Car reviews - Renault - Megane - Renaultsport F1 Team R26
Fantastic brakes, potent engine, good interior space, exclusivity
Room for improvement
Rock-hard ride, plain interior, naff F1 sticker kit, price is on the high-side
30 Nov 2007
WHEN you think of hot hatches, the Volkswagen Golf GTI naturally comes to mind, as does the Ford Focus XR5, the wildly styled Honda Civic Type R, the sizzling Mazda3 MPS and even the Holden Astra SRi, but it is easy to forget the RenaultSport Megane.
Given the slow sales of Renault in Australia, it is easy to see why, but no-one is likely to miss the R26 in its signature colour, which Renault refers to as Victory Yellow.
Also bound to attract attention are the numerous Renaultsport and F1 stickers on various parts of the exterior and the checkered pattern of white, black and grey squares on the roof.
You can also choose the car in a less-flambouyant (and cheaper) black, but either way you won’t miss the bright red Brembo brake calipers that can be seen through the alloy wheel spokes.
Regardless of how hard the four-pot calipers latch onto the discs, many owners will simply be happy to know how cool the brakes look.
The real technology that sets the R26 Renault apart from the hot hatch pack is not visible from the outside. It is a limited slip differential (LSD).
Racers and owners of serious sportscars know the benefits of LSD, which senses when a wheel slips and sends more power to the other wheel.
There are few modern front-drive road cars that use an LSD - most use a traction control system instead - but any serious front-drive rally car has one fitted.
There are pros and cons to both systems, but the traction control simply reduces the power going to the wheel that slips (or applies that wheel’s brake) rather than improving the traction by sending more torque across the axle.
The main reason carmakers steer clear of LSD systems is that they cost more.
None of the other hot hatches mentioned have an LSD, so that’s a big tick for the R26.
Our test was restricted to on-road use, but there is no doubt the Megane R26 would shine on the track, where the LSD would help it accelerate hard through the twisty sections.
Even on the road at legal speeds, you can feel the LSD helping feed the power to the ground. You can feel a little tugging through the wheel as the front end sorts itself out.
This is an extremely competent car though any corners as the suspension appears to have been tuned for track work. It delivers wonderful body control on good surfaces and there feels like there is no body roll at all when cornering.
The direct-feel and accuracy of the steering would be an absolute treat on the race track and completes a nice handling package.
Unfortunately, most of us have to do our driving on real roads, some of which are far from perfect.
Although Renault says the R26 has been fitted with damping rates that allow a reasonable amount of travel, it is still a kidney rattler, so anyone thinking of buying one should take a test car for a run over some roads they plan to use.
It is so firm that you - or more likely your partner - will not want to be in it when negotiating bumpy city streets or less-than-perfect country roads.
The brakes, however, are simply brilliant. A relatively light car with four-pot Brembos is always going to be a star.
It is great to have such potent brakes as they are usually reserved for more expensive and faster machines, and the more braking power the better, but the environment that you would really notice the benefit is – you guessed it – the race track.
Fit a roll cage and this would be a rather effective circuit star.
It is a bit of a shame that the R26 engine only delivers an extra 3kW of power over the standard Renaultsport 225, but it still has an impressive total of 168kW and is well up to the task.
Thanks to the turbo, this engine is very torquey, punching out 90 per cent of its 310Nm peak from just 2000rpm all the way the way through to 6000rpm.
It works hard, but is not all that loud. Sure, there is a hint of sportiness, but this is still a relatively subtle exhaust when compared to the banshee-like howl of the Type R Civic or the lumpy growl of the Focus XR5.
You can hear a high-pitched whirr of the turbo spinning as the tacho kicks up past the 2000rpm mark, which might appeal to some people, but others would prefer a greater aural impact.
The gearbox is relatively crisp and works well. The gearing is sensible and the R26 Megane sits at 2200rpm at 100km/h, which makes cruising quiet and comfortable.
Long country runs are also bearable thanks to the standard cruise control. Of course, you would expect any car in this price range to come standard with cruise control, and most are, but remember the demerit-point saving feature is missing from the Focus XR5.
The seats are quite comfortable and supportive, but unfortunately they are regular sporty cloth seats as opposed to the trick leather wrap-around Recaros that are fitted to European R26 models.
Renault told GoAuto that having those seats approved for Australian use would have required fresh crash tests and was therefore prohibitive.
Those seats would have lifted the interior, which is otherwise not really what you would expect from a high-performance model costing around $45,000.
When spending that type of cash, most customers want some snazzy instruments, maybe a flash sound system and some leather or alcantara trim, but none of that is present in the rather plain R26 Megane interior, which runs the same standard sound system found in so many other Renaults.
The steering wheel is sporty and has a red strip at the top-centre of the wheel, just like a rally car, which is a nice touch.
There is good headroom in the front and rear and the rear seats can be folded flat, which opens up enough cargo space to take a mountain bike.
The Megane R26 has the mechanical prowess to be a track star and would be a delight on a tight and twisting road. Unfortunately, the flip-side is that it is quite hard to live with day to day.
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