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Elvis Festival
2008 Elvis Festival

Road Test

Renault Megane Renaultsport F1 Team R26

by Ian Barrett

29th May, 2008

Renault re-established itself in Australia back in 2001, following an absence of many years. However, with a steady, but unremarkable, sales rate they presently linger in the market place whilst they plan the arrival of numerous new products. But one vehicle which really projects its presence is the special commemorative edition of their Megane RenaultSport 225 3-door hatch, dubbed the F1 Team R26. Built to commemorate Renault's victory in the 2006 Formula 1 World Championship, this car is the most comprehensively specified Mégane available, from both a technical and equipment perspective. The Next Car team were very fortunate to spend a week, behind the wheel of one of the original 80 cars imported towards the end of 2007. Not just because it was a truly great drive, but because these super hot-hatches sold like hot cakes! So quickly were they gone that Renault recently announced the arrival of an additional 20 units to satisfy demand.

Renault Megane Renaultsport F1 Team R26 

Location: Tea Gardens, NSW 

Click on the image for a larger view

The original 80 cars were available in either pearl black or victory yellow ($1,000 extra for yellow), highlighted with chequered flag decals on roof, and front and rear bumpers. This latest batch are only available in the yellow, once again due to customer demand. We probably don't need to tell you that the look of the regular Megane hatch divides opinion, with it's unusual notched rear end styling. But the sports versions, with their big alloy wheels and lower, much more aggressive look, are far easier on the eye. The deeper, more 'macho' front and rear bumpers, the large frontal air intakes to keep things cool, and the revised front styling, with headlights and grille now nicely integrated into the same 'line', really lift the appearance. We gave the 'delivery van' look the thumbs-down initially, but by week's end we'd grown to enjoy it, particularly this 3-door version. It just suits the R26's image so well.

Step inside the cockpit and you'll find the performance look continues. The deep, supportive sports seats, thick-rimmed leather wheel (adjustable for both height and reach, naturally), drilled alloy pedals and distinctively modern instrument binnacle all convey a sporting image. Some taller drivers may find the seating position a little high. Rear passengers are also treated to very comfy and supportive contoured sports seating. Head and leg room in the rear are adequate for two average adults. And we did find the aero-style handbrake ergonomically challenging.

Another unusual feature common to all Meganes is the electronic 'credit card' style key which combines with a Starter button. Slot the card into position and simply follow the visual instructions: 'Apply brakes', then press 'Start'. A nice 21st-century touch. We liked the button (which is pressed again to stop the engine), but would prefer a 'proximity key' which can simply remain in your pocket. The card's markings were also very hard to read when fumbling for the 'unlock' button at night.

The Megane certainly stands out from the crowd. And not just for its looks. The new R26 was designed by the engineers at Renaultsport to be the most potent and exciting Mégane yet. With increased power, unique suspension settings and a limited-slip differential, we can tell you that Renault fans lucky enough to grab one won't be disappointed! Let's take a look under the bonnet. The 2-litre, 16-valve DOHC engine with VVT and intercooled turbo induction puts out an impressive 168 kW at a relatively low 5,500 rpm, but will happily spin out to its 6,900 rpm red-line. But it's the diesel-like torque figure of 310 Nm @ 3,000 rpm which lends it such urgency when the right foot is planted. And with 90% of this torque available from just 2,000 rpm, here is a car which is also remarkably tractable and easy to drive in peak-hour traffic. But what a great waste that would be! (To drive in peak hour traffic!)

All this horsepower gets to the front wheels via a slick 6-speed manual transmission and a new limited-slip differential. The result: performance plus - if you don't mind a bit of torque-steer! Although the Next Car team are too genteel to explore the numbers ourselves, how about a quoted 0-100 time of 6.3 seconds on the way to a top speed of 236 km/h! And a quoted combined cycle fuel figure of 8.8 litres/100 kms - which we bettered. Yet the R26 has so much more than mere numbers on offer.

The suspension is a development of the revised "Cup" chassis from the '225', with struts and L-shaped lower arms, independent steering axis and stabiliser bar up front, while at the rear is a H-style arrangement with stabiliser bar. The big beautiful 8.0Jx18" BeBop alloy wheels are shod with fat, sticky 235/40x18 Michelins and together with an ESP system incorporating "understeer control", results in what is amongst the best front-wheel-drivers we've come across. With handling to more than match other rival hot hatches, fantastic turn-in response and minimal understeer, this is a car which just can't be unstuck (within reason). Combined with a firm but controlled ride, which still manages to soak up most of Sydney's road irregularities, together with loads of steering feedback, this car reminded us of Mitsubishi's Lancer EVO.

With all this sense of urgency, there'd better be decent stopping power on hand. There is: massive 312 mm drilled and ventilated discs up front and 300 mm drilled solid discs at the rear, all with big red Brembo calipers and the requisite ABS with EBD, will bring you back to Earth mighty quickly. All Meganes come with a 5-star rating for collision protection from Euro-NCAP. Secondary safety features include front, side and curtain airbags, programmed restraint system, honeycomb padding, as well as the usual side intrusion bars, in the doors.

Renault Megane Renaultsport F1 Team R26 

Location: Tea Gardens, NSW 
Click on the image for a larger view

Renault offers comprehensive equipment levels even in their entry-level cars, so this top-level Megane certainly won't disappoint - unless you're wanting full leather trim, which is not listed as an option. But there is a numbered Renault F1 Team commemorative plaque! The standard audio system has good quality sound, but only a single CD rather than a 6-stacker and you'll need to consult your owners handbook to figure out the controls! Otherwise, the R26 boasts such desirables as climate control air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, automatic headlights with 'see me home' function, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and trip computer. Height and recline adjustable front head restraints are a nice touch. And you'll never run out of storage nooks. Apart from the usual ones, there are generous footwell and door armrest bins ..... now where did I put that camera?!

At $43,990 plus on-road costs, the black Renault Megane R26 is not the cheapest of the hot hatches, but for sheer motoring bliss it's hard to beat. By the time we'd spent a week (covering some 1,076 kms) with the R26 we were thoroughly infatuated! Just like a good woman (or a man - for the lady readers), real beauty is the sum of many parts - far more than mere looks! This car is just so enjoyable to spend time with and its overall character and personality-plus definitely outweighed the funny rear-end.

Click on an image for a larger view

Other Renault content: here.

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