Renault’s “dare-to-be-different” Mégane II has arrived on the South African market.Renault’s “dare-to-be-different” Mégane II has arrived on the South African market – and it looks set to cause a stir in a segment populated by contenders that are extremely capable, but generally rather conservative.

Judging from initial love-it or hate-it reactions to the five-door hatch – the first model in the range to go on display at dealerships around the country – styling will play a significant role in purchasing decisions.

The five-door is offered with a choice of four engines (two petrol, two diesel), two manual transmissions and an automatic, and three trim levels, Authentique, Dynamique and Dynamique+. It is to be followed later this year by the Mégane II saloon and coupé-cabrio, with the three-door sports hatch and all-new Scénic set to arrive early next year.

The first Renault model to use the Régie’s new C platform (to be shared with Nissan’s forthcoming all-new Almera), Mégane II is a crucial model that is expected to account for a significant proportion of the French marque’s sales volumes. With its dramatic bustle-back rear, the car stands out in what design chief Patrick le Quement describes as “a segment of mainly look-alike cars”. But, he says, the design appeals to the emotions without sacrificing functionality and practicality.

Inside, Mégane II is a combination of modernity and sobriety. The facia is simple, and the controls and fittings feature what Renault calls Touch Design, with materials that feel good to touch, and shapes intended to fall instinctively to hand. Talking points are the Renault Card unlocking and starting system – the first application of this feature in a compact hatch – and the double-arm-and-crossbar handbrake lever.

The locally available trim levels have two distinct characters. Authentique models, with their dominant charcoal and grey shades, have neutrality and simplicity as the main themes. The Dynamique versions, by contrast, are more sporty and hi-tech, with honeycomb film covering the centre console and leather on the steering wheel, gear-knob and parking brake. Leather seats are optional.

Trip computers, central locking and front electric windows are standard on all models. Dynamique and Dynamique+ versions have rear powered windows as well, and all units feature one-touch operation. All models have audio systems with remote steering column controls. Dynamique models have air-con and heat-reflective windscreens, and Dynamique+ adds climate and cruise control.

Under the radical sheetmetal, Mégane II features all-new suspension derived from previous Renault practice. Up front, springing is by MacPherson struts with rectangular lower arms to cope with longitudinal and lateral forces.

The set-up is carried on an isolated subframe to limit the transmission of vibration to body and cabin. The rear is suspended on a programmed-deflection torsion beam and coil springs. Brakes are four-wheel discs, with more powerful models equipped with ventilated units up front.

All Mégane models have ABS, electronic brake distribution and brake assist. ESP is available as an option on Dynamique and Dynamique+ versions. Authentique models come with 15-inch steel wheels as standard equipment, with 16-inch Nervastella alloys on Dynamic versions and 17-inch Nervasport alloys on vehicles with the Dynamique+ spec. All models have electric variable-assist power steering, and Dynamique derivatives have rain-sensing wipers and automatic switch-on headlights. Xenon lamp units are optional on Dynamique and Dynamique+ models.

As the first compact to achieve a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash test ratings, Mégane II models feature a long list of standard safety equipment. All models have front airbags for driver and passenger, side bags for driver and passenger and curtain bags deploying from the sides of the roof lining above the front and rear compartments. The front passenger airbag unit can be de-activated to allow a child seat to be used. Both front seatbelts feature pretensioners and height adjustment. And all four side doors have side protection bars.

The engines on offer are a 1,6-litre 16V petrol with variable valve timing (VVT) with peak outputs of 83 kW at 6 000 r/min and 152 N.m at 4 200, a 2,0-litre petrol 16V VVT unit (99 kW at 5 500 and 191 N.m at 3 750), a 1,5-litre turbodiesel (dCi) with peaks of 60 kW at 4 000 r/min and 185 N.m at 2 000, and a 1,9-litre dCi (88 kW at 4 000 and 270 N.m at 2 000). Transmissions are a new six-speed manual (offered on 2,0-litre petrol and 1,9-litre dCi versions), a five-speed manual (1,6-litre petrol and 1,5-litre dCi) and a four-speed automatic, offered only with the 1,6-litre 16V engine.

The highest level of equipment comes with the bigger-engined six-speed models. Spec-level breakdowns are as follows: Authentique is available with 1,6 16V and 1,5 dCi five-speed drivetrains, Dynamique models come with 1,6 16V 5-speed and 1,6 16V auto drivetrains, and Dynamique+ is offered in conjunction with 2,0 16 V six-speed and 1,9 dCi six-speed drivetrains.