Outdated. Irrelevant. The words flashed through a thick hangover fog blown in from a night out at Hell’s Kitchen. After being chased at midnight from a seamy Greenside dive, I had ended up in this trendy Melville establishment with high hopes of jollification. “There will be women,” I thought, “and like-minded individuals of a similar age and mindset.”
Except that after handing over an inordinate amount of money for some bubblegum-flavoured whisky plus a pint of artisanal beer that set my stomach churning the next day, there was neither. Oh, there were women, but they were only interested in the 20-something hipsters rocking twirled mustaches and World War 2 infantryman hairdos. The only like-minded individuals were my two band mates, one of whom, for reasons unknown, removed his shirt as Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody peaked. Which served only to alienate us even more.
So it was almost a relief when last rounds were called at 1.45am, shortly after which we were all shepherded out onto the rain-stained street. Clearly, staring down the barrel of middle age, I have no business partying with idealistic millennials and eager college graduates.
Outdated. Irrelevant. The words continued to haunt me when I got behind the wheel of the new Renault Mégane GT Turbo EDC. Because in an attempt to look hip for younger buyers, Renault has fitted this Golf GTI rival with an 8.7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Volvo has a similar system in its latest XC90 and I dislike it immensely. The one in this Mégane I hate. There’s no other word for it. Being French, it makes no logical sense. Like a cheap Chinese tablet you’d buy for a seven-year-old, it confuddles your mind with poorly thought-out menus and small, fiddly virtual buttons.
Need to turn down the treble and up the bass? Good luck, it took me two days to work out how. Want to turn on the airconditioning and increase the speed of the fan? Attempt this only when stopped because doing it while driving is a recipe for messy head-on disaster.
Most alarming of all, is that this ridiculous screen commands practically everything. There are, unlike in a Golf GTI, hardly any mechanical switches with which to control things like ventilation and volume. So if it ever malfunctions — and being French it will — then you are screwed.
Maybe younger buyers dig this. Maybe they like finger-prodding their way through a big dash-mounted tablet adjusting the colour of their interior mood lighting and the note of their artificial engine sound. I for one prefer old-school levers and rotary dials that you can operate without taking your attention off the road. Why complicate things by reinventing them as zeros and ones? By trying to make things easier, Renault, you’re actually making them more difficult, more frustrating.
And it’s a level of frustration that detracts from a car that is otherwise a jolly nice piece of machinery. Equipped with fancy four-wheel steering, the Renault Mégane GT Turbo nips and tucks through corners with a crisp expeditiousness you can discern from the very first tug of the wheel.
The ride strikes a good balance between comfort and sportiness, and the new EDC transmission finally feels like it’s of the dual-clutch variety. The engine didn’t pull quite like the claimed 151kW might suggest but there is still enough muscle for brisk performance — especially on the highway where it cruises silently and effortlessly.
Inside, the cabin has matured with lots of soft-touch plastics and a solidity that’s now easily on par with German rivals — especially the Volkswagen Golf.
Yet I would still rather have the Golf; a GTI costs just R19 900 more. It still has the razor’s edge in terms of overall performance and, more importantly, an intuitive approach to interior switchgear and infotainment settings that won’t, like a night out in hipster-saturated Melville, leave you feeling like an outdated and irrelevant relic. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts: Renault Mégane GT Turbo EDC
Engine: 1618cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 151kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 280Nm at 2400rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed EDC
0-100km/h: 7.1 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 230km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 9.2l/100km (achieved)
Price: From R452 900