Renault is better positioned to take on established family sedans with its new model
A better Megane The Renault Megane 1.5 dCi 110 will debut in Singapore early next year. PHOTOS: LIONEL SEAH

Commenting on my trip to the Polish capital to drive Renault's new Megane, a colleague quipped: "Warsaw is super exotic, the car less so."

As it turned out, the only thing exotic about Warsaw was a life-like artwork palm tree at Charles de Gaulle Roundabout. The Megane, on the other hand, was a surprisingly bright spark at a rather gloomy autumn venue.

Compared with the outgoing Renault Fluence, the new Megane looks far more striking. It also pips the Fluence's already large 530-litre boot by 20 litres.

Access to the boot is hands-free, as is access to the cabin and engine ignition.

Within the modern cabin are soft-feel, quality materials, satin- chrome highlights, and ambient lighting for the door-trim and centre console.

The dCi 110 test model boasts a configurable 7-inch Thin Film Transistor digital instrumentation and a chunky Nappa-lined flat-bottomed multi-function steering wheel.

There is also an 8.7-inch touchscreen (7-inch for base models) featuring Renault's latest R-Link 2 control module.

You can select Eco, Comfort, Neutral, Sport and Perso (personalised) drive modes. Three levels of engine note can be summoned separately, but the difference among them is subtle.

The car is spacious and comfortable for five. Its familiar 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine has been tweaked for improved efficiency. Its claimed CO2 emission of 95g/km qualifies it for the highest carbon rebate of $30,000. Torque has been increased from 240Nm to 250Nm (260Nm for the manual).

Power delivery is smooth and linear, even if the test-car's manual gearbox is rubbery and imprecise.

Singapore will get a smooth-shifting six-speed dual-clutch transmission though.

The car offers a superior ride and handling balance. It is quiet and relaxing. You will not hear any diesel clatter with the windows up.

Similarly, wind roar and road rumble are well suppressed, thanks to the car's improved body rigidity as well as its use of more foam and felt insulation.

The new Megane is 16 per cent more fuel-efficient than the already frugal Fluence. During the test-drive, it averaged 5.6 litres/ 100km - not too far from its claimed 3.7 litres/100km.

Not all is perfect though. The car's tablet-like touchscreen froze once in navigation mode and had to be rebooted.

You will also find low-grade plastic cladding, hard plastic panels and some uneven panel gaps, especially around the boot lid.

In spite of these, the new car is in a better position to go head-on with the Japanese and Korean family sedans as well as the Volkswagen Jetta than the Fluence was.

The diesel Megane sedan will debut here early next year. The hatchback and petrol variants are likely to follow.