Renault's Megane gets PHEV plug-in tech. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Renault reckons that this Megane E-TECH Plug-in PHEV model offers an ideal compromise between the future need for eco-minded electrification and the current need for everyday common sense. There's a 30 mile electric driving range and, unlike with rivals, the powertrain's battery doesn't noticeably affect either rear seat passenger room or boot space. So this contender ought to be worth a second look.
Different brands have different perceptions of the right way forward when it comes to electrifying family hatchbacks and compact estates or SUVs. In this case, we have Renault championing plug-in hybrid tech with the Megane. But over at Peugeot, they prefer a full-EV solution for this class of car. And at Ford, conventional engines are retained, lightly embellished by mild hybrid technology. If you're out to buy a more eco-conscious car in this segment, you'd be forgiven for being a little confused.
Still, Renault's solution with its Megane E-TECH PHEV is at least easy to get your head around. A plug-in set-up offering up to 30 miles of WLTP-rated all-electric range - quite enough to cover most people's daily commute; a 1.6-litre petrol engine to smoothly cut in when that range is exhausted; and a price tag that's much more affordable than that of the car that's hitherto emphasised the plug-in family hatch, Volkswagen's Golf GTE.
There's the same PHEV package here that Renault uses in the compact Captur crossover, namely a 1.6-litre petrol engine mated to two electric motors and a multi-mode clutch-less transmission that Renault says offers "excellent efficiency and barely noticeable gear changes". 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. After a stop, the transmission uses electric motor power to restart the car silently, and with immediate acceleration. When passing a vehicle or merging onto the highway, it combines the combustion and electric-powered engines to increase the available power and offer better acceleration.
The Megane E-TECH Plug-in features specific 'Multi-Sense' drive settings - there are three. 'Pure', activated by a special button on the dashboard, is the full-electric setting, selectable provided there is enough power. The second option, 'MySense', optimises the hybrid mode for lower running costs. Its "E-Save" feature helps to save battery power (at least 40 per cent) so that it can switch to full-electric mode when required for driving in city centres, for example. Finally, 'Sport' mode allows drivers to take advantage of maximum performance by combining the power of the engine and the two electric motors.
The E-TECH plug-in version of this car comes in Hatch and Sports Tourer estate guises and does of course feature all the visual updates visited upon the revised version of this fourth generation Megane. The first thing you'd notice if you were familiar with the original version of this MK4 model is the headlights, no longer of the old fashioned halogen variety but now of the Renault 'LED Pure Vision' type, with beams that increase the beam range by nearly 30%. The front fog lamps and rear tail lamps are also now LED-powered. Plus there's a redesigned front bumper, chrome-trimmed fog light surrounds, extra air deflectors, dynamic 'scrolling' indicators and a more pronounced front wing design.
Inside, there's a new vertical 9.3-inch centre-dash infotainment screen With its new Renault EASYLINK connected multimedia system, it offers a wide-range of multimedia, navigation and infotainment services, as well as Multi-Sense settings. Top variants also get a 10-inch digital instrument cluster display. And a rim-less electrochromic rear view mirror. Plus there centre console controls have been restyled. Otherwise, it's the usual Megane recipe. A couple of adults can be accommodated reasonably comfortably on the back seat. And impressively, boot space is unaffected by the PHEV installation, in the Hatch rated at 434-litres, which rises to 1,247-litres with the rear bench folded. The Sport Tourer model has a 580-litre boot.
Megane pricing starts from well under £20,000 with a conventional engine but you'll need a budget much closer to £30,000 to get this E-TECH Plug-in model, available in either Hatch or Sport Tourer estate form. The Megane E-TECH Plug-in features the digital dashboard first seen as an option in the current Clio, this measuring 10 inches across, as well as a vertical centre stack screen for the Easy Link infotainment system. This second monitor has a diagonal measurement of up to 9.3 inches and can integrate the 'Android Auto' and 'Apple CarPlay' smartphone-mirroring systems. 'Pure Vision' full-LED headlamps are also offered and other luxury options include a driver's seat with massage function and a nine speaker BOSE stereo with an amp and subwoofer.
Safety-wise, this variant makes use of numerous driving aids, such as active emergency braking, lane departure warning, and automatic traffic-sign recognition. And there's a level two autonomous 'Motorway and Traffic Assistant' system for limited autonomous driving highway capability. Like all of Renault's electric and hybrid cars, this model comes with connected services dedicated to both optimising travel and remote charging of the vehicle.
We've already mentioned the 30 mile WLTP-rated all-electric driving range of this model: 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.
The E-TECH system's two electric motors are key to its efficiency. The first handles energy harvesting during braking and deceleration. The second serves as a starter to get the combustion-powered engine running and also supports Renault's innovative transmission system, developed from the brand's F1 racing experience. With no clutch, it handles the distribution of torque from different motors to the front wheels and optimizes energy output when changing gears. As for the warranty, that's good for up to four years or 100,000 miles. Years one and two are unlimited mileage. The PHEV system's battery has a separate 8 year/100,000 mile warranty.
Over the last decade, Renault's wasted an awful lot of time and money offering the market electrified cars it wasn't quite ready for. The Twizy and the Fluence Z.E. spring to mind. And even the ZOE is only just starting to find some sort of sales traction, even though it was launched back in 2012. But these were full-EVs. You can't help thinking that the French brand would have done much better to start us all off with a product like this Megane E-TECH Plug-in. There's no range anxiety, no curious styling, no confusing battery lease sums to grapple with. Just most of the advantages you'll want from electrified technology with few of the drawbacks you don't.
It's not all rosy of course; there's quite a price premium to pay over a conventional petrol or diesel-engined Megane variant. And there'll be a few small practicality compromises to make. But if you can cope with that, then this really is a family hatch for the thinking buyer. A slice of French sense. At last from Renault.
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