Can the estate car's brand of practicality still compete with the latest SUVs? Renault thinks it can. Jonathan Crouch reports on the latest Megane Sport Tourer.
MPVs tend to dominate the limelight with their versatile interiors and clever storage solutions but the estate car will still be a better solution for many families. The latest Renault Megane Sport Tourer is a great example of a compact estate with sleek looks, solid driving dynamics inherited from the Megane hatchback and lots of space in its well-designed boot area. This improved version is clever, sensible and very good looking, with extra sophistication inside - and under the bonnet, where E-TECH plug-in hybrid tech is now offered at the top of the range.
Have you got a young family? Then you need an SUV. At least, that's what the advertisements tell us. On TV and in the press, the SUV is set up as the ultimate route to wholesome family life. Beaming children spill from its wide door openings, bikes, kites and kitchen sinks are lifted from its huge boot and the seats magically flip, fold and twirl so the most can be made of its cavernous interior. It's all very convincing but where does it leave the good old fashioned estate car? It's certainly been eclipsed by the SUV but does it still have a role to play? Renault thinks it does and has found space in its latest fourth generation Megane line-up for this Sport Tourer estate variant, a car with the longest load capacity in its segment. Renault has probably done as much as any other manufacturer to promote the idea that families need an SUV, rather than a car like this Megane. From the pioneering Captur to the big selling Kadjar, the growth in the popularity of compact crossovers owes a lot to this French brand. But nailing all your colours to one mast is never a great idea, so Renault hasn't given up on the good old traditional estate car. All right, it calls it a 'Sport Tourer', but the basic 'hatch with a long tin roof' deal is as old as the hills.
A big attraction of the estate over an SUV is the way it performs on the road. The Megane Sport Tourer runs on the same platform as the Megane hatchback and the Kadjar SUV but has far more in common with the hatch in terms of its low centre of gravity and hunkered-down driving position. The suspension is lifted wholesale from the Megane and a redeveloped power steering system responds more swiftly to driver input. The rear suspension meanwhile, has been tuned to produce a more supple ride, as well as offering improved cornering. As with the vast majority of cars such as this, a big part of the driving experience will depend on the engine you've plumped for. The options in the volume part of range are very simple, both four cylinder units: there's either a 1.3-litre petrol powerplant with 140hp. Or a 1.5-litre Blue dCi diesel with 115hp. Both can be had with either 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual clutch auto transmission. Renault also offers an E-TECH plug-in hybrid variant which sees a 1.6-litre petrol engine mated to two electric motors and a multi-mode clutch-less transmission. The system puts out 160hp (around 20hp more than the equivalent plug-in package that Kia offers) and features a 9.8kWh, 400V battery that allows a range of about 30 miles; plus the ability to travel at up to 84mph, on electric power alone.
The Megane Sport Tourer isn't merely a Megane Hatch with a conservatory on the back. It's properly practical with a 580-litre boot and the longest load area in the segment, at almost 2.8m (assuming you take advantage of the fold-flat front passenger seat). The modular boot is extremely straightforward to use and its floor has two positions. Selecting the high position creates a flat floor when the rear seat is folded to facilitate the loading of bulky items. In this configuration, further storage space is available beneath the cargo bay. Alternatively, setting the floor in its lower position creates maximum load volume in a single area. Nice touches include lateral storage bins on each side of the boot, next to the wheel arches. In addition, there's a hook on both sides from which bags can be hung. As an option, a luggage safety net that can be used vertically is available. It is also possible to separate the boot into two compartments, front and rear, to prevent items from sliding around. Thanks to handles located within the boot area, Renault's Easy Folding system enables simple unlocking and automatic folding of the 60/40-split rear seat. Visual changes to this improved model are centred around the headlights, no longer of the old fashioned halogen variety but now of the Renault 'LED Pure Vision' type.
Prices aren't much different from before, so think in terms of a range between £21,000 and £30,000 for mainstream versions, with a premium of around £1,500 required for this Sport Tourer estate over the five-door Hatch. A big showroom draw is this revised model's latest 9.3-inch centre-dash infotainment screen with its 'Easy Link' media connectivity which offers a wide-range of multimedia, navigation and infotainment services, as well as Multi-Sense drive mode settings. This screen comes in three forms - 7-inch; 7-inch with navigation; and 9.3-inches. All are compatible with 'Android Auto' and 'Apple CarPlay' smartphone-mirroring. Safety provision, as usual on a Renault, is complete. Across the range, all models get an 'Active Emergency Braking System with Pedestrian Detection, plus there's Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist. Blind Spot Warning and Driver drowsiness protection are either optional or fitted as standard further up the range. Other features include the optional Park Assist, reversing camera, Easy Park Assist, cruise-controller with speed limiter, automatic high-beam assist headlights and Traffic Sign Recognition. Plus the optional adaptive cruise control set-up now has a 'Stop & Go' system built in so that if you come across a motorway tailback, it'll seamlessly bring you to a stop and start you off again.
Let's get to the WLTP figures - which here assume base trim. The TCe 140 petrol model manages up to 47.1mpg and 143g/km in manual form (or 44.8mpg and 145g/km as an auto). The Blue dCi 115 diesel manages up to 64.2mpg and 119g/km in manual form (or up to 58.9mpg and 130g/km as an auto). As for the E-TECH Plug-in hybrid, well that can offer a 30 mile WLTP-rated all-electric driving range: that rises to around 40 miles on the urban cycle. You can select an additional 'B' mode via the auto gearstick to increase regenerative braking energy harvesting. Like all PHEVs, this one can offer three-figure combined cycle economy and a super-low CO2 emissions figure - in this case less than 40g/km. Which in turn will mean a far lower BiK tax rating than the one which would apply to a conventional petrol or diesel Megane. Enough to justify this PHEV model's price premium? That'll depend on your tax situation. Charging time via a Type 2 (mode 3) cable is 3 hours - or 4 hours 15 mins from a domestic socket. Another aspect of purchase that should please you lies in the fact that you won't be fobbed off with the basic three year / 60,000 mile warranty that most rivals offer. All Meganes come with a much more complete four-year / 100,000-mile warranty that includes emergency breakdown recovery. There's also three years' worth of European cover as part of this package.
Renault appears to be in little doubt that the estate car still has something to offer in the modern marketplace. It has a complete range of load-luggers that sit alongside its popular SUV products and it's easy to see how they could be preferable for some buyers. The Megane Sport Tourer looks the part with its sleek, elongated lines and beneath the handsome exterior is more rear passenger space and a very big boot. It might not have the flexibility of a leading SUV or MPV product but the Sport Tourer blends style and practicality in a manner that should appeal to those who aren't convinced by the crossover's trendiness or the people carrier's trickery. The estate remains a refreshingly straightforward style of family car and there's still a lot to be said for that.
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