It may be longer, larger and wider than its predecessor, but with two new engines, Renault's 2012 Megane is the most economical model yet and manages to hide its size rather well. The 1.2-litre turbo petrol is pretty much a direct competitor to Ford's groundbreaking new Ecoboost 1.0-litre, while the 1.6-litre Energy dCi 130 is the most powerful diesel in its class despite chucking out just 104g/km of CO2. I travelled to Seville to find out if the tiny petrol engine can cope in a sizeable four door hatch.
The age-old adage of there being no replacement for displacement is well out-of-date and if there's one engine to prove it, it's this turbocharged 1.2-litre lump. It packs a hefty punch, with 90% of the 140lb ft torque figure available from just 1,500rpm. It accelerate with urgency in all gears and at varying speeds, from a motorway cruise to standing starts. Turbo lag is largely unnoticeable and though the performance figures aren't groundbreaking at 10.9 seconds for the 0-62 sprint and a 118mph top speed, it feels much lighter on its toes.
Coupled with a high combined figure of 53.3mpg and 119g/km of CO2, the power delivery is mightily impressive. I had a preconception that the weight of the Megane's underpinnings would make it a lethargic, wallowy beast, but this is far from the case. Unlike some other small engines even in the B-segment, it never feels strained or out of puff and it's easy to see why this aluminium block with ultra-light camshafts replaces the 1.6-litre engine and even tops it by 5bhp. Inside, there's little engine noise other than a faint and enjoyable turbo whoosh from the wastegate when you come off the accelerator.
Through the winding hills of the Seville roads, the Megane remained flat on corners and the brakes are nicely balanced. Steering is a bit light and lacks feel, but the ride makes up for this with a comfortable yet planted feel at speed. It's quite involving to drive, but don't expect thrill-a-minute pace. Gear changes can be grabby though, but the sixth gear makes cruising at 60 or 70mph effortless.
Inside, the white on black leather of our press car livened up the otherwise drab dashboard and the remarkably supportive seats similar to those found on Passat CC models are exceptionally comfortable. GT Line touches include a white-rimmed steering wheel, brushed metal kick plates and a blue plastic streak running through the dash. As a result, the cabin feels quite light and airy. Rear legroom is also generous and a big boot maintain the Megane's practicality despite a more swooping coupe-like design.
New technology for the Megane includes ultra-fast restart on the stop-start system which works efficiently on the road, as well as an air quality sensor to limit in-cabin pollution and Renault's Visiosystem offering driver aids.
It's a very advanced engine this, and is mated perfectly to the good-looking body. Refinement and quality are also a key part of its appeal and the GT Line interior is an inviting place to sit. From £19,825 on the road, it's a little pricey, but as an all-rounder, it's a thoroughly tempting choice.