Renault has unveiled the first two versions of its new Mégane II line which will include seven variations by 2004.

The three- and five-door (two- and four-door, if you’re American) hatchbacks are dubbed Sport Hatch and Hatch respectively.

The Megane is built on the new C platform — jointly developed by the Renault-Nissan Alliance – which will also underpin the next generation Nissan Almera and account for 25% of all Alliance production by 2006 (1.8 million vehicles).

The Mégane II was an international programme from the start and will be distributed in 75 countries. In Europe, Renault has its sights set on 14% of the C segment, challenging the VW Golf for the title of Europe’s best-selling car.

The Mégane II will offer customers almost limitless combinations of colour and trim, engines and equipment and has new front and rear suspension systems, ABS, Emergency Brake Assist and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

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The new Mégane is also the first Renault model to use a new-generation electronic stability programme (ESP) incorporating understeer control (CSV). Its xenon headlamp units also feature an all-new adaptive beam height control.

Cockpit-style ergonomics have been developed using something Reanult calls ‘Touch Design’ to make the driver feel more part of the car, such as the handbrake lever styled like a aircraft throttle lever.

The petrol engine range at launch is 98bhp 1.4 16V, 115bhp 1.6 16V VVT and 136bhp 2.0 16V VVT; the latter two engines with variable inlet valve timing (VVT).

All engines comply with Euro 3 (Euro 2000) emission requirements and also meet IF Euro 4 fiscal incentive standards, depending on market.

Mégane II diesels will initially feature the 1.5 dCi 80bhp and 1.9 dCi 120bhp common-rail turbodiesels and manual and automatic transmissions will be offered with both petrol and diesel.

Occupant-protection features include third-generation Renault System for Restraint and Protection (SRP3) and a claimed world first in the form of an anti-submarining airbag in the front seats.

Other new features include a panoramic sunroof – recently introduced by Peugeot, Mercedes and Renault and fast becoming a popular option in Europe – and a double floor.

Like the bigger Laguna, the new Megane uses card-operated hands-free entry and ignition and a fuel filler flap with built-in cap.

Latest technology standard or optional includes Carminat navigation system and cruise control with speed limiter and sensors to automatically control wipers and headlights.

Mégane II is the first Renault programme to take into account the requirements of Life-cycle Environmental Management (LEM), which in addition to work on the reduction of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, also sets out to optimise the recyclability of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs).

The new Mégane was developed in 29 months — Renault’s best-ever development time. The engineering phase was significantly shortened and the production preparation phase halved.

Renault said it achieved this through a new managerial approach, involving the factories from the very start of the programme. Profitability was therefore given a considerable boost.

Renault invested a total of Euro 2.1 billion, with nearly half devoted to industrial investment in Palencia, Spain – readied to produce the hatchback and the Sport Hatch – as well as at the plant in Douai, France, which will manufacture the hatchback and the new Scénic at a later date. The third plant, in Bursa, Turkey, will produce the Mégane saloon.