By on April 19, 2010

Driving the Renault Mégane R26.R on the snow-covered L-10–a public road-cum-rally track near the famous Nürburgring–is an unforgettable affair. And not simply because summer tires and slush don’t mix. This particular Mégane is a stunning piece of machinery in any condition: no Stateside machine comes even remotely close. And unlike most European unobtainium, it’s no sculpted, Teutonic monument to cash-flow either. It’s French. Cheap gas, Japanese quality and the Detroit-centric Eisenhower Interstate System have given Americans no reasons to contemplate, let alone lust after, French cars in the modern era, but not having this Ferrari-killing hatchback on crack is a bummer. The Mégane R26.R is so wrong it’s gotta be right.

The Mégane R26.R is simply unmistakable, even if it’s a Renault hatchback. Clock the 18-inch alloys and Piet Mondrian-worthy geometric decals in red ink. And there’s the Lunar Grey paint contrasting against the carbon fiber hood: a not so subtle reminder this three-door is far more than the tall roofline and dorky C-pillar implies. Rear spoiler aside, there’s simply no way to get around the Mégane R26.R’s hatchback roots. But this isn’t a rice boy poseur: resting against the near weightless polycarbonate rear/quarter windows gives the kinds of goose bumps that only come from a real race car.

Note: first timers will push those side windows while going in for a closer look at the spartan and sporty interior of the Mégane R26.R. And because there’s so little to behold, everything in eyeshot will be serious business: race seats with carbon fiber shells, six point harnesses, an optional roll cage (dressed in red, of course) and suede accents on the tiller and shift knob. The ambiance is bare bones, but what’s left is reasonably appealing in ergonomics and touchy-feely build quality. So it’s still a far better place to kill time than any modern Chrysler product.

And what was left on Renault’s chopping block? A loss of 270lbs from the removal of sound insulation, rear seating, a lone airbag (driver’s side), no radio, fog lights or other ancillary creature comforts. But if you missed the Mégane’s racing pedigree, there’s a “R26.R” badge screwed in the dash to remind all and sundry this ain’t no ordinary French econobox. You know, in case the red wheels didn’t tip you off.

And the greasy bits don’t play around. The Mégane R26.R’s mill comes from the RenaultSport racing parts bin: a 2.0L turbocharged mill, 6-speed transaxle and Michelin Pilot street tires. The (optional) titanium exhaust is a wicked affair, providing unfettered access to the turbo’s prodigious “woooosh” at anything more than quarter throttle. George Lucas never made a Tie Fighter hatchback, but Renault is clearly picking up the slack.

Perhaps you heard that the Mégane R26.R is the fastest production wrong-wheel drive whip on the Nürburgring, earning an 8:17 time slip. While weather conditions kept this review off the ‘ring, driving on nearby country roads shows how the Mégane R26.R accomplished that feat: plenty of suspension travel, a body that stays docile and flat in aggressive cornering and what must be the most communicative steering ever installed on a FWD vehicle. Bumpy roads have little chance at upsetting the Mégane R26.R’s racing line, both the steering and suspension keep the driver informed and in control.

But discretion is the better part of valor with a turbo pushing the front wheels, torque steer still rears its ugly head. With a limited-slip axle, modest power output (230hp/229lb-ft of torque) and a torque peak that’s nearly flat, boost is easy to modulate for post-apex bursts of acceleration. The Mégane R26.R will cook when needed, but the whole affair is subtler than the powertrain (or wheel color) suggests. And that’s not a cop out.

The groovy rotors and Brembo calipers move with a linear feel you rarely see in a (once) mundane compact platform. The Mégane R26.R stops as smoothly as it corners: with only 2700 lbs to halt, there’s no doubt the Mégane R26.R can handle hot lapping on the Nürburgring with grace and pace. And that’s precisely where this car excels, offering owners a rewarding but pain-free way to kick butt on any road course. I’m prepared to forgive Renault for importing the LeCar if they sell us the Mégane R26.R.

Or not. In reality, some performance icons are better left to the brand loyalists. Think of this as the French Cobra R: limited quantities and a lofty asking price of $35,000 USD, not including US federalization. And I reckon an immaculate C5 Corvette Z06 is a far superior track toy, with more creature comforts too. And buying one won’t require a degree in International Business.

And unless Honda jump-starts the Sport Compact genre in the United States, this French sweetheart is merely a tease. Too bad then, that Renault made a true masterpiece. The Mégane R26.R is the ultimate econobox expression, sporting credible looks with hard-edged, useable performance. Perhaps one day gas prices will inspire our premium compact platforms to reach for the stars the way this whip-sharp Renault has…. and maybe someday we’ll all get 5-8 weeks of mandatory paid vacation.

