IN CAR’s December “Hatch attack” issue we proclaimed the Renault Mégane R26 F1 a hot hatch in the true sense of the word, saying that it was the car we would choose should pointand- press driving be the only style required. The reason why it didn’t come out on top in that comparison test, however, lies in the one word that we used to some it up, “uncompromising”. In making the R26 F1 such a devastating hot hatch, some everyday comfort and practicality had been sacrificed. But what if you require that comfort and practicality, but aren’t quite ready to trade in your driving thrills for a boxshaped people mover? This is where the Renault Mégane GT comes in… Even the body colour of our test unit, a subdued metallic blue as opposed to the bright yellow of the F1, says that this is a more conservative alternative to the hotter Mégane models. So, as not to be seen as a com-pletely soft option, the centrallymounted twin-tailpipes have been carried over, and now find accommodation in a smart-looking chrome-finished outlet, separated by a GT logo. More chrome-finishing can be found on the radiator grille surrounds, while smart looking 17-inch alloy wheels complete the package.
Offering good support, standard sports seats, (finished in leather as an option) welcome the driver and passengers to what is essentially an unchanged interior, although this latest model gains a few sporty touches, including a leather-covered steering wheel with GT logo, as well as aluminium pedals and aluminium-look inserts on the centre console. As before, the default height setting on the driver’s seat is slightly too high for the tallest of our testers to feel completely comfortable, but at least there are adjustments, unlike on the fixed seats in the R26. The instrument cluster on the GT models gains a sliver/blue background, but where the R26 F1 and Sport 2,0T’s rev counters reach around to the 8 000 r/min mark, with a redline at 7 000, in this example the needle would see red at 6 400 r/min were it not limited to 6 250. In making the GT a more civilised everyday driving experience, a lower pressure turbocharger has been mounted to the 2,0-litre 16-valve engine and, consequently, power has been toned down to a more gentlemanly 120 kW available at 5 000 r/min, with torque lowered to 270 N.m, available at 3 250 r/min. The slick 6-speed manual transmission found in the R26 F1 is carried over into this model.
While many might turn their noses up at the thought of robbing a hot hatch of power, what the GT gains is a slightly less frantic and more comfortable character. By decreasing the pressure from the turbocharger, there is also less pressure on the driver to drive as though he/she has something to prove all the time! Having said that, a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 8,33 seconds is more than respectable should the gauntlet be thrown down. A top speed of 218 km/h was recorded on our test day. One big advantage of having less torque being forced through the front wheels is that there is decidedly less tugging through the steering wheel. In an attempt to find a compromise between the firm ride and pin-point precise handling of the hotter Méganes, and the slightly more comfort biased settings used in the standard vehicles, the GT gains a uniquely developed suspension configuration. Front and rear anti-roll bars have been stiffened, and springs are “only” 24 per cent firmer than on the standard model, with a ride height lowered by a mere 10 mm. The result is that this model reinforces the hot Mégane’s reputation for sharp handling, but is more forgiving under everyday driving conditions.
ESP traction control is an optional fitment on the GT but was not missed on our test unit. Mild understeer signals the edge of adhesion being reached, and can be confidently corrected, while the toned-down torque steer means that the steering wheel remains light in your hands as the power is fed in. There is a very short travel on the accelerator pedal, meaning that foot-flat driving is a common theme in this car. By contrast, a relatively long travel on the brake pedal makes “heelingand- toeing” difficult. An average emergency braking time, from 100 km/h, of 2,92 seconds was not as impressive as the “race ready” R26, but still earns a “good” rating.
With each model that arrives for testing, we’ve taken more and more liking to the ageing Renault Mégane models, the pinnacle being the very hot R26 F1, which impressed all who drove it with its huge grip levels and high fun factor. That fun factor, however, does mean a compromise in everyday practicality and the sacrifice of a certain amount of comfort. While some won’t see these as a sacrifices at all, the Mégane GT caters for a buyer who may have a few more responsibilities in life, including a family, which require a certain level of practicality and comfort blended in.