When French carmaker Renault launched its Megane sedan in Singapore early last year, the car made such a strong impression that it was one of 10 vying for The Straits Times Car of the Year award.
Although the car did not win, it was propelled into the limelight. But its hatchback twin - the Megane GT - remained in the shadows.
Pity, since the car has something none of its peers has: rear-wheel steering. At speeds under 80kmh in Sport mode and under 60kmh in Comfort and Neutral modes, the rear wheels turn up to 2.7 degrees in the opposite direction of the front wheels.
Renault calls it 4Control and it is similar to what some marques employ to enhance handling in their high-end models. I was surprised that the Megane GT, which is in the same price range as the 1.4-litre Volkswagen Golf and 1.2-litre Toyota C-HR, has such a feature.
When I got to test-drive it last week, my first stop was Old Upper Thomson Road.
The National Parks Board was in the process of converting a 3km section of the two-way road into a one-way road and park connector. The lane away from the popular prata shop was open to traffic, but the lane in the opposite direction was blocked off by metal barricades.
SPECS / RENAULT MEGANE GT
Price: $126,999 with COE
Engine: 1,618cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with paddle shift
Power: 205bhp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 280Nm at 2,400rpm
0-100kmh: 7.1 seconds
Top speed: 230kmh
Fuel consumption: 6 litres/100km
Agent: Wearnes Automotive
Between the edge of the tarmac and the barricades, I had about half a metre of space on each side to navigate the 3km stretch of curves. I would have normally kept my right front wheel close to the lane divider, but I could not do so with the barricades lining the divider.
I drove the car spiritedly through the stretch and it did not have to visit the paint shop thereafter.
The Megane GT is endowed with a level of steering precision and an agility around bends that I have never experienced in a car in its price segment.
Rear-wheel steering shortens the wheelbase of the already taut car, and made it feel like a go-kart. It was so enjoyable that I made a U-turn and repeated the run.
But while the Megane GT was fun to drive on curvy roads, it lacks the punch of a hot hatch on a straight road. Still, its century sprint time of 7.1 seconds makes it quicker than the 1.4-litre Golf (9.1 seconds) and the Mini One 5 Door (10.5 seconds).
This gives the Megane GT an identity crisis. Perhaps it is best described as a junior hot hatch.
While its outright pace may not raise temperatures, its looks will. It has the automotive equivalent of movie-star looks: a black honeycomb radiator grille in front, chiselled shoulders at the side and twin chrome-plated exhaust tailpipes at the back.
Inside the cabin, there are sporty elements such as bucket seats, aluminium pedals, a grippy steering wheel and a pair of large shift paddles.
The car is powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The powertrain is best described as efficient and clinical, but not exceptionally characterful.
To make the car more engaging, Renault has acoustically pumped engine sounds through the car's speakers. The sounds were unnatural and odd. Thankfully, the feature can be switched off.
Over a four-hour, 119km test-drive with an even split of city and expressway driving, the car recorded an average fuel consumption of about 11 litres/100km, higher than the claimed 6 litres/ 100km.
Visually, the Megane GT sits between the almost-utilitarian Golf and the over-the-top Honda Civic Type R. It appeals to those who want their cars to look good and perform well, but do not necessarily want a speed demon.
For those who yearn for more power, there is always the Megane RS. The 275bhp/390Nm hot hatch is expected to be launched in the next few months.