As a type this, I find myself actually trying to think of one more reason to go and have another drive in the Renault Megane Sport Tourer currently parked on my driveway. I've already been out to fill it with fuel, get some milk and take the dog for a walk. What can I dream up next?
That's how good this car is.
To set the scene, I am towards the end of one of the most important times in any company car driver's life - the 3-yearly car research project. This usually starts about a year before the change, and involves getting as many test-drives as possible out of the lease company!
I am in the market for a family diesel estate, having thoroughly enjoyed driving a VW Bora Tdi 115bhp for 3 years. With growing children and 2 dogs, an estate was the obvious choice this time. But I really wanted the refinement of a VW. Oh another thing - money is a bit tight, so I need to consider the cost.
My first thought was a BMW 320d ES Touring. I tried one for a week and loved it. With a "Euro 4" diesel engine, it only attracted a 15% tax burden which grought it within reach. But in the end I couldn't live with the heavy springy clutch. I then tried a Mondeo TDCI 130 which had lighter clutch and a "Euro 4" compliant engine also attracting 15% tax. I had virtually decided on this excellent car when I decided to check out the new Megane Sport Tourer.
So why am I so impressed? In the main, it's this car's refinement that sells it to me. Wind it up to 80mph and it just remains as hushed and quiet as anything I've tried - including the BMW. It also has less clatter at start-up and although slightly less sprightly than either the Mondeo or BMW is entertaining enough to give a rewarding drive. But it's this quietness that keeps impressing you as you drive. You come to a bit of road that you're used to hearing through the tyres and there's no change. You can hold a perfectly normal conversation at 80,90 and it doesn't get any noisier. Virtually no wind noise either.
Back in the town driving, it is infinitely more easy to drive than the BMW. The steering is light and the clutch/gear lever combination just right to smoothly pull out of junctions. Judging the biting point is second nature, rather than a constant challenge in the BMW.
Then there's the space. Rear legroom is on a par with the Mondeo a class above. This is because the wheelbase has been stretched from the standard Megane. I proved this by parking next to a Mondeo - and the Megane is only fractionally shorter. At the front, room is not a problem, and there's loads of storage too - air-conditioned glove box, center storage box that actually doesn't inhibit the drivers elbow when changing gear, CD storage in each front door, the list goes on and on. The boot is large and square with useful storage under the floor too.
And it looks gorgeous from all angles. Inside, gone are the garish fabrics I have previously associated with French cars, instead it's understated yet fresh and modern.
Build quality is also excellent. Shut the tailgate, and you get no tinny bang, just a reassuring thud. The other doors are the same, and everything from the steering wheel to the indicator stalks all feel high quality.
It's full of thoughtful touches. Keyless starting might appear a bit of a gimmick, but is actually rather good. My car has the optional "remote card" option, which means you just walk up to the car and it "knows" you are there. Open a door, and it unlocks and opens because you have the card on your person. Neat huh? And then you just sit down, put your foot on the brake, and press the start button. It's particularly good for Diesel drivers, as the car works out exactly when to start the car once the glow-plugs have warmed to the optimum point. It does this whilst you are putting on your seatbelt.
There's something else I want to point out. When you're driving on a motorway due north or south in the winter, the sun is often beating straight in through the side-windows. This car copes with this really well. Firstly, there's rear side sun-blinds for the kids (standard), and the driver's sun visor actually blocks the whole side window, something very few cars seem to do these days.
Safety is outstanding. Every airbag you can think of (including curtain bags), plus all the doors lock as you pull away and stay locked even if you stop at lights, until you open a door from the inside.
Performance is great, so what ore my niggles?
Not many really. The front seats could have more height adjustment; I'd like to be just a bit lower. And the driver's sun visor needs a cover for the mirror. The brakes on my car squeaked a bit too, but it has only done 180 miles from new. That might also explain the 42mpg I've been averaging. I was expecting something nearer 50mpg which I regularly managed in the VW Bora. Perhaps this will come as the car loosens up.
My decision has now become a really tough one. I May well decide on this Renault over the Mondeo. If it had an E4 compliant engine - I wouldn't hesitate.