New 2022 Renault Megane E-Tech Electric: Andrew English drives

Andrew English

09 Nov 2021

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YesAuto's Andrew English is one of the first to get behind the wheel of the 2022 Renault Megane E-Tech Electric, the first EV from the French brand. Here's how he got on.

Renault’s all-new battery strategy starts next autumn when the Mégane E-Tech Electric, a new family SUV/Crossover, goes on sale in the UK. It’s a safe choice, but at the same time, also a brave one. Let me explain…



Safe?


Because family SUVs are Europe’s biggest car sector, comprising over 22 per cent of every new car sold. So, there’s a market there at least…


Safe, because this is a lithium-ion powered battery-electric car with the batteries mounted in the floor within the wheelbase, a configuration chosen by just about every other rival including Volvo’s XC40 Recharge, Mercedes-Benz EQA, Tesla’s Model 3 and Kia’s e-Niro. 


Safe, because this conservative choice of front-drive battery configuration is going to slot under the floor of what Gilles Le Borgne Renault Group’s veteran engineering head says will be around three million vehicles including Nissan’s Ariya, Dacia’s Bigster as well as a smaller set of vehicles based around Renault’s R5 concept and a replacement for the Nissan Micra


Safe, because as Luca de Meo, Renault’s chief executive says: “This is not disruptive technology, it is incremental, so costs and performance will improve by seven or eight per cent a year, which means it will take a decade to get twice the range and halve the cost.” 



Brave? 


But it’s also brave, because it’s a bet on a highly uncertain future. If a rival battery chemistry such as the cheaper but less energy-dense lithium-iron phosphate batteries, or the high-performance but expensive-and-problematic solid state battery comes along, this Renault could be left trundling along in the Betamax-lane of electric motorway 


It’s brave, because most of the raw materials, processing and production of batteries is in the hands of far-eastern companies. De Meo says this keeps him awake at night. “Start with the nickel, the manganese or the cobalt,” he says, “there isn’t much of that in Europe. We have no control over the raw material and 90 per cent of the refinement capacity is in China with 90 per cent of the cathode capacity in Asia – we need to work out how to reconquer some of that.”


Brave, too, because some years ago Renault plumped for growth and poured resources into the small but less profitable B-class (Clio) market virtually giving up on the larger and more profitable C class (Mégane). Now de Meo wants to reverse that decision and this is his vote on a more profitable future and Mégane e will replace the current mark-five combustion-engined Mégane model in 2024, just two years after it goes on sale. 


But while this car has to be a success, battery electric cars don’t make big profits. De Meo thinks that by 2025, the costs of battery electric and combustion cars will meet and be moving in different directions, but they both will be at a far higher level that now; “cars will cost more,” he says. 


So that makes this new Mégane and indeed the whole charge into battery electric propulsion, a brave decision for us as well, especially if you don’t count yourself in the plutocrat, Eurocrat, Government minister or comfily well-off middle classes; just how will you afford a motor car in the future? 



So, what’s it like? 


Renault’s first involvement in electric cars came at the 1937 Paris World Fair when Louis Renault produced 35 battery electric taxis. There was also an electric version of the Fifties Renault Dauphine and later the R4 and R5. In the last decade, it has produced lithium-ion electric vehicles such as the Zoe, Fluence, Twizy, Kangoo van and this year’s Twingo. 


“One thing that money cannot buy is experience,” says Luca De Meo. “We started early and we have a lot of knowledge.”


Working with its cell-supplier LG Chem, Renault has used that experience on the lithium-ion battery pack with its Nickel, Manganese, Cobalt (NMC) cathode. The entire 60kWh battery comprises 12 modules of 24 cells each, spread over two layers and is just 110mm deep, which means the driving position is less compromised than its previous battery cars and the car looks less like a jacked-up hatchback. 


In addition, the cells use more nickel and less cobalt for greater energy density; at 600 watt hours per litre, it is 20 per cent more energy dense than the Zoe’s battery. 


There’s a choice of two power outputs for the magnet-free, self-exciting electric motor (128bhp and 215bhp) and two battery capacities (40kWh and 60kWh). Renault claims a WLTP range of 186 and 292 miles respectively, with the 1,624kg, 60kWh high power model tested here capable of 0-62mph in 7.4sec. 



With the optional 130kW DC charging, it’s possible to charge the battery from 15-80 per cent in just 30 minutes, eight hours on a 7.4kW home wall box will get you 248 miles in the tank. 


To try to give a decent ride quality (which electric car makers often forget), the suspension is front MacPherson struts with a multi-link independent set up at the rear and there’s a faster-ratio steering rack to liven up the helm. It tows up to 900kg.  


