DDespite being one of the oldest names in the company (founded in 1898), Renault has become something of a pioneer in battery electric vehicles. With models like the little Zoe, the little Twizy, the family-sized Fluence and a full line of minivans, the company has done more than anyone to further the cause of green motoring. It doesn’t have it all – the initial approach of selling the car but leasing the batteries puts people off – but it deserves its place in the future of motoring. Cheer.
We now have a revolutionized familiar Renault name for the future. You may remember the Megane “shakin’ that ass” ad from 1996, and Alan Partidge’s phone conversation with ex-wife Carol referring to his new lover’s Megane: being called fast, but on highway in fifth gear, the slow pace of the Mégane becomes really painful. Uphill races become mundane, while overtaking National Express coaches can become a long and drawn-out affair. Those aren’t my words, Carol. The words of Top of the line magazine. Hello?”
The Mégane was therefore a minor part of our national life for a few decades. But rather than the badge now being semi-retired, as with Ford’s Focus and Fiesta, it’s been repurposed as an all-electric model, designed from the ground up and stuffed with some of the latest tech. They hardly need it, but they also renamed it to forcefully drive home the point – it’s the Renault Megane E-Tech Electric. It features a next-gen electric motor that dispenses with magnets (and rare-earth minerals), an ultra-thin, high-density battery while staying with a lithium-ion design, a air-cooled heat to help keep your batteries warm when they need to be, and very smart software that maximizes the range you can extract from the available power, packed into a (relatively) lightweight 1.6 tonne. Taking everything into account, I’d say it still wasn’t quite as accomplished as models such as the MG4 or Kia e-Niro, but it’s not far behind.
As a vehicle designed to transition traditional car buyers from the mainstream Megane/Golf/Focus engine, it performs well. It looks ‘different’ – a rather chunky profile that’s meant to be a sporty coupe I suppose, and fitted with the giant 20-inch alloy wheels available on the more luxurious trims it almost looks like a children’s cartoon of a car, vaguely reminiscent of the Range Rover Evoque. Inside there’s enough room for five, with a tasteful, understated interior that makes good use of tough gray Tweedy material for the dash and some leather around the cabin for make these surfaces pleasant and soft to the touch.
The Mégane naturally has all the latest connectivity and the usual twin digital displays – a customizable dashboard plus a larger touchscreen for sat nav, radio and the like, allied to buttons on and around the steering wheel to easier and safer to use. I was a bit surprised to see Renault persist with a small nacelle behind the quartic (i.e. semi-square) steering wheel for the main radio controls, something familiar to anyone who’s driven a Clio . I still don’t like it. More pleasantly, they have a proper row of handy mechanical switches below the touchscreen for defog, hazard lights and the like.
In terms of performance, it’s very similar to the last two new electric models I’ve tried, the Nissan Ariya, from alliance partner Renault Nissan, and the MG4 made by SAIC in China – hitting 60 mph from rest in 7, 5 seconds, a top speed of around 100 mph and a range of over 200 miles. This suggests electric cars, at least in this sector of the market, might be more “samey” in those terms, but compete on style, ambience, space, posh value and overall economy. Again, that’s not all that different from how things have developed in their equivalent internal combustion engine market. Incidentally, the Nissan is the largest and most spacious, and in my eyes the most beautiful; the MG4 enjoys a slightly better range and will be cheaper to buy and run.
Any Mégane driver migrating to the new electric version should be pleasantly surprised. It has a slightly higher driving position, as is the fashion, and it starts and stops as well as any previous Mégane (apart from the sports versions): indeed at low speed the acceleration is superior. It’s also comfortable and handles quite predictably, even when pressed for rest. The steering, however, is really very light and takes a bit more getting used to; the same goes for adjustable braking, where you can increase ‘regeneration’ via a paddle behind the steering wheel, meaning the car will slow down noticeably without requiring the brake. With your Mégane set to its optional eco setting, you can prioritize range and economy. In these days of high electricity prices you’ll need to do this to ensure your Mégane maintains its advantage over traditional diesel propulsion – and you need to sum up the number of miles per year you cover to justify the price. purchase of the electric premium, i.e. in relation to low fuel costs.
As an old advertising slogan used to say, one day all cars will look like the battery-electric Renault Mégane, provided industry and governments can help us make the economy work for us.