independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

The Megane had me beaming – unlike those dim safety taxes

Two of the biggest curses on our roads are drivers who change lanes without bothering to indicate, and those who refuse to dim their lights. It is a national affliction and I'm sick of it, to be honest.

But I'm delighted to tell you I think I've found a cure – for both.

The technology involved is fairly straightforward and has been around for a while, as far as I know. But I haven't come across it so well-executed or combined in a small family car before.

The car is the Renault Megane. Now, let me be blunt here. The Megane has not been my favourite motor. I have had people in the past complain about electrics and trade-in values. But Renault has improved it a lot and, by golly, it looks and drives well after its most recent sprucing. No one can deny that.

I have criticised it for a lot of things, particularly its fiddly radio dials, but I think, on latest acquaintance, I'll temper my criticism a bit. This is a decent package now.

The GT Line I had on test looked and drove particularly well, I must say. It had a sport chassis (bit harsh, perhaps, on rougher roads), sport seats, aluminium pedals and touches of difference inside and out.

But two things really got my attention: its lane-change warning system, and really clever automatic headlights.

The lane-change alert system is simply that. If it detects you are waddling over your lane line, it beeps like hell. I mean beeps.

Now, I have given out stink about people who wander like that. Preached like a perfectionist, I did. Well, not any more (well, not for a week or two anyway). Because I discovered just how much of a wanderer I am too. Sweet Lord, the poor beeper was on overtime for a while. And it wasn't being overly sensitive, believe me. What a wonderful way to keep you on the straight and narrow.

As well as that, a slight touch of the indicator stalk prompts three flashes so others know you intend to change lane. Every car should have one of these. Several have the technology, I know. But this is by far the best I've come across at family-car level. It is simple and effective. And a potential life-safer, if you'll forgive the cliché.

The automatic headlight function is, again, no longer rocket science in motoring technology terms. But, again, in the GT line version I was driving, it was by a long way the quickest, most sensitive, sensible and logical I have come across.

Basically, it dimmed the main beam when it detected oncoming headlights and reinstated them when there was nothing coming. Sadly, some of those 'oncomers' showed scant regard for my system's courtesy.

It got better. When I drove under town lights, it dimmed; when there was a gap of darkness it went back on full. I tried to 'cod' it and never really found it out. What a wonderful addition to safety in night-time driving. It never made a sound and was instant in its response.

Having this function alongside the lane-change warning made my driving a lot safer. Now, I'm no angel but, honestly, I do take great care.

So if I felt it a boon to me, imagine how all those who never indicate and rarely dim their main beams would benefit.

I think the Ford Focus is by far the best handling car in this class and I always have rated the Honda Civic and Toyota Auris/Corolla and a few more. But this Megane made its own case – not least because its 1.5-litre diesel engine is phenomenally frugal (stop/start technology helps a little). At one stage, the computer told me it would do more than 1,000km on a tank of fuel (it holds 60 litres). I drove it a fair bit and still there was half a tank and an estimated 480km or so left.

But a major issue here is not so much about the Megane, good and all as it has become.

No, it is much broader. Indeed, I would say it is sinister.

Those two safety elements I was talking about cost money to make and install – obviously.

But they are indirectly taxed because Vehicle Registration Tax is retrospectively applied as a percentage of a vehicle's Open Market Selling Price (OMSP) – the expected retail price of the car. So VRT is a tax on safety items in a car. They've just gone and upped VRT in the Budget. Therefore, they are effectively taxing safety even more.

The bizarre result is that, on the one hand, we have money being spent, and well spent, by safety authorities urging reductions in speed and highlighting the dangers of crossing the middle of the road.

Then, on the other hand, we have the Government taking money out of our pockets because someone makes a car even safer by including items such as lane-drift warnings and automatic headlights.

I don't mean to be sarcastic but it is a dim-witted way of going on.

Someone should tell them they can't straddle both lanes and retain credibility. But when did that ever stop them?

If you have views on this please let me know at ecunningham@independent.ie

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