Renaultsport Megane R26 Review: Future Classic

By: Joe Kenwright

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Renaultsport Megane R26: This hot hatch is a keeper

Renaultsport Megane R26 Review: Future Classic
Future Classic: Renaultsport Megane R26

 

Renaultsport Megane R26

The 2004 Renaultsport Megane five-door was impressive, but given several glaring flaws, classic status will probably elude it. The Megane 230 F1 Team R26 addressed this, and then some. Even in an era of terrific hot-hatches, the R26's exclusive three-door body, special tweaks, and local deliveries limited to just 80 for a year after August 2007, made it really stand out.

First, the crazy moniker. The 230 denotes five more metric horsepower than the stock 225, while F1 Team R26 alludes to Renault's Formula One success as a constructor in 2006 with the R26. The wild graphics, the odd-ball bustle-back and curved rear glass already set it apart in a world of generic hatches. Under the skin improvements then set it up for distinction.

As with other Renaultsport Meganes, each one is purpose-built from a shell with wider front and rear tracks and reworked suspension, including a different front end that separates the steering axis from the suspension axis. A special Nissan six-speed manual and Brembo brakes with four-piston front calipers are included.

The Cup chassis upgrade, standard on the Megane 230, would normally add sharper suspension tuning, less-intrusive stability control and a special 18-inch wheel and tyre package, plus the pioneering "tube-in-tube" steering link system fitted to all Meganes after 2006.

From there, the springs were further stiffened in combination with shorter bump stops, special dampers, a beefier rear anti-roll bar, increased suspension travel and Bebop OZ racing alloys. Together, this special 'Cup chassis-plus' specification delivered an even more formidable hot hatch over all road surfaces.

It was topped by a proper mechanical limited-slip differential, not an open diff made to behave like one by tweaking the traction control. It felt inherently free of the unruliness, steering tug and ride harshness that often comes with over-tyred and over-powered front-drive models.

The turbocharged 2.0-litre four featured a less-restrictive exhaust and calibration tweaks for peak power of 168kW. Most of its 310Nm of torque could be accessed between 2000-6000rpm, peaking at 3000rpm. Unlike the woofly exhaust drone of some turbos, this one had a deep, fruity exhaust note that belied reasonable fuel economy if driven sensibly.

Xenon headlights, a full safety list, suitably upgraded dash and seats completed a package that came only in black or the special extra-cost, pearlescent Victory Yellow inspired by the old R5 Turbo rally cars. Wild F1 graphics were a delete option but are now an integral part of this rare model's appeal. As prices head towards the low-$20,000 range, the R26's exclusivity, all-'round competence and entertainment value make a compelling case. 

 

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