely grow to love the soothing driving experience – especially if you cover lots of miles. 

The Telegraph verdict

This Megane feels like something of a flawed diamond. One minute you’re smitten with it; the next, one of its irritating niggles – that fiddly entertainment system, or those cheap dashboard plastics, for example – taps you on the shoulder and reminds you it isn’t perfect.

Which is a shame, because for the most part, this really is a pleasurable car to cruise around in, enjoying the gentle way it rides bumps and the silky smooth acceleration while letting its clever drivetrain maximise your fuel efficiency. 

Good enough, even, to forgive its niggles – and forget about the way its value is quietly falling further off a cliff with every mile you drive it? Well, that all depends on whether you’re paying the bill or not. 

As a private buy, the high price and poor resale returns make the Megane hard to recommend, hence the three-star rating. But if you’re considering one as a company car, you should still give it a try regardless, because when you aren’t picking up the tab, there’s a lot here to like.

Telegraph Rating: Three stars out of five

The facts

On test: Renault Megane 1.6 E-Tech 160 RS Line

How much? £32,685 on the road

How fast? 111mph, 0-62mph in 9.8sec

How economical? 217.3mpg (WLTP Combined)

Engine gearbox: 1,598cc four-cylinder petrol engine, 158bhp, multi-mode automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive

The electric bits: AC electric motor & AC starter-generator with 9.8kWh battery, 3.6kW on-board charger, Type 2/CCS charging socket

Electric range: 30 miles (WLTP Combined)

CO2 emissions: 30g/km (WLTP Combined)

VED: £0 first year, then £140/year

Warranty: 5 years / 100,000 miles

Boot size: 447 litres

Spare wheel as standard: No

The rivals

Kia Ceed SW 1.6 PHEV 3 ADAP DCT 139bhp, 188.3mpg, £30,745 on the road

The Ceed SW doesn’t quite have the flair of the Megane, but it’s cheaper to buy – and crucially, predicted to hold its value much better, probably thanks in part to Kia’s longer warranty and better reputation for reliability. There are plenty of toys on board (this ADAP version stands for ‘Advanced Driver Assistance Pack’, though you can have it without and save even more cash), and while Kia’s plug-in drivetrain isn’t quite as smooth or as sophisticated as Renault’s, it’s still pretty slick.

Skoda Superb 1.4 TSi iV 218 SE Technology 215bhp, 230.8mpg, £33,590 on the road

It’s a big hatchback, rather than an estate, but for not much more cash than the Megane, this Skoda Superb hatchback offers you lots more space, with more power, a greater electric range and an even lower CO2 emissions figure into the bargain. Granted, the Megane gets a few more fripperies, but this SE Technology version still has a pretty extensive equipment list and, of course, it probably won’t shed its value as quickly.

Toyota Corolla Touring Sports 2.0 Hybrid GR Sport 182bhp,56.4mpg, £31,085 on the road

If you haven’t got somewhere to plug in – or can’t be bothered to do so regularly – this Corolla makes a lot more sense. It’s a traditional hybrid rather than a plug-in, which explains the discrepancy in the consumption figures; in the real world, you’ll probably find it’s barely any less economical. It’s also cheaper to buy and just as comfortable as the Megane, and its superb reputation for reliability means nothing should go wrong. 

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