The average temperature in mid June in Guyancourt, France, home of Renault’s research and development ‘Technocentre’, is around 16°C. And while that makes for a very pleasant climate, if a car built to suit that environment were to be taken straight from a Renault production line and delivered to a customer in the UAE, chances are that it would not fare too well in the much hotter Middle East summer. That is the reason why Renault brings its vehicles to the UAE for hot-weather testing, prior to their GCC release.
This week I met with their team of engineers at Dubai Autodrome, where they were carrying out high-speed testing of the Megane GT, a turbocharged 1.6-litre spruced-up version of the Megane five-door hatchback. Climbing into the vehicle, it is essential to mind where you put your feet, since a tangle of sensor wires and data cables spreads out across the footwell, all feeding hundreds of measurements per second to a large data-logger secured behind me.
The Megane GT is not intended to be a track-oriented car — that’s the job of next year’s Megane RS — but still it handled the short Autodrome Club circuit with plenty of gusto; I found myself quite grateful for the excellent bucket seats as Renault’s test driver flung the GT through the ‘Link’ section of the track, its rear wheel steering evidently doing a good job. The seven speed double clutch gearbox was certainly slick and smooth in operation, and I’m happy to report that the air-conditioning engineers have nothing to worry about — it works just fine out here. It’s not really possible to judge accurately on a circuit but my impression was that the Megane GT was not overly noisy inside.
In my test car, temperature sensors were fitted to various points in the air conditioning system, but also in the cabin itself, while others monitored numerous aspects of the engine, gearbox and exhaust performance. These record gigabytes of information involving temperatures, humidity, acceleration and braking forces, as the Renault engineers pilot those vehicles over tens of thousands of kilometres, upon pre-determined test regimes. A typical test route might include a long highway drive at mid-day, finishing the journey on busy city streets, but the team had also spent several days driving up and down Jebel Jais before I met them — the longest climb they could access during their stay.
Mark Carson, director of Customer Service and Quality for the Middle East, explained the process. “A car may perform very differently at 41 degrees than at 35, so it’s important for us to understand that and to make the car reliable and durable at these higher temperatures. We bring our ‘blueprint’ cars if you like, then we tweak the systems — and these days that pretty much means adjusting software. From our point of view, what’s important is not just what we deliver today, but that in three years’ time the customer is still enjoying a reliable product.”
Mark then explained to me that the aim of the hot-weather testing was not to determine any choice of equipment, but simply to fine-tune the car’s systems to better suit the environment.
“We don’t need to go back to the drawing board with things like the AC compressors; our designers will have specified a GCC grade product from the outset, and our component suppliers know what’s expected of them — that a compressor fitted here will have to run 365 days a year. So we’re not changing components, but instead, optimising their performance; for example we might adjust a cabin fan to ensure it’s not too noisy at full speed. An air conditioner that works well but is too noisy will still upset a customer, so we have to fine-tune those problems out.”
In addition to Renault’s own staff, an engineer from Getrag, who supply the Megane GT’s transmission, was at the circuit. Any adjustments made to the engine mapping might have an effect on the gear changes, or vice versa, so it’s important that the engineers work closely together to maximise the car’s overall performance. And of course, all the data gathered is sent back immediately to the Technocentre in France and stored for future reference, so any lessons learned can be applied to future vehicles.
No doubt when Renault launches the more track-focused Megane RS in 2018, the engineers specifying that model will have reviewed the data gathered this week in the UAE — I just hope the half-hour delay I caused while photographing one of the two GTs, didn’t mess with their data!