Twin Test: Opel Astra Vs Renault Megane

Suave German aims to crush French filly

By Imthishan Giado

Astra Vs Megane

Astra versus Megane – wait no more, it’s the contest you’ve all been waiting for. A titanic battle of the hatches that will see only one victor emerge, battered, bloodied and bruised to claim the crown of best midsize hatchback.

Astra Vs Megane

OK, OK – precisely no one has been asking us to do this one. But seeing as Opel is so new to this region, we thought the best car to start with would be the bread and butter Astra hatch that sell millions in Europe, but in the Middle East is a largely unknown quantity. And just to make things more interesting, we threw in one of its native rivals, the Renault Megane, a car which I’ve actually never driven before. Or seen in the flesh.

This should be very interesting.

Astra Vs Megane

A tale of two faces
We’re in deeply, deeply conservative territory here. Neither car is going to set your world on fire, but they shouldn’t embarrass you either. In a world where the svelte Kia Rio exists, both have to work extra hard. The Astra takes the early lead – its typically Germanic lines work well to hide a fairly bland five-door bodystyle.

Astra Vs Megane

Points to the designers for the centre-defining bonnet crease, and even more points to the man who suggested the tail spoiler – they add exactly enough sportiness, and no more. My only real complaint is that there’s a bit too much chrome brightwork around the windows and the foglamps, and that the chunky five spoke split-rim alloys could do with being a tad more interesting to design. Otherwise, this is as good as it gets.

Astra Vs Megane

For an example of how bad it could get – there’s the Renault Megane hatchback which is really not a very pretty thing at all. Don’t get me wrong – the three-door version is a spectacularly good piece of kit. In five door guise however, everything ends up being slightly dumpy, like a housewife who’s convinced expensive lipstick is the answer. The lack of an obvious intake grille is a nice touch but the silver doorhandles look dreadfully cheap and the wheels are so tiny they look like something taken from a cart – and I mean the kind that follows horses.

Astra Vs Megane

Leather or vinyl, Sir?
Things don’t get better for the Renault inside. Its interior is an unrelentingly dark cave of not-particularly well-built plastics, with every control feeling cheap, every button squidgy to the press and every display lower-res than a Casio calculator. The seat’s mounted a bit too high so you feel like you’re driving a van and in typically French fashion, the labelling of all the stalks follow a convention known only to the maker of all things garlic. Intuitive this is not.

Astra Vs Megane

Apart from the fact that every control squeaks slightly when you press it, there’s also the little things. Like the loud THWACK! that greets you every time you set off, as the central locking snaps all five doors securely shut with all the subtlety of a bullet to your heart. Or the needlessly complex procedure to pair up your phone with the Megane through its single-line display, an infuriating unintuitive process.

Astra Vs Megane

Over in Astra-land, things are better – much better. The difference is stark – suddenly you get proper leather for the seats, high-quality rubberised paint for all the buttons and switchgear and clear labels. Perhaps too many labels – the dashboard is a bit of a riot between a button mafia and a knob gang and the victor remains unclear. Nevertheless, you get the hang of it all relatively easily and once underway, it’s easy to operate the Astra’s controls.

Astra Vs Megane

Of which there are many; on our (fully loaded test) standard equipment included dual-zone climate control, sunroof, 18-inch alloys, power folding mirrors and even a rev-holding Sport Mode.

Compared to the usually Spartan interior you get in most Japanese saloons for this money, the Astra impresses with its materials quality and design. Despite the incessant advertising, you’ll never mistake this for a BMW or an Audi but it is undoubtedly of European pedigree and well put together. The poor Renault has no chance.

Astra Vs Megane

French Fury, unchained
Looking at the scorecard, I count two solid body blows landed on the wavering Megane by the stoic Astra. Bloodied, battered and bruised, the Frenchman looks like he’s going down for the count – but then we get on the road and, as the French would say, the tables are turned. (Or in their more romantic tongue, es rôles sont inverses.)

