A coupe should be special. An expression of sportiness, an icon of style. But when the price point is around R250 000, what can you expect to complement two long doors and a sharply raked roofline? The new Renault Megane Coupe promises so much visually, but if it’s going heads up against Alfa’s sporty little Mito, it better bring some hardware to the party.
In the metal
Our long-term Alfa, resplendent in Biancospino White, clearly cuts the more masculine figure of the two. At just 4063mm long, it is 236mm shorter than the Renault. It’s also 176mm lower and 85mm narrower. Visually this translates into a much stockier ‘bulldog’ stance on those arch-filling 18-inch alloys. Standard issue is a similarly in your face 17in item. The traditional distinct V-shaped Alfa grille extends almost to the front apron, splitting the mesh-filled airdam which houses a pair of foglamps. Above them sit the defining element of Alfa’s ‘new face’, the pinched oval headlamp clusters. They’re derived from the 8C Competizione and remain a bone of contention. I reckon they work in diminished form in the Mito, but the term ‘runny egg’ has been pitched about the office. The Mito’s profile is a fluid compilation: muscular bonnet flows into a steeply raked windscreen which transforms to sloping roofline and drops down to meet pumped-up rear arches, where those striking ellipsoid rear lamps dominate. Chromed side mirrors are complemented by a similarly chromed accent which sweeps along the shoulder line and terminates in the kicked-up C-pillar. Pretty, yet not short on machismo.
The larger Megane coupe is no less striking in outline, though its five-spoke 16-inch hoops give it a less desirable ‘tippy-toe’ look. Ours is presented in a deep metallic burnt orange hue, a perfect foil to the Megane’s blend of pressed-in creases and softer, more effeminate curves. Renault’s 2010 visage is dominated by a pair of bold plastic fangs that extend from the base of the headlamps. Between them is a blacked out integrated grille and airdam, with sunken foglamps at the bumper’s outer edges. The Renault’s flanks are intricately hewn: a dipping, then rising shoulder line underlines a blade-like greenhouse. Beneath it a black plastic insert divides door panels from sideskirt. The rear design feels less well integrated than the Alfa’s, with a mix of hard and soft surfaces, especially on the bootlid, while the black plastic rear apron is overly heavy. The floating rear lamp clusters are however a neat touch, and the way the C-pillar and rear hatch glass meet is inspired design.
Life on board
The same physical dimensions that give the Alfa its unique physique also robs it of interior space: it’s cramped in here. Ditto the Megane, which is as dark inside as the Alfa, thanks to the slivers of glass both cars pass off as greenhouses. It’s worse out back, given the abbreviated head- and legroom and the tiny triangles posing as rear windows. Reversing into a parking space? Daunting! The obligatory window tint is no help either, although we do suffer for beauty, don’t we.
Despite the size advantage, the Renault suffers from a slightly inferior seating position. Tall torsoed drivers, you’ve been warned. In every other respect the two are closely matched, offering similar levels of adjustability and near identical technology which includes Bluetooth and multimedia connectivity. Alfa clearly trades on its reputation for making ‘driver’s cars’ with a dashboard in soft-touch faux carbon fibre (an oxymoron if ever there was one), adding to the cabin’s sporty bent. The theme continues throughout the cabin from the plush leather seats (a R10 000 option), to the sumptuous leather-rimmed steering wheel and matte aluminium door pulls – though these are sited too far ahead of the grab handle, making it hard to open the door. Quality is patchy though; the gearknob, for example, is a horrible plastic item. Just ahead of it sits the ‘DNA’ toggle switch which controls the demeanor of the powertrain – offering ‘Dynamic’, ‘Normal’ and ‘All-weather’ – gettit?
Renault by comparison has opted for a more traditional dark plastic surface (also soft) with a scimitar-shaped silver insert bisecting the dashboard and the hangdown which houses the multimedia and climate controls. A TomTom navigation unit (the Alfa has none) is perched in the dash top, its controls located in a cluster just ahead of the handbrake lever’s base on the centre console. Strange at first. The steering wheel, also shod in leather, feels equally tactile, but behind it lie Renault’s quirky paddles that do duty as the satellite audio control unit. Confusing if you’re new to the brand, but offering a cleaner look, and in time rewarding the audiophile with every conceivable audio operation. Overall the feel of the cabin is more refined than in the sportier Mito.
Va Va Voom & Pronto!
Both Renault and Alfa can lay claim to some impressive motorsport bragging rights, but translating success to everyday cars is not always guaranteed. Lest we forget, petrolheads are the minority and halo cars just that. When we first tested Renault’s svelte Megane Coupe, we applauded its brave new looks but lamented our test unit’s modest 1.6-litre naturally aspirated mill. A pity, as the chassis felt capable of handling more than the 83kW and 151Nm on offer.
A recent jaunt in the hotter RS version (due later 2010) proved the performance credentials of the coupe chassis. Somewhere in the middle is the package under scrutiny here, with a turboed 1.4-litre under the hood, offering up a healthy 96kW and 190Nm.
Healthy it seems, until you see the Italian boys have conjured up 114kW and 230Nm from the 1.4-litre that spins under the Mito’s hood. Twist the little four-pot into life, engage D on the DNA toggle (it takes two seconds), select first, drop the clutch and ‘wa-hey!’ prepare yourself for the biggest surprise since the Uno Turbo. It’s quick. And not in the ‘feels-quicker-than-it-is’ sense. The Mito really goes. It dashes off the sprint to 100kph in 8 seconds – not bad against the Megane’s 9.5. The Mito will continue to outpace the Megane all the way to a top speed of 215kph – 10kph quicker than the Renault can muster.
It’s no fault of Renault, but you get the impression the boys at Alfa Romeo really are obsessed with racing. A glimpse under each bonnet is enough to convince me. No prizes for guessing which car’s cylinder head features a swath of red plastic with the words TURBO BENZINA emblazoned across it. Give either car a set of corners to navigate at speed and they’ll swallow them with equal relish. Both coupes feel poised and offer a very linear progression from neutral to understeer. The Alfa’s extra torque makes it decisively the wilder of the two, despite the electronic Q2 differential which does an impressive job of braking the inside wheel in an attempt to reapportion grip to the outer.
The Alfa is significantly quicker and marginally cheaper. So it’s game, set and match, then? Not so fast, as it’s also smaller, lighter and arguably less practical – a boot capacity 74 litres shy of the Megane’s confirms. Deciding on a victor really depends on your definition of a coupe, or what you can expect from one at the R250 000 price point. Volkswagen’s Scirocco and Kia’s Cerato coupe each make strong cases for themselves but lack the Mediterranean style and passion these cars inherently possess. Ultimately it might come down to brand loyalty or perhaps a re-evaluation of priorities, but if speed is every bit as important to you as a gorgeous exterior, it has to be the Mito.