WHEN it comes to decent styling on cars there's no doubt the French have a long and successful track record.
Renault is a fine example and since linking up with the Nissan family as one large car maker, both marques are making stylish, good-looking and practical family cars.
A prime example is the Renault Megane hatchback and estate both of which recently had major makeovers with perhaps the latter (now called Sport Tourer rather than estate) being the most significantly improved.
There still remains a strong demand for estate cars in the UK mainly because families see the practicalities of them with extra luggage/storage space yet they contain all the plus features of the traditional hatchback or saloon.
This fourth generation Megane estate is by far the most smart and distinctive looking of all with a front end that look refreshingly different to its many rivals along with a stylish rear end.
With a choice of two petrol and two engines and five different trim levels, starting with the 1.2-litre petrol powered Expression+ (Â£18,550 on-the-road) through to the range-topping GT Nav 205 at Â£27,740, there's a model to suit most everyday demands.
All competitively priced compared to the increasing number of rivals in this sector it's the 1.6-litre 128bhp diesel which is proving the most popular with the Dynamique S Nav dCi trim particularly with company car drivers.
It's easy to see why with a car that gives an exceptionally smooth and quiet yet sprightly enough performance for a diesel, ideal for long motorway journeys, and tax wise has the advantage of a CO2 of only 104g/km, benefit-in-kind taxbanding of 22 per cent, comes in the VED B band and in insurance group 19.
With a four year/100,000 mile warranty and service intervals only at 18,000 miles this Megane Sports Tourer dCi 130 has bags of appeal and it achieved 58.6mpg (official combined figure is 70.6mpg).
Crucially, it's the most comfortable long distance cruiser in my book with a nice, more soft rather than firm ride and it's so quiet too.
The six-speed manual gearbox is light and precise and a well balanced chassis and competent suspension easily soak up all the bumps and divets that are so common on our roads today.
Inside, this latest Megane estate, much like its hatchback counterpart, has a nicer interior finish with more soft-touch plastic and a better standard of overall plushness than previous models with exceptionally comfortable seats offering decent lumbar support.
All models now have lumbar and seat height adjustment in the front seats and again there's decent enough head, elbow and leg room in both the front and back seats while the improved dashboard gives easier and clearer instant information to the driver courtesy of a seven-inch touchscreen and a digital speedometer.
As one would expect on a family oriented car there's plenty of storage cubby holes, two decent sized glove boxes, door bins (big enough for 500ml drink bottles) and even two handy storage boxes under the central armrest.
Estates are all about load capacity and whilst the latest Megane isn't the biggest in the sector there's more than ample luggage space at the back (521 litres) which extends to 1,504 litres with the 60/40 split rear seats both folded.
A big bonus here is that the seats fold flat, there's a low loading lip and wider rear opening too making it easier to load and unload luggage and the like.
On the slightly dearer Megane Sport Tourer Dynamique S Nav dCi130 driven here (on-the-road price is £23,550) the extra standard on board equipment includes rear parking camera, cruise control, speed limiter, anti-lock brakes, six airbags, hill start assist and electronic stability control plus more.
This car had the £400 safety pack premium option which includes adaptive cruise control (the Tourer like the hatchback has passed the five star NCAP tests) but a better more useful option in my view is the £500 parking pack premium that includes hands free parking, 360-degree parking sensors and blind spot warning when being overtaken.