Astra Vs Megane

Be of no confusion – the Astra is on the best handling cars on the class with good steering feel, well-controlled body roll and excellent grip from its standard-fit Continental tyres. But it’s badly – and I mean badly – let down by the standard 1.6-litre engine which pumps out – if that’s the verb – a weedy 115bhp and just 114lb ft of torque.

Astra Vs Megane

With a hefty 1383kg to haul around, those figures just aren’t enough. The Astra struggles to get off the line, the engine wheezing its way to 100kph in a yawning 11 seconds.  If this was a Yaris you wouldn’t complain; but Opel is asking a fairly sizeable Dh85,000 for this car – way out of sync with the performance on offer. To its credit once up to speed, the Astra cruises well and unobtrusively with little wind noise, holding the road like a much bigger car would. It just takes an age to get there.

Astra Vs Megane

And while the Astra is clawing its way to top speed, the Megane just sails past with a big smirk on its face. No surprise why – its 16v 2.0-litre engine is practically a big-block mill compared to the Astra’s limp-wristed motor. And with 140bhp and 144lb ft of torque, the performance difference is so definitive as to be a chasm. Off the line, the Megane is effortlessly torquey and maintains a smooth refined run right up to the red line although you’d rarely need to visit it – there’s plenty of midrange beef to go around. And surprise, surprise, the power is being metered by a CVT gearbox that’s not completely horrible to use, largely by mimicking a regular automatic’s stepped changes.

Astra Vs Megane

But the Megane has more up its proletariat sleeves than just pure power. It’s also quite a fun car to throw around with delightfully roly-poly handling that gives you plenty of roll, but also plenty of warning as to where the limits are, with a chassis that could easily handle even more power (and does, in the Turbo versions we don’t get here) and firm, strong brakes that have no trouble drawing up the 1283kg hatch. The Astra goes faster (and is slightly more frugal with its six-speed auto) but the Megane is more fun.

Astra Vs Megane

Verdict
Talk about a tale of two cities. When I first opened the Astra’s door, it looked like an effortless win for the poised German – but after three days, the Frenchman slowly but surely clawed back a victory – of a sort.

Thing is, the Astra is in every way the better car, with a nicer interior and a seductively slinky body – except for that hopeless 1.6-litre engine which just isn’t acceptable in a car that costs AED85,000. By comparison, the 2.0-litre motor is like a hidden can of spinach for the Megane. No catwalk queen and resoundingly average in every quality – but the brawny motor is too much to ignore.

And then you hear the price of the Megane – just AED61,000 for this 2.0 litre – and the Astra receives its final uppercut. No point counting down from ten, ref; this German’s down for the count. By unanimous decision, the Megane wins.

Spec
2013 Renault Megane 2.0
Price: AED61,000 ($16,600k)
Engine: 2.0-litre 16v four-cylinder, 140bhp @ 6,000rpm, 144lb ft @ 3750rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 10.4seconds, 195kph, 7.7L/100km
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
Weight: 1283kg

Spec
2013 Opel Astra 1.6
Price: AED85,000 ($23,140)
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder, 115bhp @ 6000rpm, 114b ft @ 400rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 10.9seconds, 190kph, 5.2L/100km
Transmission: Six-speed auto, front wheel drive
Weight: 1283kg

Did the Megane really deserve to win? Were we too hard on the Astra? Tell us below

2 responses to “Twin Test: Opel Astra Vs Renault Megane”

  1. ahmed aboelnaga says:

    2013 Renault Megane 2.0
    Price: AED61,000 ($16,600k)
    Engine: 2.0-litre 16v four-cylinder, 140bhp @ 6,000rpm, 151lb ft @ 3500rpm
    Performance: 0-100kph 7.6seconds, 226kph, 7.8L/100km
    Transmission: six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
    Weight: 1273kg

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