There is a lingering cheekiness about the Renault Megan e, which harks back to the memorable ‘shakin’ that ass’ television commercial that was a smile-inducing reminder of the second generation car of a decade ago. Its replacement was somewhat more sombre, but now the new fourth generation Megane has perked up again in style, grown a little bigger all round, and acquired a bit more room inside. Its arch competitor is Peugeot’s well-liked 308, currently in its second generation, and notable for its zippy driving style. So we relished a head-to-head between these two leading French hatchbacks. Renault has upped the ante with this new generation Megane. It has a slicker feel than before, with a nicely efficient feel to its road behaviour, well weighted steering feel, minimal body lean on the bends and mannerly handling.
The ride verges towards firmness without any jarring edge to it, sopping all but the worst bumps without much intrusion. There is a generally well-sorted feel to the way the Megane behaves. It isn’t particularly engaging in sportiness, though.
The feel of the Renault’s setup is mature rather than youthful. It isn’t quite as sprightly as its rival, giving away 9bhp and 291b ft of torque to the 308, and taking a full second longer on a 0-62 acceleration sprint, although they’re only a whisker apart on top speed. The driving calibre of the 308 is similar in quality, but different in character. The Peugeot’s small steering wheel achieves a directness of steering feel that is pointier and makes the car seem a bit sportier, although also a touch more nervy. On a swift cross-country drive it is engaging but also a bit more frenetic, so personal preference somewhat dictates which of them delivers the more enjoyable driving experience. Ride quality on a pockmarked side road feels a little inferior to the Megane’s slightly more subtle absorption of the undulations. The 308 has a slight edge on performance, and benefits from extra engine torque, but also pays a small penalty in very slightly poorer mpg.
There is a distinct improvement in the Megane’s interior design, which has been upgraded in look and comfort. The cabin has more style and enhanced quality over the previous model. The central dash design is especially pleasing, with a large upright tablet-style display screen positioned between two vertical high-set central air vents. It’s all very intuitive, with controls split between the navigation infotainment screen and auxiliary switches. You view beautifully clear instrument graphics through a chunkily tactile steering wheel. The seats are grippily contoured, with really good lateral support to hold you on the bends, and they are very comfortable over a long distance. The driving position is comprehensively adjustable for any height and shape of driver.
The 308’s cabin has a clean-sweep look, and the now-characteristic Peugeot high-dials design, but it’s a bit Marmite. There is merit in the elevated instrument dials set at a level to be viewed above the smaller-than-typical steering wheel, but it is better suited to taller drivers than those who are more vertically-challenged. The central navigation infotainment screen is set horizontally between triangular centre air vents, and most of the car’s dash controls are operated via the screen. That includes the heater-ventilation controls, which many regard as a step too far. Seat comfort is pretty fair, although not quite as huggily supportive as the Megane’s. Both cars are equally good for plug-in connectivity, conventionally located just ahead of the gear lever. Compared with its predecessor, the Megane has grown fractionally in size, now 64 milimetres longer and six wider. This has enabled it to accommodate a little extra space in the cabin, notably in rear kneeroom. From a passenger viewpoint, there feels a bit more room to stretch inside the Renault than in the 308.
That is helped by the Megane’s exterior dimensions, at 106 millimetres longer and 15 wider than its rival. Oddly, though, the roles reverse on boot space. Despite its larger size, the Megane has a standard boot size that is 36 litres less than the 308’s, and it also gives away 62 litres of overall carrying capacity when the two cars’ rear seats are stowed. Do you want more room to carry people, or extra space for their stuff? The 308 is inferior on the first count, but it is superior as a load-lugger. Being just a bit less roomy inside than its Renault rival is compensated by the Peugeot’s greater practicality for ferrying luggage, the weekly shop, or a homeward haul from the DIY store, garden centre or sports club. So it’s a question of horses for courses, whether your priority is greater legroom or better luggage space. Both cars are similarly endowed with cubbyholes and minor stowage around the cabin, and their rear seat fold mechanisms are equally efficient, so the overall comparison for space and practicality is a draw.
Both of these family-sized hatchbacks benefit from CO2 emissions that dip under the crucial barrier, and that means that they are vehicle excise duty free, for now. And because the company car benefit-in-kind taxation is calculated using that same figure, these are some of the lowest diesel powered vehicles available, and both falling into the 19 per cent bracket. With the Megane boasting slightly lower emissions at 96g/km and a combined fuel economy figure of 76.4mpg, it is marginally ahead of the 308 that manages 98g/km for CO2 and 74.3mpg for economy. With service intervals of 18,000 miles for the Renault and 16,000 for the Peugeot, maintenance is required less frequently than many of this pair’s rivals. The Megane boasts a four-year warranty over 100,000 miles, compared to the less generous three-year and 60,000 miles cover on the 308. And when it comes to insuring each of these hatchbacks, the Megane will work out cheaper on account of its group 15 rating, compared to 21 on the 308.
The pairing that we test here are well matched for equipment, though looking at the list prices, you’ll need to fork out just £20,750 for the Renault and £24,530 for the Peugeot. Even after deducting the £1,000 price premium for the automatic transmission that came fitted to our 308 test car, there’s still a price difference of £2,780, before you’ve talked turkey with the dealer over discounts. Each car comes well kitted out with a navigation system, dual-zone climate control, electric mirrors with power folding, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and faux leather and cloth upholstery, as well as automatic headlights and wipers, cruise control and Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity. The Peugeot boasts a larger touchscreen that is one-inch larger at 9.7 inches and also has an extra pair of speakers, making six in total. The alloy wheels are also larger at 18-inches and handily there’s a space saver spare wheel included within the price, whereas with the Renault you have to make do with a tyre repair kit, which isn’t ideal.
The 308 also comes with full-LED headlights, perfect for night driving, as well as an auto-dimming rear view mirror. The Megane counters this with the addition of keyless entry and start, automatic high and low beam for the headlights, hill start assist, a lane departure warning system and traffic sign recognition. Even though the Megane is fresh into the showrooms, there are some considerable savings to be made, with discounts of more than 20 per cent already possible. Online car brokers UK Car Discount offered our researchers a car at £16,447, representing a saving of £4,303 off the list price. The saving was even greater on the Peugeot, with a whopping 26 per cent discount possible via New Car Discount, bringing the cost of the 308 GT-Line automatic down to £18,118, a reduction of £6,412. Opt for the manual edition and there’s a similar percentage discount available, bringing the cost down of the 308 to £17,117, a saving of £6113.
So which one wins this medium hatch battle, the Spanish-sourced Megane or the French-built Peugeot? These two are level pegging from many viewpoints, similar for performance, evenly matched for space and practicality, and equally good for running costs. The driving experience is contrasting, but of a similar calibre. So price comes into play as a deciding factor, and here the Megane zips out in front. It is both more keenly priced, and marginally better equipped on the safety front, so it looks better value than its dearer rival, even allowing for the difference in transmission between our test cars. It’s a win for the Megane here.