Renault once led the industry with its small diesel engines, but its rivals have been fighting back in recent years – and the relative performance of the particular Mégane tested, powered by its maker’s old K-type eight-valve 1.5-litre diesel, certainly shows room for improvement.

You can see the beginnings of a deficiency in the car’s 0-60mph time. In warm, dry conditions where excuses were few, we matched Renault’s 0-62mph claim (11.3sec) but couldn’t make the car go under 11.0sec to 60mph, whereas plenty of rivals will go close to 10.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
Shorter-than-average gear ratios can’t do much to help the engine. Pulling in third gear is a challenge

The car’s relative shortage of torque compared with some rivals doesn’t show up in many of its in-gear acceleration times, because it’s shorter geared than many of those rivals; 30-70mph in fourth gear takes just over 15.0sec, which is pretty competitive for the economy diesel hatchback class.

But you’ll do quite a bit more ratio changing in the Mégane than you might in other diesel hatchbacks, partly because of those shorter intermediate ratios and partly because the engine’s power supply feels quite soft and laggy below 2000rpm.

There’s certainly a driveability issue at play here, and that’s a bigger chink in the car’s armour than the outright shortage of performance with which we began.

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

Refinement levels are more competitive. The engine gets vocal when extended, as you’d expect it to, but it’s fairly soft on the ear at low revs and under load. It does send some vibrations through the pedals at idle but, again, so many equivalent downsized, hard-working diesels do.

All up, you’d be perfectly happy with this engine as long as you accepted that you’d bought an economy car and were willing to drive it in a laid-back fashion. If you wanted the most rounded family five-door your money could buy, there’s a good chance you’d find it a bit wheezy and slow.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week