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36 Comments on “Review: Renault Mégane R26.R...”


  • avatar
    virages

    The Gendarmerie Nationale here in France bought themselves some Subaru Impreza WRXs recently, and a patriotic colleague was wondering why they didn’t buy these instead. Sounds like they wanted to impress more as the Scoobie is quick enough for just about anything.

    One note to the ‘mericans. This Megane is based on the older quirky model. I’m not sure that there is an R26 (27?) for the new version of the Megane.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    This is a good car idea.
    Strip off every car comfort and market it as a virtue. Over the past thirty five years we have seen auto makers strip their cars for fuelish reasons, and for price reasons. As a result, Americans associate stripped cars as cars that are cheap and weak.

    This car shows a back-to-basics approach that is a positive, not a compromise. And that is a good idea to consider. It is time to change the perception that efficient, non-adorned cars are cars not worthy of consideration, unless you are either cheap or broke.

    Cars are machines. It would be cool to see a car manufacturer put out a version of their cars that reminds buyers that you don’t have to buy a moving living room with refrigerators, cupholders, microwaves, televisions, and computers.

    You can get a ride that is a ride!

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      Ford did this and I beleieve they still are doing it. As the article mentioned it was called the Cobra R(acing). I think the latest genration Mustang racer goes by a different name, but I read an articel last year about it; so, I assume they are still producing racing variants of the Mustang. They basically strip all parisitc devices out of it (radio and AC basically), and remove sound deadening and the rear seat to lighten the car as well. Add in a few tweaks to the suspension and the engine and all of this decontenting will “only” cost you $15k-$20k over the price for a Mustang GT. By the way, they do not remove the air bags as this would be a violation of the safety standards in this country.

    • 0 avatar

      The newer (retro) Mustangs can be ordered as a stripped down race car, be it drags or road courses. I believe this model is not street legal, unlike the actual Mustang Cobra R of yesteryear. The 2000/1995/1993 Cobra R is more in-line with this Renault. Decent interior, street legal, etc.

  • avatar
    cc-rider

    I will take the red Alfa Milano (75 in Europe) in the background!

    • 0 avatar

      You can rent one of those from RSR Nürburg (the company decal on the hood) if you so desire. The owner has a thing for the 75, and they certainly did look good in track guise.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      The 75 is rather straightforward to twin-turbo – same drivetrain as the GTV6 which was even available as a TT at the dealer (though it was done by Reeves)…

      http://www.alfagtv6.com/callaway.htm

      Great sleeper car in the Milano guise with a coupla turbos. Actually more HP than Callaway’s, because if you tune it correctly, there’s no need to trim the pistons and lower the compression. (We now have tools Reeves could only dream about back in the day.)

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    For those of us in the States with PsycoFrenchHatch lust, may I suggest the Renault R5 Turbo I?

    There’s usually half a dozen for sale at any given point, and last time I checked, you were in the seat of a very clean one around $30K. (YMMV)

    Already here, a blast to drive, about 200 HP and buildable to around 300HP (as long as you don’t wrap it constantly, ’tis only 1400 CC…)

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i don’t like renault and i don’t like fwd but i must applaud cars like this

    one airbag! wonderful

    plastic windows! no sound insulation!

    in this day and age of electric throttles and brakes and non defeatable traction/stability one must cock a wry smile at cars like this…

    and a cynic might cast a withering eye at deleting material yet charging MORE for LESS but one would rather point that intellect at the BMW M3 CSL or the AMG Black Series that has loads of cosmetic carbon fibre yet scarcely any weight loss…

  • avatar
    Syke

    Mark me up as another PsycoFrenchHatch luster. I’ve always been sad that Renault left the US. There’s something about their entire line that pushes a button somewhere.

  • avatar
    VerbalKint

    I like but I’d rather have a Caterham.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Renault had done it yrs ago on the R5 Turbo, it supposed to be a real rocket, back then rice rockets were not invented yet, as the pistons could not handle the excess heat. As told by my mech then as I had a 80 Civic.

  • avatar
    relton

    I’ve driven Renault Meganes before, though not this model. I can think of lots of better cars, and I even have a fondness for French cars.

    Bob

  • avatar
    marjanmm

    “The Mégane R26.R is the ultimate econobox expression, sporting credible looks with hard-edged, useable performance.”

