Two sporty hatches face off in a Euro-centric clash that pits new German design against French flair and innovation.
At a glance
|Opel Astra 1.6T Sport||Renault Megane GT Turbo|
|Power/Torque||147 kW/280 Nm||151 kW/280 Nm|
|We Like:||Ride quality, standard spec, interior quality, strong engine||Sporty exterior, bucket seats, big boot, handling prowess|
|We Don't Like:||Bland for a sporty car||A bit pricey|
|Price||R394 800||R452 900|
There’s a small niche in the compact hatchback market reserved for warm offerings. It’s a place where the sales-conquering Volkswagen Golf doesn’t compete and where these two 2016 additions have sought to cement their places in the ranks. Warm (or medium) basically means they aren’t honed or hardened enough to get special badges like OPC or RS, but they offer more "fizz" than your average hatchback. Think of it like ordering your Nandos chicken with a mild basting: you want a little kick of warm flavour, but you don’t want to singe your gullet.
How do they compare in terms of…?
The new Megane has been blessed with a sporty physique and some extra touches to give it a more athletic look. Just under the badge on the nose, there’s a GT decal and the fog lamp design looks like a pair of pistols pointing towards the sharp end of the car. It’s a racy exterior that’s backed up by the diffuser at the rear and muzzled twin exhaust ends. The Astra Sport, by contrast, is muted in its sportiness, the additions are limited to tinted rear windows and chromed tip exhaust pipes. As they stand here, the Renault's exterior packaging is more likely to pique (and hold) your interest.
As far as looks go, it's the Megane that makes more of a statement
Both premium hatchbacks are powered by modern 1.6-litre turbopetrol units, but, where the Astra has a manual 6-speed ‘box, the Renault comes equipped with a dual-clutch automatic complete with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel – more on those paddles in a bit. In the power stakes, the Megane has the slight upper hand with 151 kW compared to the Astra’s 147 kW. Both sit with an identical torque of 280 Nm. Even with the Renault’s built-in launch control system, the Astra is the faster from 0 to 100 kph, clocking in at 7.0 seconds to the Megane’s 7.1 seconds.
In terms of engine feel and delivery of power, the manual Astra impresses most. It feels less encumbered by the 6-spd gearbox than the Megane with its 7-spd dual-clutch unit. The Astra quickly builds up boost and revs energetically towards its redline before mildly tapering off as the turbo’s effect diminishes. The Renault, by comparison, is by no means lethargic but doesn’t provide the same kick or revvy feel as it gathers speed.
Manual vs auto? Renault's dual-clutch 'box still needs improvement
In the Megane, however, you do get a variety of engine/powertrain modes to choose from (and experiment with)... An RS button on the fascia effectively enables you to exploit every ounce of sporty driving that the Renault has to offer. When engaged, the French car's exhaust and engine notes are cranked up and the traction control gives you a bit more leeway to be aggressive on the throttle. The Astra has no such gimmicks as what you see is what you get, if you want it to be sporty, then just drive in a sporty manner; if you want it to be economical, then just drive economically. You need to decide whether you prefer the electronics taking care of your driving needs or if you just want to get on with the job yourself.
The Renault has the upper hand in this department with the knowledge and know-how gleaned from years of RS-badged Meganes. The newest addition to the tech fold is the addition of a 4-wheel steering system. In effect the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts at lower speeds and then in the same direction at higher speeds. At low speeds, this improves agility and at high speed, you get more stability. It works rather well on the Megane GT, especially in the slow stuff like hairpin bends or simply, trying to manoeuvre the hatchback into a parking space.
At high speed it feels stable, but the effect of the 4-wheel steer is less perceptible. In terms of overall handling ability, the Megane does a better a job than many will expect. It’s by no means an RS in terms of its dynamics but, it can certainly deal with corners well. It’s great fun to hustle around bends and its well-weighted steering is particularly engaging to work with. Unfortunately, the paddle shifters are affixed to the steering column (they don’t move with the wheel as you turn it), which means you have to shift our hand position as you search for another gear mid corner – not ideal.
The Astra has a more comfortable ride but, the Renault is better in the corners and when driving enthusiastically.
The Astra doesn’t have any fancy tricks up its sleeve, but it offers an engaging driving experience nonetheless. The body control is good as you whip the Opel from side to side; the German car's attitude remains poised throughout. The steering is okay in terms of weighting, but not quite as responsive as the Megane's. But the ride quality of the Astra over bumps needs to be commended: even on the 18-inch wheels, the suspension smooths out nasty bumps. The Megane isn’t far off in the ride quality department but the Renault feels a little stiffer over bumpier road surfaces, which is probably why it has the upper hand in the handling department.
