Renault's new Megane GT-Line dares to be different

The new Renault Megane GT-Line's unusual looks make it a head-turner but the design of its cup holder is just odd.
The new Renault Megane GT-Line's unusual looks make it a head-turner but the design of its cup holder is just odd.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
The new Renault Megane GT-Line's unusual looks make it a head-turner but the design of its cup holder is just odd.
The new Renault Megane GT-Line's unusual looks make it a head-turner but the design of its cup holder is just odd.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
The new Renault Megane GT-Line's unusual looks make it a head-turner but the design of its cup holder is just odd.
The new Renault Megane GT-Line's unusual looks make it a head-turner but the design of its cup holder is just odd.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

The new Renault Megane GT-Line is not a tarmac burner, but a catwalk stunner

It is not an understatement to describe the latest Renault as unique.

It is different from run-of-the-mill cars on three fronts: It has a turbodiesel power plant while the Singapore car market is primarily a petrol one; it is a hatchback when saloons and SUVs rule local roads; and it is a Renault.

The French carmaker is such a small player here that it accounted for just 77, or 0.3 per cent, of the 22,899 new cars registered in Singapore between January and October this year. It is easier to spot new Porsches and Minis than new Renaults.

But to dwell on the car as being different is to miss the point. The head-turner thrives on standing out from the crowd.

While it is not a new model - the current generation of Meganes has been around since 2008 - the latest facelift has given the model a fresh look.

The sharpest change is at the front. It has a larger Renault emblem, a prominent air-intake grille and a sporty front bumper. Viewed from the side, the 17-inch rims, silver side mirrors and door handles give the car a low-slung "go faster" profile.

The sporty theme spills into the cabin. The dashboard has real carbon fibre trim, the steering wheel is beefy with two cleverly placed indentations for the thumbs, and a pair of sports bucket seats provide snug support for the driver and front passenger.

Besides looking sporty, the car is well equipped too. It has factory-fitted frills such as LED daytime-running lights, steering wheel-mounted controls, keyless access and ignition, and a 7-inch full-colour touchscreen with a built-in navigation system.

And while other car makers use keys or key fobs, Renault uses a handy credit card-size key card that is less bulky.

But some features are just plainly odd.

There is a low overhang above the cupholder such that while normal drink cans fit snugly, anything larger, including the smallest cup of Spinelli coffee, will have to be tilted. This significantly risks spillage.

There is no cup holder for rear passengers, but there is an odd-shaped bin just behind the front armrest.

The glove compartment is impractically narrow but deep. Its width is about the length of an adult palm and its depth swallows up the arm from finger tip to the elbow.

It does not take a keen eye to see that the glove compartment is actually the space vacated by the steering wheel column of a left-hand-drive car.

But all these weaknesses can be forgiven after the engine is fired up.

The characteristic rattle of diesel power plants is unexpectedly mild in this car, thanks to its above-average insulation. On the move, the engine is perky and gear changes are sharp.

My only grouse with the engine is that the torque, while ample, peaks at a low engine speed of 1,750rpm and tapers off soon after 2,500rpm.

The car does not give drivers a kick-in-the-pants shove when they stomp the throttle. This explains the leisurely 11.7 seconds 0-100kmh dash.

Still, the crisp steering response and firm ride give drivers a hint of the harder-core line of Renault Sport, or RS, cars, including the manic Renault Megane RS265 reviewed by Life! in May last year.

The car continues to surprise at the end of a drive.

The parking brake engages automatically when the gear is shifted to the P mode. It also disengages at a slight stomp of the acceleration pedal. And the car locks itself when you walk away.

These two features are perfect for forgetful drivers, and cancel out the impractical cupholder and glove compartment.

Overall, the car is a quirky but alluring package that blends the joy of driving with model-like looks. It stands out because it is not afraid to be different.

tohyc@sph.com.sg