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Earning its stripes. Image by James Jenkins.

Earning its stripes
Renault is not one to blithely slap motorsport stickers on normal cars. The new Mégane R26 earns its stripes.

 



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| A Week at the Wheel | Cambs, England | Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26 |

Renault's recent successes in F1 (pre-2007 anyway) have deservedly given the company some bragging rights in motoring circles. It's a tough business at the pinnacle of technology that is not won by luck. This success also gives Renault the deserved right to show off a little on our roads and wheel out special editions like the car you see here, the Mégane R26 230, with the R26 moniker directly relating to the chassis designation of the winning F1 car.

Available as an initial run of 500 cars (although we're hopeful that the modifications may be available as options at a later date), the R26 cuts a striking swathe through regular traffic. The Mégane's bold lines are complemented by an array of addenda that give the R26 a muscular appearance and a striking kerb appeal. The pearlescent yellow of the test car divided opinion - we'd have chosen black - as did some of the stick-on graphics (not even the full array offered by Renault), but it's a fine looking car nonetheless.

Other than the aesthetic tweaks, the limited edition car boasts an array of more subtle enhancements over the full production range topper. The R26 enjoys a boost in performance over the 225, and although it's only a few horsepower, the R26 definitely feels more decisive on road. It also emits a fruitier exhaust note. Boost builds early ensuring that there is plenty of urge at 2,000rpm and by 3,000rpm the Mégane is in full cry. The linear delivery actually makes it feel slower than it is, as the torque stays strong right up to the higher reaches of the rev range, although by 6,000rpm it's pretty much delivered its best.

On-paper performance is excellent with 60mph being dispatched in a little over six seconds and a maximum of over 150mph - incredible figures for a hot hatch a few years ago, but only enough to tie at the top of the class now. Even so, still impressive and it's the flexibility of the engine that impresses the most allowing for a choice of gears in most circumstances and ensuring that there is always performance on tap in almost every context.

Where this naturally really pays dividends is on the open road. The R26 pulls eagerly out of every corner and sustains the surge all the way to the next corner. A new differential plays a big part in lifting this car's game above that of the 225. There is some torque steer evident on uneven surfaces as the Torsen diff. tries to do the right thing for you, but for the most part it manages to get the power down smoothly and consistently.

This type of differential completely polarised opinion in the Focus RS, but here, if driven properly - that is feeding the power in smoothly rather than mashing the pedal - it met with universal praise. Yes, you need to learn how to drive it in the most effective manner, but in our opinions that is how a sporty car should be. It adds to the satisfaction and level of engagement we seek in fun cars. Our one reservation is that on those odd occasions when surfaces are very uneven and offer different grip levels, it can tug the car around and break the flow of the drive.

The brakes on the R26 are upgraded with large drilled discs all-round. However, those on our test car had obviously taken a pounding previously. They lacked the initial bite we would have expected and the travel suggested the pads were in need of replacement. Ultimate stopping power was good, but we can't offer a judgement on feel, fade resistance or tactility on this experience.

This issue didn't excessively detract from the driving experience though. The steering lacks a little in feel - a recurring theme in modern hot hatches it seems - but is accurate and surprisingly untroubled by the amount of torque being transmitted through the front wheels. Turn in is sharp and grip levels never in doubt; the R26 corners harder than any other hatch we've driven and carries huge speed.

Body control is good with the stiff but excellently damped suspension allowing for fuss and roll-free handling. It was markedly more composed than many other hatches we've driven lately - the Leon Cupra and Panda 100HP to name but two. Turning off the ESP allows the rear of the car to be moved around on the brakes, heightening the sense of feel and involvement, as well as ultimate ground covering speeds. It adds a welcome level of adjustability to the handling.

The interior doesn't offer many changes to that of the 225. Some nicer seats and a small plaque with the car's build number are about the extent of it. This area is a shortcoming that needs to be addressed in the next Mégane, but Renault is not alone in this deficiency. It's hard to quantify just how much VW has shaken the automotive world with its interiors of late. It's only fair to expect rivals to take a generation to bridge the gap.

As an all-rounder the 225 couldn't stand up to a straight fight with the Golf GTI or Focus ST, but by changing the emphasis of the package Renault has given the R26 much more of a chance. The exalted dynamics in terms of driver involvement and enjoyment come at the expense of some creature comfort, but the trade off is in the right direction as far as enthusiasts are concerned and they will be smitten but what is the quickest hot hatch in the real world on sale today.

Where manufacturers can go wrong is when they use motorsport success to cynically tart up cooking hatches to exploit their customers almost as much as their feats when the cars fail to deliver. This is categorically not one of those cases, as the R26 builds on the explosively rapid but only moderately accomplished basic 225 Mégane and focuses its abilities at a much higher level.

It does have its negatives. The headlights are poor; the seats lack some lateral support; the interior is only average and our test car had a very suspect middle pedal. The latter is most likely down to a hard life and the need for some fresh pads. The former are intrinsic weaknesses. However, they are not cumulatively sufficient to hole the R26 below the water line and sink its case. This is definitely the enthusiasts' hot hatch of the moment.

Dave Jenkins - 2 Jul 2007









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2007 Renault Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26 specifications:
Price: £19,860 on-the-road.
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 147mph
Combined economy: 33.2mpg
Emissions: 200g/km
Kerb weight: 1345kg

Full technical specifications

2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.

2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.



2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2007 Mégane Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26. Image by James Jenkins.
 






 

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