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Renault Megane RXE Hatch 1.6

The french all-rounder

Model year: 2000
Odometre reading: 35km
List Price: (Jan.2001) R123000

Engine:
1598ccm in-line 4 cylinder, DOHC-16 Valve engine
79kw @ 5750rpm
148Nm @ 3750rpm
0-100km/h: 10.2sec.
v.max: 196km/h
average consumption: 9,2L/100km

It was on one of those everybody-is-watching-rugby-or-cricket days last year, a truly South African tradition which non-sports fans like myself just have to endure, when I drove past something we haven't seen in this country for a long time: a Renault dealership.

Curious and bored out of my skull, I pulled in and walked into the sparkling clean and spanking new dealership to be greeted by a friendly gentleman who insisted on showing me every single vehicle displayed. I was more than happy to stay, as this must also have been the only premises on the entire Tygerberg Road that didn't have Rugby showing on a bigscreen.

The Megane Coupe' and the Scenic have always cought my eye as beautiful and affordable sports/SUV cars, but it was the Megane Classic 1.6 that really surprised me. Not only do the family genes do it good in the looks department, but once inside I was overwhelmed by the quality and standard equipment of the vehicle.

The finish of the interior, as of the exterior, was up with the standards of VW or Merc, while the cabin is packed with nifty devices only found in more expensive cars. To start, the sound system sported more than 2 speakers and a frontloader CD player / radio combination head unit. Not only is it standard equipment, but the fact that it's integrated into the dashboard makes it an unlikely target for the local smash, grab 'n run squad.

The upholstery was a stunning suade-like finish, while the dashboard, although being mostly plastic, looked positively non-plastic. Airconditioning keeps you cool in summer, while an Airbag will save your neck in the worst of scenarios. The steering column is something of the unusual, with interesting devices like cruise and CD controls. I was impressed. The friendly gentlemen was keen on selling the beauty, as that's his job, and offered me the “old stock” car, 35km on the clock, metallic blue with mag wheels, registration, 2 year insurance plan and a full tank of petrol for R110000.

Right. If you haven't fallen off your chair yet, you're either about to fall asleep or can't read a word of English. That's 110 grand for a brilliant looking and well-assembled car with tons of features you'd only find from R140000 upwards. So there I sat, in the Megane, seriously tempted. I glanced out towards my daily conveyance when the friendly and all-seeing gentleman mistakingly jumped into action: “OF COURSE we can take a test drive!”

Two minutes later the plates were on and I was going down a deserted road in a beautiful dark-metallic-blue Renault Megane worth 35km. Ahh, the smell of a new car… I'd choose this any day over Hansie, Flekkie, Bokkie or whatever they're called.

I did have trouble finding second gear at first, but it seems that I didn't depress the wonderfully light clutch enough. The pedals are tiny and feel feather light, the gearshifts were eventually smooth and precise, while the brakes give good feedback to the driver. The steering was also very precise, although I did feel a few bumps through the column.

As the car reached normal operating temperature I was (in the most friendly manner) encouraged to “give her the spur”. As this was a new car it meant that I couldn't rev any higher than 4000 or floor the accelerator, and thus came a huge disappointment… the engine.

I managed to bring the tachometre needle up to 4 in first and second gear, but the performance was nothing to write home (or in an internet column) about. In all fairness, the engine hadn't even gone the distance from Stellenbosch to Cape Town, thus it wasn't performing to spec, and those last few centimetres of the accellerator make all the difference. As I later found out, when I drove the 1.6 Megane of a friends' friend's roommate (NO kidding!!!) with over 20000km on the dial. So I'm glad to report that the engine has enough power to get naughty, although it does lack a bit in low-grunt torque. Yet, as the specs will tell you, this french beaut nearly smashes the 10 second 0-100km/h sprint and falls short of 200km/h by a whisker. Not only does it look great, cost little and give you a lot, it can also burn rubber! I'm told the 2 litre version is even sportier (duh!) but then the value for money goes out the window, as that's priced from R135000 upwards.

So there you go! The Megane is a great Looker, it's absolutely PACKED with features and it's dirt-cheap. Question is, how will the maintanance be? The 2 litre car I drove only had troubles with the air-con compressor which was immediately replaced free of charge, so that's reassuring. Time will tell if Renault sticks around and gives good aftersales service, but if that is to be the case, I give this car 5 stars, two enthusiastic thumbs up, and recommend it to everyone. If you're shopping in the low 100's for a bit more exclusivity and a hell of a lot of value for your Rand, do yourself a big, big, big favour and drop by your local (and needless to say, very friendly) Renault dealer.

For:
Stunning looker
Impressive list of standard equipment
Good value for money

Against:
Short history and unsure future of dealer and service networks
Resale value not determined yet (I'd hold onto it anyway)

Rivals:
Honda Civic / Ballade Luxline 160i
Opel Kadett / Astra Classic 1.6 CDX
VW Golf / Jetta 1.6 Comfortline

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