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Renault's new Megane to be available with E-TECH PHEV technology

Renault is bolstering its ranks of PHEV cars with the introduction of the new Megane E-TECH plug-in hybrid. Following on from the E-TECH versions of the Clio and Captur, the Megane will enable the French brand to enter the C-segment fray to compete with the likes of the Mk8 VW Golf and recently-revealed all-new SEAT Leon.

This will be the fifth-generation of Megane from Renault since its introduction in 1995, in which time over seven million have been sold. Adding the E-TECH powertrain into the mix makes this the first electrified Megane and the first PHEV in the C-segment for Renault. It's not just electrification that the new Megane is bringing to market, though, with much being made of a revamped interior, more technology and improved safety – which has always been a Renault strong point. But how does the Megane E-TECH stack up?

Powertrain

Given the Megane's illustrious history of being a hot hatch icon and front-wheel drive firebrand, you might be forgiven for thinking that Renault would have gone down the fast electrified hatch route with the E-TECH. Unfortunately you can think again. In fact, if you've read our write-up of the soon-to-be-on-the-road Renault Captur E-TECH, you'll be familiar with the general specification of the powertrain and rationale behind it. Furthermore, at launch you'll only be able to get the E-TECH as a Sport Tourer, with the hatch following at a later date.

Renault's goal with its E-TECH cars isn't to unleash the raw power of electric drive and charge a significant premium like many manufacturers are doing; they want to keep E-TECH for the people, at a sensible price point. This means that despite the 150 patents and tales of hand-me-down technology straight from Formula One, Renault's E-TECH uses a four-cylinder, 1.6-litre petrol unit developed alongside its Alliance partners and a modest electric drive setup.

That petrol engine is combined with two electric motors to deliver a total of 160bhp to the front wheels via a clutchless gearbox, which is tuned for maximum efficiency. Apparently, the energy recuperation and management system is where the aforementioned F1 technology has been called upon, so it's in the slowing down, rather than the speeding up, that you can pretend to be Sebastian Vettel.

A modest 9.8kWh battery running at 400V gives the Megane E-TECH a WLTP range of 30 miles, with 40 apparently obtainable in an urban environment. We don't know the car's performance stats or MPG, but we do know that it emits less than 40g/km in the test cycle. As with almost any PHEV these days you'll be able to switch between Pure EV mode, 'MySense' optimised hybrid drive mode and Sport mode for full power.

Interior improvements and technology

First of all, as the E-TECH will initially be available as a Sport Tourer only, buyers are going to benefit from a decent amount of room with the load space unencumbered by electrical intrusion and offering between 434 and 1247 litres. Quality of the materials has been upped, and the cockpit area has been improved to make it look, feel and function better than that of the outgoing car.

Central to this new cockpit is a 10 inch digital instrument cluster which can be configured with various widgets, information options and the ability to display sat nav info. This is supplemented by a 9.3 inch vertical tablet-style screen with the Renault EASY LINK multimedia system built-in. Connectivity is managed through EASY LINK via the usual Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with navigation, infotainment and the car's settings all accessible.

As well as the gadgets that you can play with, Renault has gone down the 'experiential' route with its Multi-Sense technology, through which the car's character can be altered. Everything from engine mode to steering feel, ambient lighting and the configuration of the digital dash can be altered to match the driver's mood.

The E-TECH variants of the Megane come complete with Highway & Traffic Jam Companion which combines with the adaptive cruise (complete with auto stop and start) to create a level 2 autonomous driving feature. This basically means the car will do the going and slowing in traffic, so long as you keep your hands on the wheel. Other safety and driver aids include active emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, and a drowsiness detection function.

Is E-TECH necessary?

Given Renault's credentials in the pure EV market, and the slow-down in some markets of PHEV sales, we found ourselves wondering whether Renault, and other car brands' pursuit of PHEV tech was really worth the bother. Where the Megane is concerned, and with Renault's E-TECH system in general, it's not the best-specced PHEV system by a long chalk as well.

When it comes to sales of PHEVs, last year demand in the UK dropped by 17.8 per cent, thanks by and large due to the removal of the plug-in car grant. However, there are still a huge number of reasons why PHEVs make a lot of sense not only here, but across Europe.

First and foremost, on the continent many countries still offer grants for those buying PHEVs. Both here and in Europe there are tax breaks to be had – in BiK and road tax here for example, which will maintain extremely low rates for PHEVs for several years at the minimum. Certainly, in the company car game PHEVs are doing pretty well thanks to those favourable BiK rates and deals for fleet buyers. Furthermore, for fleets that have to drive into low emissions zones, such as in urban areas, low official emissions and zero emissions capability can save significant amounts of money. Representatives from Kia and Ford have pointed out to Automotive News Europe that the success of PHEVs really does depend on domestic incentives, though.

Another reason why car manufacturers continue to push PHEVs to market is the necessity to meet ever-toughening emissions targets – 95g/km average by 2021 – and for fear of subsequent fines. In official tests, PHEVs do very well on the CO2 front and most manufacturers are capable of getting a 'half-way house' plug-in hybrid to market quickly, unlike pure EVs which take far more time and development to get on the road.

A final potential reason why PHEVs will continue to be popular for the time being is that they're a gentle way into EV ownership for a buying public that is still trying to get its head around the switch over. It enables people to understand how the get the best from a car's range, work out charging tariffs and get signed up to public charging networks. And all of that can be done while still having the reassuring back-up of a petrol engine.

So, looking at it from Renault's point of view and that of other PHEV manufacturers, whilst the UK isn't necessarily going to be a stand-out market for its E-TECH system, as a whole it makes a lot of sense to keep pursuing it. And where the Renault won't win many games of PHEV top trumps, if it can bring its cars in at a lower price point than rivals, it stands to mop-up the lower end of the market.

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