Significant under-the-skin improvements still make this an important revision for Renault’s big-selling rival for the Focus and the Golf

Renault Megane TCe 115 Stop & Start
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol, turbocharged
Transmission: six-speed manual
Power: 115 hp DIN at 4,500 rpm
Torque: 190 Nm at 2,000 rpm
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 53.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 119 g/km
Top speed: 118 mph
Acceleration (0-62 mph): 10.9 seconds
Price: TCe 115 from £18,325 (Megane range from £16,275)

Renault is calling this year’s revamped Megane range the “Megane Collection 2012”. At first sight it seems strange that the company should borrow the language of the fashion industry when the Megane’s clothes are the single aspect of its design that has been changed the least. But significant under-the-skin improvements still make this an important revision for Renault’s big-selling rival for the Focus and the Golf.

First those external changes. Higher spec models get LED daytime running lights and there’s a gloss black finish to the bumpers, which also get chrome highlights. There are new alloy wheel designs while some coupés get chrome trim on the air intakes - and that’s about it. You’ll be doing well if you can tell a 2012 Megane from its 2011 counterpart, even if you get the chance to compare them side by side. The changes only apply to the hatchback, estate and coupé versions; the more recently introduced Megane Coupé-Cabriolet variant is not affected for the time being.

When it comes to what’s under the bonnet, though, changes to some of Renault’s already very efficient engines help push the Megane towards the front to the pack in terms of fuel economy and emissions. On the petrol side, there’s a new 1.2-litre TCe engine with an aluminium block that uses direct injection and turbo-charging to produce 115 horsepower and 190 Newton metres of torque. This will increasingly replace the company’s 16-valve 1.6-litre normally aspirated petrol, which is retained for entry-level Meganes for the time being, but customers need not feel short-changed by the reduction in capacity because the smaller engine offers five more horsepower, and 40 more Newton metres of torque, as well as a flatter (which is to say, more useful) torque curve. Fuel consumption, according to the official combined cycle measure, is an excellent 53.3mpg, and CO2 emissions are 119g/km.

Among the diesel options, the big news is an improved version of Renault’s 1.5-litre engine. The existing 1.5 already goes under the bonnets of about 30% of all Renaults sold, and despite its modest size, it performs effectively even in larger cars such as the Laguna. Now this engine benefits from an extensive programme of upgrades that brings it into line with Renault’s slightly larger 1.6-litre 130 horsepower diesel (which is also available in the Megane). Among the improvements are a low-inertia, variable geometry turbocharger that makes the engine more responsive at low revs, and more precise injection nozzles which improve combustion (and therefore fuel consumption and CO2 emissions). The result of these and other measures is that while power remains unchanged at 110 horsepower, torque is boosted by 20Nm to 260Nm, a figure that is available from as little as 1,750 rpm. For Meganes fitted with stop/start technology, the official combined cycle fuel consumption reaches 80.7mpg and CO2 emissions are just 90g/km. For the time being, these are probably the best figures achieved by any C-segment (or Golf-sized) car. In order to round out the diesel range, Renault also offers a 90 horsepower version of the 1.5, and a 160 horsepower 2.0-litre. One wrinkle – if you opt for the EDC automated manual, you will get the old version of the 1.5 diesel because EDC doesn’t work in conjunction with stop/start.

On the road, the 1.2-litre TCe petrol engine is very impressive. The role of the 1.2 in the Renault range is the same as that played by the similarly-sized turbocharged 1.2 TSI engine for the Volkswagen brands – to replace larger non-turbocharged engines with no loss of power and improved drivability and economy. Both engines are impressive on the road but Renault’s power unit has the edge over its Volkswagen equivalent in terms of on-paper power, emissions and official economy figures. Neither is as bold a step in terms of downsizing, however, as Ford’s 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine in the Focus, which is also designed to displace a mainstream 1.6-litre normally aspirated engine, but with an even more radical reduction in capacity and a three-cylinder configuration.

I was able to assess the improvements to the 1.5-litre diesel by driving cars with the “old” and “new” engines back to back. The first car, using the unimproved 1.5, was a revised Megane coupé with the EDC gearbox. The engine had plenty of power and was not at all rough or noisy, but it did give out a certain amount of (muted) old-school diesel clatter and gurgle under acceleration. The second car, which used the revised 1.5 in combination with a manual gearbox, wasn’t a Megane at all, but an example of its MPV sister, the Scenic. In that car, the new engine was noticeably quieter and smoother, and hardly sounded like a diesel at all. Both cars had similarly high gearing (well over 30mph per 1,000 rpm) and were relaxed, refined cruisers. The EDC gearbox in the coupé worked well. It may or may not be a match for similar gearboxes from Volkswagen (DSG) or Ford (PowerShift); the most important comparison from Renault’s point of view is with Peugeot’s single clutch automated manual and it’s a lot better than that.

I also tried the 130 horsepower 1.6-litre diesel in a Megane estate, and this had a civilised character to match the updated 1.5’s. It offers a useful increase in power but most UK drivers would probably find the 1.5 to be adequate.

As well as the improvements to the mainstream Megane range there are some tweaks for the high performance Megane Renaultsport as well; on the limited edition Trophy model, a Sport Mode setting provides peak power of 265 horsepower and torque of 360 Nm. There are also changes to wheel choices and trim options.

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