Vive la revolution – French lead the fightback in face of falling EU sales
Peugeot and Renault have launched a range of more fuel-efficient models to woo buyers, writes Martin Brennan
Falling car sales across Europe are accelerating moves by the big firms to improve efficiencies in manufacturing – and in the models they hope to woo the public into buying. The market was down 8 per cent last year, with France, Italy and Spain experiencing the lowest sales in decades.
The creaky EU economy has stunted sales, leaving the market saturated with unsold cars and, in the case of France, Renault is shedding 7,500 jobs and PSA Peugeot/Citroen group another 5,600 to cut losses. But with true Gallic resolve, the French are fighting back with a wave of new, redesigned and facelifted models loaded with the latest in fuel-saving technology.
Globally, Peugeot plans a new 301, a Focus-sized saloon, a 408, a Mondeo-sized saloon, and a 4008 SUV, some of which may come here. A new lightweight compact crossover 2008, based on the Irish Continental Small Car of the Year award-winning 208 model, will be here in the summer.
Renault is also on a roll with improved and new models. Just arrived is the facelifted and more efficient Fluence with an electric ZE option, the Megane range is spruced up with new looks and new technology, the ZOE, an electric powered Clio-sized model, is on the way and the new-look Clio goes on sale this week. New to the fleet later in the year will be the Captur, a compact crossover vehicle.
The new styling for the Megane range gives a sporty, youthful look with LED daytime running lights, chrome and gloss black bumpers and a new selection of alloy wheels. It will grab attention but it is the under-the-skin features that will most impress buyers.
It is the first Renault model available with Stop-Start petrol and diesel engines, with the 1.5 litre diesel claimed to be the most fuel-efficient car in its class, with less than 3L/100kms (over 80 mpg).
In mixed high-speed driving and urban crawl, a healthy 5.6L/100km (45 mpg) was returned with the Stop-Start effective (as with all medium sized cars) for only 60 seconds with wipers, lights and air conditioning switched on. Manufacturers will have to look at battery sizes and alternators to overcome this.
The diesel now puts out only 90g/km of C02 attracting the lowest combustion engine tax of €180 but the refinements have not taken away from its nippy performance. Torque is up 20Nm to 260, which is available from 1750 rpm. Gear changes are smooth and in the three-door GT Line coupe wrap-around seats were supportive with height adjustment for the driver. Overall a smooth performer even on unforgiving roads, although tyre noise is intrusive.
New features include the hands-free Bluetooth steering-mounted controls for music from mobiles, motorway mode indicators – a slight touch of the indicator stalk sets off three flashes to warn other road users that the driver is about to change lane – and cruise control with leather steering wheel on all models above the entry Expression trim line. In the GT Line model the dual-zone automatic climate control has a quality air sensor which activates as necessary.
The coupe version is for the young at heart at €24,990 with the more functional five-door hatch version €800 cheaper at €24,190.