The most hardcore hot hatchback yet

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.

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Should I buy one?

In total there will be just 450 R26Rs made at Renaultsport’s ex-Alpine factory in Dieppe, and of these some 230 will be sold by Renault UK. If you can get your hands on one, it’s absolutely worth the money.

As a genuine driver’s car the Renault Megane R26R has few rivals, and not just in the world of hot hatchbacks but at any level, at any budget.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Honest Paul 30 July 2008

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

Twinturbo, relax a little, I'm sure that given enough energy we could all trawl through our previous Autocar issues and find articles that are at odds with each other. In general the journalism is insightful, entertaining and honest. As for your BMW..........well, you'll have read endless Autocar articles full of gushing praise for these things and start believing that they had a bias towards anything with a propellor on its bonnet.

Reference the Focus giving the R26-R a run for its money, well I think it will, it laps the 'Ring in an identical time but it needs 295bhp to do it. And that's the beauty of the Megane, it's a humble little hot hatch with a standard 2.0 litre, four pot pushing out a distinctly mediocre (by modern standards) 227bhp that in the right hands will keep pace with a 70k Porsche 911 across country.

twinturbo 30 July 2008

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

Honest Paul wrote:

I've got to agree that this Megane is about as stripped out as you can go to and still be a viable daily drive. As for its Nurburgring laps I think that we should applaud and be awed that a 227bhp hot hatch can achieve such an extraordinary time, regardless of whether it beats a Cayman or not.

I couldn't agree more. I guess the new Focus will give it a run for it's money though.

My point is that Autocar over about a year have been talking up Jaguar and rubbishing BMW. I have a BMW and it doesn't bother me what they say about my car but the reporting has gone down the nick IMHO. Take the XKR they had on long term.Nothing was finer, it had paddle shift which meant you didn't have to take your hands off the wheel as you would in an M6 according to Autocar. True. Then this week Mr. Hallet comments that the Ferrari they tested has paddles that don't move with the wheel which is how they should be. The paddles on an XKR move WITH the wheel. He didn't mention that!!

Honest Paul 29 July 2008

Re: Renault Mégane R26R

I've got to agree that this Megane is about as stripped out as you can go to and still be a viable daily drive. As for its Nurburgring laps I think that we should applaud and be awed that a 227bhp hot hatch can achieve such an extraordinary time, regardless of whether it beats a Cayman or not.