Yes Yes Yes oh YES: sexy, fast, ultra smooth engine, great gearbox, fabulous ride
Oh dear me no: no reverse camera on pov-model, hard-to-use muti-function control stalk, poorly placed cups holders.
I love French cars. I love their quirks, which in any other cars would be annoying. They are full of Gaelic charm and are either reviled or celebrated for their unusual-ness.
I kept waiting for the Megane GT 220 to commit an automotive felony. I thought she would come over all French and pull up lame and until I’d had “un baguette et un vin blanc s’il vous plait”, but she didn’t miss a beat. I worked hard to find something I didn’t like, lest my story reads like an Alan Jones Cash For Comment, perish the thought. There was nothing I didn’t like except for the hideous control stalk. You could get used to it but never like it. More on that later.
The rest of the Meganes have new smaller engines but the GT 220 gets hairy chested 162KW turbo 4. Think of the GT 220 as a slightly less mental R.S. 265. The voluptuous metalwork squats on a set of sexy 18” alloys looking every bit the rally champion that she is. Renault sprinkled her with a list of the snazzy gadgets with the best being the auto locking doors. Leave the key in your pocket permanently, and unlike most other brands, you’ll never forget to lock your car again. Just walk away and wait for the “beep, clunk” and she goes about her security regime.
The daytime LEDs round of a deliciously menacing look. We had the pearly white but the moody black looks positively lethal. That’s a great shame in an Aussie summer where white has more je nes se quoi.
Touch the rubber pad on the door handle to enter comfy cabin. It isn’t luxurious by and means. Still, where else are you going to get a tourer that does 7.6 seconds to 100 without rearranging your internal organs and breaking teeth, and all for 40 grand? I’ve no doubt that hefty 1326kgs stops her from being even quicker. For me, the important thing is comfort which I’m not prepared to give up for speed. The idea of living with bone jarring suspension for the possibility that one day I might want to ruin a set of tyres, a clutch, and possibly the brakes, just to have a few spins on a track is ludicrous. I’ve driven cars whose ride was like sitting on a besser brick bbq, covered in a bed sheet with 4 brass casters for wheels. The misery of driving on even the smoothest suburban roads in such awful buckets can’t be overstated. In comparison, the GT 220 rides like a limo that’s magnetically glued to the road. That seems to be Renault’s secret, a sophisticated feel to the suspension that corners with psychotic grip which doesn’t get all bent out of shape the moment a mid-bend bump is encountered.
Our test car had “leatherette”, aka vinyl, as partial seat trim. It looks the part and I’m not that fussed on burning my bum on black leather fully covered seats anyway. Fabric always feels more luxurious to me.
The sweet little engine is so willing, and while there is the merest smidge of turbo lag, it’s like a puppy that’s bouncing around wanting to do anything it can to please. There’s a nice note to the exhaust but the cabin is so quiet most of the sound is lost. Shame, but at least pedestrians will be entertained. I particularly love the notchy feel to the gears. You always know which gear you’re selecting, and because the clutch has the most beautiful feel to it, the need for the “hill start assist” is almost negated. Although I hanker for manuals, I spend most of my time in automatics so it takes a while to get comfortable with the feel of the set up. It was here that I discovered a bit of French quirk I could get very fond of, and it’s a by-product of the stop/start feature. Once you’ve pressed the start button and set off, you’re engine will stop whenever you stop at lights out of gear with the clutch out. If you’re rather ham-fisted and snuff it when you move off again, simply push the clutch back in and the fabulous little Megane relights the engine for you. Never again will you be left red faced when trying to impress that bare-chested hottie in the ute next to you.
We always like to mix the Coles and Liquorland runs with a spin in the country to make sure we expose any unwanted inclinations. This is where the parking assistants would have come in handy as we are all getting very lazy and like reversing cameras to guide our way.
