The Megane family get-together

Ordinary family cars can no longer be ordinary.

People want polish these days, a smarter feel and hi-tech features that make them feel pampered and “premium”.

Which means that, in the Focus-sized family hatchback segment, they may well find themselves looking at cars like this one, Renault’s much improved third generation Megane.

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With the French maker’s position as one of Europe’s biggest car makers severely under threat and a slimmed-down range of conventional cars forced upon dealers by this brand’s commitment to electric power, it’s hard to over-state the importance of this car if you happen to run a Renault showroom.

Especially as it failed to make much of an impact on the market in the original MK3 guise we first saw in early 2009. But then, with underpinnings based on a second generation model dating back to 2002, and smart but unremarkable styling, there wasn’t really much back then to set this car apart.

Renault claims to have addressed this with this much improved model thanks to advanced new engines, revised styling and improved specifications to build upon existing virtues like the spacious cabin and the comfortable ride. Will it all be enough to rejuvenate this French family hatchback’s appeal among Focus folk? Let’s find out.

There’s nothing especially sophisticated about this car under the skin, so there’s nothing especially remarkable about the driving experience it offers.

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It lacks the sophisticated multi-link rear suspension set-up of a Focus or a Golf — but then so do rivals like Vauxhall’s Astra and Peugeot’s 308.

What’s important here is that Renault’s engineers have made the most of what they have.

Detailed tweaks included a revised front suspension/subframe arrangement to improve directional precision and a rear suspension set-up tuned to produce a more responsive, agile ride, as well as offer improved cornering.

Renault offers an extra three fuel efficient Stop and Start engine choices with this Megane. We chose the most interesting, the 1.2 TCe, the first Renault petrol engine to use direct fuel injection and turbocharging for fuel-efficient performance. It takes 10.9s to reach 62mph en route to a top speed of 118mph.

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For real diesel pulling power, however, you’ll need the 1.5-litre dCi 110 unit, which is Renault’s best-selling global engine. Megane customers who wisely ignore the older entry-level 90bhp variant get it in three flavours: with or without Stop & Start or mated to a clever six-speed EDC automatic gearbox. Should that not be sufficient in your five-door Megane Hatch or Sport Tourer estate, two other diesel choices remain. I’d ignore the old 2.0-litre 160 unit, an engine with few benefits over the far more frugal 1.6 dCi 130 powerplant that’s 50 per cent cleaner and more frugal.

It’s been given a more contemporary look, with a gloss black and chrome-trimmed bumper featuring sleeker air intakes and, on all but entry-level models, trendy LED daytime running lights.

But you’re more likely to remember the cabin of this car, if only because of the rather odd digital speedometer/analogue rev counter instrument arrangement. At least it’s clear. Thanks to a long 2.64m wheelbase, interior space has always been a selling point of this design, something you especially appreciate from a seat in the rear.

I’m told that three fully sized adults would be perfectly comfortable here — though I’d doubt that if the journey were long.

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Luggage is well-served too, the 372-litre boot being one of the largest and best shaped in the class.

Prices for mainstream models range mainly in the £16,500 to £24,000 bracket common to most volume family hatchbacks.

Not all offer an estate bodystyle: in this Megane’s case, it wears a “Sports Tourer” nametag and will cost you a premium of £800, model-for-model.

There’s also a sporty three-door Coupe variant at a model-for-model price premium of £500 over this five-door hatch. As for engines, go for the 1.5 dCi 110 variant most choose and there’s a £375 premium for the Stop and Start system that provides the best economy figures. That prices this version at around £500 higher than the 1.2 TCe petrol model that has Stop & Start as standard, making the petrol variant worth looking at if you’re a low mileage driver.

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Because the 1.6 dCi 130bhp diesel engine only comes in plusher trim, prices start at well over £20,000.

Whichever version you choose, you’ll find it very well equipped.

Even entry-level variants get alloy wheels, daytime running lights, front foglights, power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, a trip computer, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, Bluetooth compatibility for your phone, cruise control and a powerful audio system with USB compatibility and controls accessible from the leather-trimmed steering wheel.

From mid-spec level upwards, there’s a Tom Tom navigation system, speed camera location warnings, and a Google local search function that allows you to search for places of interest and can give you weather forecasts.

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Lighter weight and optimised aerodynamics mean Renault has been able to match the current high family hatch class standard for optimised running costs. The 1.5-litre dCi diesels put out as little as 90g/km of CO2 and record up to 80.7mpg on the combined cycle – if you have the optional stop/start system. Without it, these figures on the 1.5 dCi variant fall substantially – to 68.9mpg and 106g/km.

Even the pokier 1.6-litre diesel, the dCi 130, the most powerful and frugal engine of its size in the world at launch, manages 70.6mpg on the combined cycle and puts out 104g/km of CO2 – at least 10 per cent better than its competitors. The 1.2-litre TCe petrol engine deserves special mention too for its 119g/km emissions showing and a fuel return of 53.3mpg on the combined cycle (25 per cent better than the old petrol 1.6 16v unit) which would give an owner a realistic operating range of around 700 miles between tank fills.

Renault had to step up its game and improve its third generation Megane. It has. You still couldn’t call this a driver’s car but smarter, more frugal and better equipped, it’s now a serious alternative to family hatchbacks like Vauxhall’s Astra, fellow French contenders in this segment like Peugeot’s 308 or Citroen’s C4 or the Korean contingent, Hyundai’s i30 and the Kia Cee’d.

Whether you’d also consider it against a Ford Focus really depends on how much you prioritise sharp driving dynamics.

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If you’re prepared to trade a bit of that for extra equipment and long distance comfort, then even against Ford’s market leader, this Renault stacks up very well.

But will buyers in this segment who might have already dismissed the Megane out of hand take another look at its much improved value proposition?

This may not be the European market leader it was a decade or so ago but it remains roomy, quiet, safe and pleasantly plush, even in entry-level form.

In other words, a compact family five-door that ticks an awful lot of boxes.

And one a lot of people, I think, would enjoy owning.