Both manufacturers have worked tirelessly to improve the quality and feel of their cars' interiors. The previous Megane lacked premium feel and the dashboard was one vast expanse of grey. The old Astra felt plasticky in places and its infotainment system was an absolute button-fest. These new interiors represent massive improvements over those of heir predecessors and are tech-heavy with their large touchscreens and connectivity options.
New Renault interior has many sporty (blue) cues. It's a major improvement over its predecessor.
The Megane does "sporty" better than the Astra. The first thing you notice as you get seated are the racy bucket seats. They are very supportive and comfortable, but they do hamper space for rear occupants. The GT model isn’t subtle about its sporty credentials: there’s blue stitching all around the cabin and some GT signage on the bottom of the steering wheel for good measure. Mood lighting along the door panels is adjustable to just about whatever colour you want and almost every feature is controlled through the large touchscreen. The materials are a distinct improvement, making the cabin feel lively and upmarket but, there are still harsh plastics as you start pressing trim pieces like the centre console and gearshift surround.
Astra's interior feels slightly less plastic than the Renault but not as colourful.
The Astra doesn’t show off its sporty credentials the way the Megane does but it’s certainly not lacking in onboard equipment. Seat heaters in the front and rear are a novel touch in this segment and the Opel's abilities to read road signs and detect following distances are particularly handy during longer trips. As for the quality, there’s mostly soft-touch materials and the mixture of Piano Black sections with strips of silver metal creates an upmarket feel. The strange mobile phone holder in front of the gear lever is a bit odd and would be more useful if utilised as a general storage space.
Infotainment system on the Megane is customisable. RS button at the bottom accesses all the vehicle's sporty attributes.
Comparing the infotainment systems is tough as they both offer practically everything you could currently ask for cars of this class. Navigation, Apple Carplay, Mobile phone projection and app integration are available on the Astra and it’s a quick and simple system to get used to. The Megane is more adjustable but takes longer to figure out the menus and where all the functions are kept. You can customise individual screens with things you want to see and then swipe right or left – like you would on your phone – to move to another customisable screen. It’s difficult to separate the two cars in this department. They will both also park themselves hands-free into any parking spot – just another area in which they compare closely.
Opel's touchscreen is simple and easy to use and still has all the tech you'll need.
The Megane has the bigger boot of the 2 cars.
While these two rivals may have sporty pretentions, they still need to fulfil an element of practicality. For passengers, the Astra has more space and feels roomier inside. There’s also more legroom in the rear and when the seats are folded down, the Astra has a flatter loading area. The Megane loses out in rear comfort as the front bucket seats take up much of the legroom availed to rear passengers. The Megane has the bigger boot, which is said to accommodate 434 litres compared with the Astra’s 370 litres.
Astra has 40/20/40 split folding rear seats that fold flatter than the Renault's.
The comparative review effectively pitches a car with overtly sporty packaging (the Renault) against another premium product with more of "a sporty bent" (the Opel, which uses the Sport moniker primarily as the designation of a well-specced styling-pack).
The Megane has a more eye-catching design and road presence than the Astra, which are 2 major ticks in the Renault's column. In the handling department, the French car is again a notch above its German rival, but the latter pulls back some ground with its superior ride quality and the fact that, given that they offer similar levels of performance, the manual 'box is easier to live with than the Megane’s not-quite-there-yet dual-clutch setup.
As is the case with the cars' respective exterior executions, the Megane's interior has a greater sense of occasion; it shows off more with its blue stitching and interior lighting tricks. By contrast, the Astra is simpler, but with plusher materials used.
If dynamism, sporty looks and, more specifically, road presence are what matters to you most as a prospective buyer, the Megane has a definite edge on the Astra.
However, there is the not-insignificant matter of price. The Astra is R394 800, compared with the Megane’s R452 900. Even if you add the Sport Plus package to the Astra that adds LED adaptive headlights, it’s still only R415 200.
In terms of value, the comprehensively-specced Opel scores very highly, even if its warranty period is slightly shorter (5-year/120 000 km versus 5-year/150 000 km, both competitors have 5-year/90 000 km service plans). It's more practical than the Renault (with a flat-folding rear seatback and more rear legroom) and with that in mind, the Astra wins this comparative review because an appreciation of the Megane's aesthetic qualities is entirely subjective and the latter's dynamic edge is too minor, we feel, to justify its price premium over its rival.
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