There’s evidence of weight and energy saving all round the Mégane e. The body has aluminium doors and without magnets the drive motor is lighter. There’s a heat pump to improve efficiency, an optimised heating and ventilation system and carefully worked use of battery and cabin heating and cooling to reduce energy expenditure. 


Drive a long distance and tell the car where you are planning on recharging and it will prepare itself for that charge with a bit of extra cooling for the battery to speed the process. 


Front-wheel drive was chosen, because it also reduces the weight of heavy cables running to the back of the car. Renault is keen to spread the message that efficiency is more important than charge time, and suggests that a trip from London to Newcastle would entail only one recharge of just 30 minutes, though I’d doubt that would be the case in the winter. 



Inside the Mégane e 


The cabin is upholstered in a pleasing mix of flecked-grey upholstery fabrics and contrasting stitching. This was a top model and it felt cosy and nice to the touch, with plush and comfy front seats and lots of storage around. Shame Renault hadn’t been able to leave the front footwell clear of centre consoles and componentry, though the centre console between the seats is useful and commodious.


Visibility out of the windscreen is restricted at the sides as the A pillars taper outwards at the base and the rear screen is low and slot like with wide C pillars which also restrict over-the-shoulder views. Mental note to self, buy the parking sensors and the rear-view camera. 

In the back, the rear bench is comfy though there’s not a huge amount of space. 


Sitting behind myself, there was only just room for my knees and six-foot height. The seats split 60/40 per cent onto their basis to give a distinctly stepped load bed. The boot is surprisingly large (440 litres, against the VW ID3’s 385 litres) and deep, and there’s a cubby hole underneath the floor for the charging cables and a puncture kit and compressor, but no spare wheel nor space for one.


The glass fascia is like a cheap version of Mercedes-Benz’s Hyperscreen, though it’s nicer than that sounds, with the instrument binnacle and centre touch screen cojoined under a single piece of glass. The touch screen is the latest from La Régie and while the tiles are easy to identify and press, there’s no thumb rest beside the screen so on a rough road you’re in danger of hitting the wrong thing. 


With 26 different automated driver aids on the car, you’ll not notice most of them, although the automated lane keeping can be annoying and difficult to switch off and the predictive autonomous braking is a bit too keen to get the car stopped even if you don’t need to. 



What’s it like to drive? 


Renault is keen to make the Mégane appealing as a great driving car as well as a way to save CO2 and from the off it feels more agile and eager than some of the rivals. It doesn’t have the super performance of some of its contemporaries, but mid-range acceleration is swift and it feels relaxed and capable at 80mph. 


While it lacks the on-centre steering response of, say, a Jaguar e-Pace hybrid or the Ford Kuga PHEV, once in the turn, this feels like a well set-up car with a nicely balanced chassis. Where the Volkswagen ID3 feels softly sprung and slightly divorced from the road, the Mégane feels connected and up for it.


The body rolls through the turns but it’s ultimately well controlled. Damping is progressive and the bump absorption of the suspension is pretty good considering this car was rolling on 20-inch wheels and tyres. 


What wasn’t so brilliant, however was a straight-line unsettled feeling at the rear of the car, which meant that autoroutes were driven in a series of gentle curves requiring constant steering corrections. Equally low marks go to the braking, which has a spongy feeling at the top of the pedal travel, and then a brick-wall stopping moment as you come to a stop, as Renault grabs every bit of electrical regeneration it can. 


Steering-wheel paddles allow you to set up the throttle lift-off regeneration response of the drivetrain and work really well. 


For this market, the 60kWh battery provides great performance, though the motor whined and despite the insulation under the floor, the tyres rumbled in their arches. Stand on it out of a corner and Renault’s decision to go for front drive comes under withering scrutiny as the front tyres grab and slide and jerk the steering wheel around in your hands; perhaps rear drive might have been a better bet after all. 



Conclusion


With a year until it goes on sale over here, there’s time enough to sort out most of these niggles and Renault is keen to get the car right before it goes on sale. As it stands, Mégane e feels more planted and responsive than much of the opposition and more of a car rather than some weird-and-wonderful device designed to prove how environmental you are.


In the end, these things are just that, cars, and Renault seems to have figured that one out. Price is everything of course. Motoring is about to become a lot more expensive, but if Renault can get it under £30,000 for the 40kWh version and under £40,000 for the 60kWh car, then with a decent PCP deal, this seems like a pretty good way into all-electric motoring.


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Andrew English

09 Nov 2021