Narrow single lane section – Old Pacific Highway
The only thing I’d like banished is the stalk that is crowded with buttons that I mentioned earlier. It sits behind the steering wheel and duplicates audio controls. You can’t see it, so unless you know what all the buttons do, you have no hope of getting what you want first go. It’s similar to the loathed Peugeot controls which they are gradually replacing with steering-wheel mounted buttons. You have your audio controls sure, but faffing about at 110 to find them is maddening. While you’re on the motorway you’ll also want the speed limit/cruise control, and unless you’ve read the manual, you won’t notice the on/off button is located down near the hand brake, well of course it is. Only the set/resume/increase/decrease buttons are on the wheel. There is plenty of room for the audio controls to face the driver but in a fit of Frenchness they are hidden from view. All of this matters not once you’ve spent a few days getting into the part of a beret-wearing, baguette munching, red wine swilling continental.
BELOW: Sweeping bends- Old Pacific Highway
I packed a small care package and headed up the old Pacific Highway. I’ve only recently discovered the allure of the great north and have abandoned the Grand Pacific Drive for the time being. I can’t imagine what The Old Pac Hwy must have been like to have buses and trucks on such a treacherous track. After the motorway went in, the old road was all but abandoned.
We headed through the Harbour Tunnel, along the M2 then up the Pacific Highway for a bit. To save time, we took the M1 as far as Ku-Ring-Gai Chase Road. Off-motorway is where you find the best drives. Public servants like to be chauffeured along on straight smooth roads, so they make new roads featureless but fast. That doesn’t make for an interesting Sunday drive.
The sandstone escarpments surrounding Sydney have an excitement about them. The old road is now the scenic tourist drive but few tourists use it and locals make straight for the motorway. The only people driving this road are beefy boys in beefy V8’s, jaunty-capped twinks in hot hatches, and leather-clad gents straddling big butch bikes, so all are like-minded, and very very hot.
BELOW: Pie in the Sky – Cowan
After a quick tasty lunch at Pie in the Sky, the serious work began. It was one joyous sweeping bend after another keeping the motor singing at 4 grand. They were intermixed with switchbacks, undulating straight-aways, and breathtaking views. The scenery is stunning. We opted to the Wiseman’s Ferry run which takes advantage of the riverside drive along the gorgeous Hawkesbury River. As I said, after you pass through sleepy Cowan, the serious driving begins. The problem is the speed limits which are low low low. It is 80 part of the way with the rest being 60. The Megane begged for more of a day out but men in government offices have deemed us all far too stupid to drive sensibly so have nannied us to within an inch of our lives. Such is life.
The tightest bends showed how fabulous the GT 220 could be. It switched directions like queens at a Boxing Day sale. Unlike the queens, the Renault didn’t need big hugs and vats of gin-and-tonic to be calmed, just a deft flick of the wrist got her round corners without drama. It was almost psychic.
LEFT: A pit stop on the road to Wieseman’s ferry
The lack of Satnav in the base model meant relying, rather stupidly, on “maps” to guide me. For the record there is no audible warning when you lose signal in the map Apps. The signal in those sandstone canyons is little more than wishful thinking but for a change I didn’t at all mind an extra hour added to my journey. I switched to Satnav apps and all was well.
BELOW: Sandstone Canyon near Wiseman’s Ferry, The ferry
I’d consider is paying the extra $3,700 for the Premium because the package is well worth it. You get an electric glass roof, Satnav, Leather, reversing camera, and lane departure warning amongst other things. This puts it up against the granddaddy of Hot hatches, the MK VII Golf GTi, and it compares favourably. The Renault has a vastly superior ride and with similar engine outputs, the Golf is a only second quicker to 100.
It’s not a decision I’d want to make, but I’d probably find myself leaning towards the Megane, purely for the useability day to day. The Premium would be my choice even if just for the nifty LCD replacing the standard audio unit.
In short, Renault should be had up on charges for keeping the Megane GT 200 such a closely guarded secret.
Would I buy one? Yes.
Price: $39,790 – $43,790
Engine: 162kw/340Nm 2.0L turbo petrol
Econ/perf: 7.3L/100k, 7.6 0-100kph