    And the camry reviewed couple of days ago is not once called an econobox. Are the size and the amount of steel the only criterias determining an econobox? Isn’t it possible to pay additionally for something else like engineering of other features other then super sizing?

    Would you say this car is econobox (standard new megane 3 door):

    http://www.renault.co.uk/cars/model/newmeganecoupe/product.aspx

    or the camry from the previous review?

    Strange logic you got there.

    • 0 avatar

      Size is usually the only metric to measure an econobox. Price too, but size and price usually go hand in hand in mainstream automotive America. I hope that concept isn’t difficult to understand.

      And US-spec Camry references in a Megane review…seriously?

  • avatar

    And here I was hoping this would be another mid-engine conversion, with the engine crammed where the back seat used to be. Pity…

  • avatar

    Awww crap! Where’s the *video*???!

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    Great article Mr. Mehta! Keep ‘em coming. How’s about finding a Lancia Stratos?

  • avatar
    ajla

    The (optional) titanium exhaust is a wicked affair, providing unfettered access to the turbo’s prodigious “woooosh” at anything more than quarter throttle.

    I love this.

    There are a bunch of modern supercharged and turbo’d vehicles that don’t make any forced induction noise.

    I hate that.

  • avatar

    Though I can do without the alternator-ish whine of the supercharged Cobras and Lightnings. You know, just to pick nits….

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      Try one with a true twin-screw and opposed to the Eaton-working-its-way-there-but-still-a-Roots-blower.

      Twin-screws are much quieter, and what they do put out is far sweeter sounding. And still more adiabatically efficient than even the current Eatons.

    • 0 avatar

      Lysholm blowers FTW, and the dyno numbers prove it. Thank goodness the Shelby Mustangs and the Ford GT dumped the whiners.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      Roots blowers are fine for diesels, and for moving flour and such. I never used one, they were always so inefficient compared to a turbo, or a twin-screw, they were just a way to make noise and frag an engine.

      The only reason they get used in drag racing is because you can’t use a Lysholm – against the rules.

      To their credit, Eaton has morphed the Roots into a Lysohlm half-breed, and isn’t nearly as bad as it was.

    • 0 avatar
      faygo

      Ford GT and current GT500 do not have the same kind of blowers IIRC.

      there is a rather engineered resonator in the intake on the 2010+ GT500 which effectively quiets the blower noise. easy enough to remove if you want the whine back, it is sort of intoxicating in the right circumstances on the track though. it was particularly tasty on the KR when driven in anger.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Personally I’d go for the Lightning’s mega-whine over zero supercharger noise.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      @Faygo,

      You are correct, the better cars get internal compression ‘blowers’.

      The Roots only exists by virtue of the NHRA and cheapness.It’s a POS for anything but pre-loading a diesel.

  • avatar
    chaparral66

    This car mostly make me think how fast the Cobalt SS is. Only 6 seconds slower around the ring, with the cobalt having a standing start. It takes no radio, plastic windows, and semi-slick tires to beat a turbocharged cavalier? Sure the megane is the better drive, but seems a bit unnecessary to be so stripped out.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    History has proven that the French and the Italians have no business selling cars in the US. Nuff said.

  • avatar
    KrisT

    @cheezeweggie So what your saying is that French & Italian cars are fine for small nanny state European nations to buy, but not something that should be offered to the inherently superior and more discerning US market.

    Have to memo Peugeot to stop calibrating its own shocks and tell it to start over on BOF and a towing capacity obsession. That will give them a table with the big boys.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    I might agree with you that dealer support has in the past been questionable. I might also agree that 20HP aircooled rear engined vehicle might not be well suited to the majority of American roads outside of large city roads. I doubt that it would be that suitable in European cities anymore either. Maybe just the villages.

    However I do not see why a modern touring style European vehicle would not be well suited to America. Sure they still build the smallest and lowest powered vehicles which still remain best suited to the city but then we’ve gotten some of those here… Smartcar for example. They do fine around here. No, I don’t to drive one on the interstate either.

    The Europeans drive fast just like we do. Even faster in Italy and Germany. I used to drive over 100 mph for hours in Italy with a mere 90 HP under the hood of my VW Rabbit convertible (US spec even). The city traffic an be brutal in southern Italy where sometimes ANYTHING goes…

    Yeah – a modern European cars is going to do fine here. Might not be able to pull a boat with it. Might not be able to fit a whole football team in it. Might not be able to outrace a Camaro/Challenger/Charger/Mustang GT at a red light but for most of us driving around town with 1-3 people on board – a small European car would do just fine. Just like in Europe.


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