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.