NOT so long ago the Renault Megane held an inauspicious title.
For several years it was the worst car I'd driven in recent memory.
Vague steering, gutless performance ... apart from some cool internal storage there wasn't much to like.
Thankfully the French car maker has moved on quickly (and the title now sits with Chinese and Malaysian car makers). The Megane range has proudly moved forward in leaps and bounds - with the latest generation unleashed on Australia last year - and it has just been refreshed with new front-end look as part of a revised hatch and wagon line-up.
This attractive European range still starts from just above $20,000.
Four trim ranges are available, along with a petrol and diesel four-cylinder power plants.
There are also a souped-up GT220 derivatives, although we're concentrating on the mainstream options in this test.
Base Megane variants could do with some more "Clio" treatment. The little Renault Clio was released last year with some awesome colour configurations and slick internal treatments - whereas the Megane remains basic.
Reeking of French quirks, some aspects work while others require some thought.
For starters the large credit card- style key has made it through the revision. They slot into the dash and you start the car via a button, but the key can be awkward and cumbersome.
Then there's the audio and Bluetooth phone control stalk hidden behind the steering wheel on the right-hand side. You need to have studied it before driving to have the operation down-pat.
The three-dial air-con, CD stereo and L-shaped console in the Authentique derivatives look old school and in need of an overhaul.
Basic black colour schemes in the base variants need some extra life, the up-spec GT line delivers sportier features and bucket seats, but strangely it has analogue instruments which can be hard to read whereas the base models have a crisper large digital readout.
Using cruise control is also unique, having to flick on the switch in the centre console and then use the steering wheel controls.
Finding the best driving position can take some adjustment of the telescopic steering wheel and height adjustable pew, and once you have everything in place the Megane is a pleasant chariot.
The seats are nicely supportive even in the base variant, and there is reasonable head, led and knee room front and back - four adults will find enough space.
On the road
For just above $20,000, you'd struggle to find a better drive than the stock-standard Megane in this size and shape.
The turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol powerplant partnered to a six-speed manual is an absolute cracker which surprises with power and fleet-footed agility.
Get bogged down low in the rev range and the Megane can feel sluggish, yet keep things spinning around 3000rpm and it will happily sling you out of bends and feel adept in the process. Even with some reasonable pushing on some testing
roads it resisted typical front-wheel drive understeer.
We also sampled the petrol powerplant with a dual-clutch automatic box, which proved adept and easy to drive.
The diesel is among one of the cheapest you'll find in this segment, and in a short experience behind the wheel it felt meaty but not as rewarding as the petrol option.
New to the range is the diesel with an automatic transmission in entry-level guise which should bolster its family appeal.
What do you get?
The Authentique models come with air-con, daytime running lights, CD stereo with auxiliary and USB inputs, 16-inch five-spoke wheels, cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, six airbags and electonric stability control.
Opt for the GT-Line and it's a more refined interior including cloth-leather seats, better features on the dash, 17-inch alloys, dual zone air-con, sporting chassis and instrument cluster, automatic park brake, front and rear parking sensors, sat nav with 17.7cm touch-screen and a better stereo with voice control.
Go another step up into GT-Line Premium and you get leather trim with grey seatbelts, heated front seats, rear armrest with integrated cup holders, lane departure warning, automatic high beam, rear view camera and panoramic sunroof.
All Renault passenger cars now have a five-year warranty, while servicing is capped at $299 for the first three intervals.
Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar said the warranty was further proof of the brand's reliability confidence, and through the alliance with Nissan Renault has also improved the availability of the most commonly required parts - which are also middle of the rung in terms of costs.
Fuel consumption of both the petrol and diesel is good, and expect both to average less than seven litres per 100km.
Those French quirks deliver some surprises.
Under the front floors are handy storage nooks and the seats have a 60-40 fold, although they don't drop flat in the hatch.
The wagon is the better choice for those who need a handy hauler, with even the front passenger seat able to fold flat in models other than the GT.
Up front there is a single holder only good for takeaway cups and another console slot for larger bottles in the Authentique variants.
Design changes aren't monumental, the most prominent bring the sportier front bumper and more pronounced Renault badge which does provide a much-improved frontal appearance.
The daytime running lights also wrap around the front on the up-spec models.
The Megane comes in 10 body colours including three shades of grey, a pair of whites, brown, black, red and two different blue hues.
The lowdown Base models have a habit of being underwhelming, not the Megane. You won't get this kind of performance from the entry-level Mazda3 or Toyota Corolla, and it's not far off the benchmark Volkswagen Golf 7 in drivability. There is room for interior improvement, and it's in need of some more personality and user-friendliness. Renault is worked hard to bring down the European barriers in reducing servicing costs and improving parts availability. Get past the French quirks and the Megane is one likeable offering. VITAL STATISTICS
Model: Renault Megane.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive hatch or wagon.
Engines: 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol generating maximum power of 97kW @ 5500rpm and peak torque of 205Nm @ 2000rpm; 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel 81kW @ 4000rpm and 240Nm @ 1750rpm.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual (petrol only) or six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Consumption: 5.6 litres/100km; 4.5L/100km.
Performance: 0-100kmh in 10.9 seconds; 11.7 seconds.
What matters most
What we liked: Great fun to drive even in base model guise, comfy seats.
What we'd like to see: Smaller key, improved cabin ergonomics.
Warranty and servicing: Five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and five years roadside assist. Servicing intervals are annual or 15,000km, with the first three services capped at $299
Authentique TCe (m) $20,990
Authentique TCe (a) $23,490
Authentique dCi (a) $25,990
GT-Line TCe (a) $26,990
GT-Line dCi (a) $29,490
GT-Line Premium TCe (a) $30,990
GT-Line Premium dCi (a) $33,490
Dynamique TCe (a) $26,990
GT-Line TCe (a) $28,490
Dynamique dCi (a) $29,490
GT-Line dCi (a) $31,490
GT-Line Premium TCe (a) $32,490
GT-Line Premium dCi (a) $35,490