Steve Sutcliffe
24 July 2008

What is it?

Without a single hint of a doubt, the most hardcore hot hatchback the world has seen. It’s called the Renaultsport Megane R26R, it weighs 123kg less than the standard (and already quite lithe) Megane R26, and during its development set a record time at the Nurburgring for a front-wheel drive car.

What makes this feat yet more amazing, and also impressively relevant, is that the R26R has not an ounce more power – or torque – than the car on which it is based. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine produces exactly the same 227bhp and 228lb ft as the regular R26’s, and although its six-speed gearbox features a shorter-shifting lever, the ratios and internals are entirely standard. As is the limited-slip differential.

Arguably the most important part of the R26R’s lethal arsenal is its tyres. For the first time ever on a hot hatchback, Renaultsport is going to offer the R26R with optional Toyo track tyres.

What’s it like?

The Toyos work a treat; they give an increase in dry grip needed to make the stopwatch sing but they don’t wear out on the road. They work well in the wet, too. The only issue is that they don’t cope brilliantly with standing water, where they still have a tendency to aquaplane quite suddenly.

Comfort-wise, it is actually more refined than the regular R26 over a rough road, and therefore more comfortable to travel in.

How so? Several reasons. One, the spring rates front and rear are just over 10 per cent softer than normal (mainly because the kerbweight is that much less); the dampers are also of a much higher specification, providing compliance and control where those fitted to the normal R26 do not; lastly, the tyres themselves (the Toyos) also provide better ride quality.

So where the R26 tends to get a little thumpy over really nasty surface scars and occasionally sends a shiver back through its steering column, the R26R glides more serenely, its suspension flowing over surfaces that flummox the regular car’s chassis.

What you also notice is the extra road noise generated by the R26R over rough surfaces, simply because there is less sound-deadening in the car everywhere. It’s not a ridiculous increase but with the optional titanium exhaust fitted there is perhaps 15 per cent more noise generally.

As for the noise from the exhaust itself, it is sensational, amplifying the car’s turbocharged engine to a point where you sometimes feel like you’re on board a miniature Group C Le Mans car.

The best way to describe what the R26R feels like on a track is as an extension of your own self-belief. As each mile passes that self-belief grows because, in short, the R26R seems to have an answer for pretty much any question you ask of it.

For starters, the level of grip it develops through any given corner is quite spooky compared with normal cars and will – with the Toyo tyres fitted – be so alien to most drivers that they won’t get close to the car’s limits to begin with. That’s one key improvement.

Spend more time and do a few more laps with the car, however, and what you’ll eventually realise is that the lack of weight manifests itself in just about every aspect of the R26R’s behaviour. This, more than anything, makes it feel so different to the already sharp R26. Not only does it accelerate far harder but it changes direction more crisply, stops better, steers more sweetly, even changes gear with more precision.

Should I buy one?

In total there will be just 450 R26Rs made at Renaultsport’s ex-Alpine factory in Dieppe, and of these some 230 will be sold by Renault UK. If you can get your hands on one, it’s absolutely worth the money.

As a genuine driver’s car the Renault Megane R26R has few rivals, and not just in the world of hot hatchbacks but at any level, at any budget.

Join the debate

Comments
12

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

6 years 4 weeks ago

I wonder if this car is really as much fun as the article says. It sounds like a great track car, but not an everyday drive, which makes it only interesting to the real car enthusiast who can spend a whole lot of money on cars, but which one of these folks is really considering a Renault as their next purchase?

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

6 years 4 weeks ago

VelSatis23 wrote:
It sounds like a great track car, but not an everyday drive

How so?

It rides with more pliancy than a standard R26 and only produces a little more road noise (some of it desirable). Granted it's not a car for single car families with children but in every other respect it's just so tempting. Renault have a knack of producing brilliantly resolved, focused, fast hatchbacks (along with a lot of mundane fodder) and this is certainly one of them. I would have never considered a standard Megane 225 over say a Golf GTI but with each incarnation these quick versions have steadily improved (Trophy, Cup, F1, R26) and now this thing just blows me away and it makes a Mini GP's half hearted rear cross brace seem apologetic. Brilliant.

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

6 years 4 weeks ago

Honest Paul wrote:
 Granted it's not a car for single car families with children but in every other respect it's just so tempting.
I read that the internal crossbars that take up the rear space are an option that can be removed. If you choose not to specify the roll bar, I wonder if that means you can get back seats fitted in lieu - making it a viable family car?

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

6 years 4 weeks ago

julianphillips wrote:
I read that the internal crossbars that take up the rear space are an option that can be removed.

The half cage is a huge part of the appeal. Start deleting major components like this and you're most of the way back to a standard R26, missing the point altogether.

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

6 years 3 weeks ago

And it 'beats, an M5 around the Nerd berg ring!! Oh my God, a 1200kg stripped out Renault hot hatch 'Beats' a near 2 tonne 4 door and by a whole second! Must be an ex-News of the World headline writer came up with that one. Oh and by the way, it didn't beat the M6 or M3 which they forgot to mention in the headlines but in did 'beat' the beloved Cayman. More biased Autocar reporting.

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

6 years 3 weeks ago

twinturbo wrote:
More biased Autocar reporting.

I didn't read a 'biased' word in that entire article. I did read honest subjective assesment and factual figurative statement. But where was the bias?

ry

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

6 years 3 weeks ago

Quote:
And it 'beats, an M5 around the Nerd berg ring!! Oh my God, a 1200kg stripped out Renault hot hatch 'Beats' a near 2 tonne 4 door and by a whole second! Must be an ex-News of the World headline writer came up with that one. Oh and by the way, it didn't beat the M6 or M3 which they forgot to mention in the headlines but in did 'beat' the beloved Cayman. More biased Autocar reporting.

Are you upset???

If im correct, the megane costs 1/3rd of a M5the megane isnt exactly stripped out eitherThe M5 is a superb car, so its something to be proud ofas for Biased, if im correct doesnt one of the Autocar team own a M5???

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

6 years 3 weeks ago

Sounds like Renault is going back to an earlier era for inspiration when the Gordini models were very much out and out club racers, that worked suprisingly well on the road.

I drove a Gordini replica for years on the road and have still have not found such an entertaining car since.

However judging by the comments received on the Megane that is a difficult idea to sell today, even when the lighter weight brings such obvious benefits.

Well done Renault for building it.

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

6 years 3 weeks ago

Honest Paul wrote:
didn't read a 'biased' word in that entire article. I did read honest subjective assesment

Perhaps I should have said 'anti-BMW again. I would have thought 'beating' a Cayman would have more relevance than a 4 door saloon.Or an M3 but of course it didn't 'beat' an M3. And looking at the pictures the Renault looks stripped out to me or do they make 'em without rear seats??

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

6 years 3 weeks ago

I've got to agree that this Megane is about as stripped out as you can go to and still be a viable daily drive. As for its Nurburgring laps I think that we should applaud and be awed that a 227bhp hot hatch can achieve such an extraordinary time, regardless of whether it beats a Cayman or not.

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Our Verdict

The Renault Megane looks bland, and it's not that good to drive either

Driven this week