A few years ago while trawling through the numerous and somewhat knackered used cars at the sprawling Al Awir complex, I chanced upon a pretty sharp black 1991 Trans Am with a 5.0-litre tuned port injection. It became mine about 10 minutes later. Now, there’s a surprise.

This had always been an engine that fascinated me as everything I’d ever read about this 305 V8 glowed with praise. Many likened its performance to the 5.7-litre, the biggest motor available for the Pontiac, and which happens to sit under the bonnet of my ‘91 GTA. I soon began to see what the fuss was about over the smaller TPI motor as it was smooth, had plenty of low end torque and was also a tyre shredder. I sold that car to my friend literally two months later (he still thanks me for it to this day) and as impressive as it was, the big dog was still better. Now, I’ve got another chance to compare a model with a different engine but this time around the tyres are in no danger as it isn’t a Camaro, Challenger or a Mustang — it’s another Megane...

 

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The 2.0-litre inline-four has a larger bore and stroke than the 1.6 and it makes more power and torque but is a tad thirstier

You may remember a test drive of the Renault last November which was burdened with a 1.6-litre four-pot generating a lackluster 115 horses. It was trudging through life and back then I commented “As an engine expert and a pioneer of turbocharging and downsizing in Formula 1, the performance of the 1.6-litre four-cylinder which is married to a CVT is a little underwhelming.” It really was uninspiring to drive but much of that was down to the continuously variable transmission which really put a damper on proceedings. Without any gears to swap and no chance of the RPM’s to drop, the poor motor was revving hard all the time and sounded like it wanted to explode. I’d take the more forward gears route to improve fuel efficiency rather than saddle cars with a CVT because the latter is just cruel. Anyway, it appeared someone at Renault read my thoughts on the 1.6 as I was soon offered the saloon once again but this time it was blessed with a 2.0-litre. Would this one leave a more favourable impression — or would that CVT do what it likes to do does best?

 

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It has the same front end as the hatch along with an identical side profile but after the rear doors it takes on its own styling cues

The CVT did what it likes to do does best. However, with 140 horsepower and 193Nm of torque served up by the aluminium inline-four as opposed to the lowly 115 horses and 156Nm afforded by the previous tester — the additional firepower, as you would expect, did make a substantial difference and awoke the Megane from its slumber but I still wouldn’t quite qualify the drive as thrilling not that it ever set out to be. Performance isn’t a priority here remember, this is a practical and comfortable compact saloon that will wile away its years taking you to and fro work, the grocery store and school run and to its credit it’ll do that with aplomb but at least when you nail the throttle to the carpet it takes off with a bit more zest for life than the 1.6-litre and gets to the magical 100kph mark in a far more respectable 9.9 seconds. That makes it 3.3 seconds faster but more important is its improved mid-range acceleration. This 2.0-litre, which has a larger bore and stroke, takes 7.0 seconds flat to climb from 80kph to 120kph which means you can make those overtaking manoeuvres with confidence. That isn’t something that can be said about the 1.6 which in comparison takes a far more leisurely 10.3 seconds to get from 80kph-120kph. The bigger engine has a greater top speed too of 209kph (180kph for the smaller one) but when cruising down the highway or running around town, the two four-pots are very similar in nature apart for one aspect — fuel efficiency. The 1.6 is the more frugal of the two sipping just 6.6 litres per 100km, while the 2.0 is thirstier downing 7.7 litres per 100km. This latest tester’s brake pedal wasn’t quite as spongy as the one I tested earlier and overall it felt more planted and connected to the road which could be due to the fact that it weighs more because for all intents and purposes the two are identical; they have the same chassis, brakes and tyres too.

 

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It has a massive 503 litre boot with a hands-free opening system

Photos: Stefan Lindeque

I find the Megane a far more attractive proposition than some of its C-segment rivals such as the Corolla and Civic; it’s loaded with tech (8.7in tablet-like infotainment system, 7.0in colour driver display, reversing camera, push start button, satellite navigation and a driver-side massaging seat) and some nifty kit too (the panoramic roof isn’t available on any vehicle in this segment according to Renault) and for Dh64,000 it represents terrific value.

As they say, bigger is always better. Right then, I’m off to Al Awir to find a Trans Am with a 455 in it...