Sniffed the possibility of jumping into the Renaultsport Megane R26 last night, and quickly made sure it was inked beside my name on the car list. Almost a year ago, I went on the low-key launch of this car, and I remember returning with the thought that Renault had finally managed to nudge hot hatchdom properly, and successfully, beyond the 200bhp mark.
There are plenty of hot hatches with over that figure, of course. But none of them really know what to do with the extra grunt, which means that the benchmark for an agile, rapid hatchback has been the VW Golf GTi, with 197bhp.
The Megane changed that by using a limited-slip differential, and a few quiet Surrey roads last night proved once again that the French got it spot-on. This is a phenomenally rapid car; its nose turns in beautifully but when you apply power, you don't get wheel-scrabbling or nose-heavy understeer like you would in a Seat Leon Cupra or a Ford Focus ST. Instead, you just get shocking acceleration.
Is it too extreme for the road? I don't think so. I've driven the Ford Focus RS - the last hot hatch to really attempt an LSD - and the Megane is a far more civilised beast. Yes, you have to be ready for the acceleration and the fact that the wheels will pull you out of the corner, instead of pushing you further into it. But once you get used to these factors, I don't think there is a quicker A-to-B hatchback out there.
Do not buy a hot hatch - any hot hatch - until you've visited your Renault dealer and taken one of these down a B-road. There are no frills, no bells and whistles; just the best hot hatchback out there.