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living: autocade


The grand European tourThe grand European tour

The Renault Mégane Estate is not only good-looking, it trounces its opposition convincingly, as Jack Yan drives from Paris to Marne and back
photographed by the author

From issue 21 of Lucire


THE FIRST TIME I laid eyes on the second-generation Renault Mégane, I stared. Patrick Le Quément, the design boss at Renault, had already been proven right in the 1990s with the Twingo, a car considered revolutionary in its day. The team at Renault was on a roll, and Ford had shown the market that unusual cars like the Focus could find favour with buyers. The Mégane had to excite its sector.

Here was a vehicle with a bustle that France hadn’t seen since Dior’s New Look. Europe gasped. But while the rear end of the Mégane had its detractors, the car’s sales’ figures said otherwise—it put Renault into a strong position across Europe, and even Golf-loving Germans began buying it.

But Renault knew there would be traditionalists out there. People who expected their cars to be fluide. People like me, who bought the first-generation Mégane, who might judge the new model as stareworthy but not necessarily restrained.

Enter the Mégane Classic and Estate. The Classic, the four-door, appeals to traditionalists who believe une berline must have a proper boot. I am not one of them. However, I did grow up in New Zealand, and the All Blacks were coming to town here in Paris, so why not appeal to the Kiwi sensibility on a nice, romantic holiday? The solution: a station wagon, or as the model is called in France, the Estate.

Renault makes the Scénic, one of the most successful mini-MPVs in the world. But the Kiwi love for the wagon, whether it’s the horrid Daewoo Lacetti (a.k.a. Holden Viva) or the Ford Falcon, never seems to die. It’s in the blood. Chuck everything in the back and zoom off. At least you won’t pollute the planet like the Ponsonby tractor set.

Calling Jérôme Delgrange, Renault’s very effective press contact, I was immediately asked: which model? For how long? Answer: the Mégane 1·9 dCi Estate, with a new 130 hp diesel. Pour une sémaine, s’il vous plaît. This was the grand French tour we had promised ourselves, venturing from Paris, out to Marne—specifically Champagne—and down to Nevers for the jazz festival. (We never made it to Nevers. French plonk is too good.)

The six-speed manual impressed the first person who drove it. Since I was flying in after hours, Stanley Moss, Lucire’s travel correspondent, collected the car for me and was raving about its GPS system. The system had an encyclopædic knowledge of Paris, including sites of interest. An additional CD-ROM contained extra locations, if needed.

Other conveniences included keyless entry. A credit card-shaped device, with the usual lock and unlock buttons, could be stored in one’s front pocket—the back is not a good idea, in case you sit on it—and as you got close to the car, you could lock or unlock the doors. A button started the ignition. While hardly new—Audi owners are yawning right now—bear in mind this is on a mid-sized, good-value car, costing roughly €24,000 in this part of the world.

Elsewhere, it was all about convenience: the necessities for the grand European tour. Windscreen wipers were automatic—again a nice touch on a well priced car, though in heavy rain, you were better to switch them on properly. Lights were automatic as well. Seats on the Mégane have always been great, especially if you need to drive long distances. And it is filled with airbags galore.

The two-part tailgate was handy, so you could throw stuff in casually or open it up properly for the luggage. We shopped madly at least once, and we still had room to spare. If we had the hatch, we would have struggled to be as comfortable. For with the Estate, a passenger can get out of her seat, go into the back, get food, and return, as though the Mégane was a small home. And a rather stylish one, too, free from the incongruity of the hatch.

But we men need to find out other things: handling, performance and ride. Despite being a wagon, the Mégane is very responsive, and the ride was good enough for my companion to sleep through one morning. We found we needed the ride height over less than ideal roads out in the countryside—plus a particularly tricky, stepped road.

However, what really put the Mégane into Focus- and Golf-beating consideration is its performance. I’d say this is the best in class. In Paris, this is needed in a hesitate-and-crash mentality. I had feared a lack of power, as with my own Mégane. Yet between 30 and 70 km/h, pick-up is astounding, especially considering you are lugging a lot of metal behind you. It netted us mileage of 5·9 litres per 100 km (41 mpg to me)—amazing, considering how much we had in the back and that occasionally, the voice on the GPS led us astray.

This was the ideal car to put bottle after bottle of champagne with each house visited. Being a wagon, you look sensible. No one would suspect you were stocking up on booze to bring back to Aotearoa. Especially when you do it so stylishly. •


Renault knew there would be traditionalists out there. People who expected their cars to be fluide. People like me, who bought the first-generation Mégane, who might judge the new model as stareworthy but not necessarily restrained

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