"Without a single hint of doubt, the most hardcore hot hatchback the world has seen.” That’s what we called the stripped-out, most track-focused version of Renault’s big-bum hatchback when it launched, and it’s not far off making that claim even now, 12 years later.
You see, this was no mere styling package for the fearsome Mégane RS 230 F1 Team R26. The highly strung 227bhp 2.0-litre turbo four-pot was carried over unaltered, as were the Cup Chassis package’s Brembo brakes, stiffer steering and sports wheels, but it’s what wasn’t carried over that made the R26R special: the rear seats, climate control, stereo, front foglights and all but one airbag.
All that missing kit may have hurt usability, but it contributed to a weight loss of 123kg (although the carbonfibre bonnet, plastic rear windows and bootlid and lightweight sports seats certainly played their part too). Along with uprated springs, grooved brake discs and Toyo track tyres, that litheness let the R26R set a new front-wheel-drive lap record at the Nürburgring – a feat that its two successors have gone on to replicate.
The R26R that we found sits on Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, which may cost you a second or two on the track but will go some way to saving your spine on the drive there. Accounting for inflation, it costs around £4000 more than when it was new, even after four owners and 30,000 miles.
Still, we wouldn’t consider that bad value for such a competent and exclusive hot hatch. And it’s probably a safer investment than the contemporary Mégane RS Trophy-R, which lapped the ’Ring 37 seconds faster but costs up to £72,000.
Skoda Fabia vRS 1.9 TDI, £2695: You rarely see any diesel hot hatches, which is a shame, because a ton of torque can often be more fun than outright power in a shell this size. Skoda’s Fabia vRS TDI sent 129bhp and 229lb ft from its four-pot to the front axle via a six-speed manual.
Suzuki Cappuccino, £9500: Strong money indeed for an ageing 0.66-litre two-seater whose metal is usually as bubbly as its namesake, but this one has just been restored and wears its 26 years admirably well. For us, it’s more interesting than a Mazda MX-5 of the same vintage.