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Shaking that bad-ass. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

Shaking that bad-ass
The new Mégane will spawn a grown up Renaultsport version, so the old car goes out with a very big bang called the R26.R.

 



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| First Drive | Cambs, England | Mégane Renaultsport R26.R |

When Renault let loose the (take a breath) Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26 we were happy that its hot Mégane had evolved to the peak of its abilities. A new limited slip differential turned an already quick car into one of the fastest point-to-point hot hatches on the road and though it wasn't perfect, it was memorable. Then, out of the blue, Renault Sport Technologies decided to go one better. The result is the R26.R.

In the Metal

Although the R26.R is available in seven colours, you really need to specify it in our test car's white paintwork to truly appreciate the differences between it and earlier versions of the Mégane Renaultsport. Not that you can ignore the bright red 18-inch alloys, larger roof spoiler, carbon bonnet and lairy red graphics... We like it just how it is, but those of you less keen on attracting attention may want to opt for the black wheels (£120) and deletion of the R26.R decals (free). Keen-eyed readers will have observed the lack of front fog lights and the presence of tinted rear side and tailgate windows, with a little map of the Nurburgring etched into the side windows with the car's lap time - more on that in a bit.

Peer through those polycarbonate windows (careful not to press your nose against them too hard, as they bend easily) and you can't help but notice that it looks like someone's stuffed the boot full of red scaffolding poles. That's the optional roll cage, and all versions of the R26.R do without rear seats. Meanwhile, the two occupants up front gain deep Sabelt competition seats and six-point harnesses to strap them in. A mix of leather and suede covers the gear shifter and steering wheel (still too big for our liking) and a plaque on the centre console indicates that this car is part of a limited run (just 230 for the UK). Elsewhere, the interior feels a little barren, thanks in part to a cheap blanking plate where the stereo would normally reside.

What you get for your Money

The price for the R26.R is £23,995, though that doesn't get you the car you see here. You'll need to add £700 for the roll cage and special Toyo Proxes tyres, £460 for the climate control (though regular air conditioning is standard), £150 for Glacier White paint and a massive £2,250 for the titanium exhaust. The engine and transmission are unchanged from the '230' model - save for a short-shift gear linkage - and the brakes are the same size as before, but with grooving instead of drilled holes to resist brake fade. Oddly, the premium for the R26.R, exclusivity aside, means you pay for less, as in no rear seats, no stereo, no fog lights and no sound proofing. It had better be good to drive.

Driving it

Boy is it. The first few hundred metres are telling. The throttle calibration and light controls allow for fuss-free crawling along in traffic, yet even at an urban pace you can sense the low inertia of the car and that it is working with the road, not against it. That's not to say it's comfortable. Having shed 123kg from the kerb weight (see Worth Noting below), Renault reckoned it could fit stiffer springs and lower arm bushes, so yes the car moves with the road in a Lotus-like fashion, but it's still something best suited to smooth surfaces.

Leave the city limits behind and up the pace and then the tweaks begin to make more sense. Where the gearchange initially felt a little sloppy, it responds well to quick shifts, while the light steering succinctly communicates what's happening at the tread blocks of those sticky Toyo Proxes. In most situations on the public road, the message will be simply: "we're still gripping" - at least in the dry. The R26.R features a marginally wider track than before, which, in conjunction with the well-judged limited slip differential, makes for astounding cornering prowess. It takes a little getting used to, but applying the throttle in a corner has the opposite effect it usually does in a front-drive car, so instead of pushing the nose wide, the differential locks up and sends more torque to the outside wheel, the result being a tightening of the line and astonishing exit speed. There is traction control fitted, but we found that it only intervenes when you get a front wheel off the ground...

The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine doesn't feel as special as the rest of the car, though the chassis uses its 227bhp and 228lb.ft of torque to great effect. It produces that latter figure from just 3,000rpm, which ensures that the Mégane always feels eager, while above 4,500rpm it suddenly decides it'd like to meet the redline in a hurry. Few four-cylinder engines offer an inspiring soundtrack, but whatever Renault has done with the titanium exhaust gives this car a frankly frightening roar at full pelt.

There are annoyances, such as limited travel on the seat runners (alright, I'm a short-arse, but still...), your inability to reverse without looking like a learner thanks to the harnesses and an unusual rumble from those tyres on most road surfaces. Obviously these niggles pale into insignificance when the R26.R is being used as it was intended.

Worth Noting

We're familiar with the Nurburgring and though many car makers use the 'green hell' to develop their cars' chassis - and some quote 'Ring times in their marketing - few have that lap time as the reason for a car's existence. Renault wanted the front-wheel drive production car lap record though and that's what the R26.R is all about. Curiously, the engineers reckoned that the Mégane Renaultsport 230 already had enough power and it required relatively minor chassis modifications to cope with the track, but the none-too-portly Mégane was put on a strict diet.

The list of deleted items is extensive: rear seats, all airbags bar the driver's, rear wash/wipe and heated screen, front fog lamps, headlamp washers, the stereo and 'most of the soundproofing' were consigned to the rubbish skip. Meanwhile, the bonnet was replaced by a real carbon-fibre item, the rear side windows and tailgate glass by lightweight polycarbonate and the front seats by those (lighter) racing buckets. The total weight reduction is an amazing 123kg. Putting that into perspective, an average suitcase you take on your holidays weighs probably a little more than 20kg. Imagine the weight of five or six of them.

Summary

In truth, legal road speeds feel beneath the capabilities of this Mégane, which is a result of being developed for fast Nurburgring lap times I guess. Renault has already revealed the Renaultsport version of its new Mégane and it promises much of the R26.R's pace with more civility. Whether it can stand up to comparison to the mighty new Ford Focus RS is for another day. For now, the R26.R is a massively exciting car to drive, at its best on a race circuit and hence of appeal to a limited hard core of driving enthusiasts. You can count us among that happy number though.

Shane O' Donoghue - 20 Mar 2009









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2009 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R specifications:
Price: £23,995 on-the-road (test car was fitted with optional extras).
0-62mph: 6.0 seconds
Top speed: 147mph
Combined economy: 33.2mpg
Emissions: 199g/km
Kerb weight: 1230kg

Full technical specifications

2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.



2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2008 Renault Mégane Renaultsport R26.R. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 






 

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