Think Sloth from the Goonies mental. Shackled at the ankles and waist, every so often this beast of a Frenchman is fed one of the firm’s production cars to ‘play’ with.
Sloth, or as he’s known in France, ‘Monsieur Sleuth’, takes out his pent-up frustration by ripping everything sensible out of the car.
He tosses away those ‘useless’ rear seats, the stereo that makes him go all hands-over-the-ears-shaky-head weird is clawed out with his fingernails along with the ‘pointless’ sound deadening.
Finished tearing the poor abused hatchback apart, he turns his attention to his scaffold-pipe jungle gym and inserts it in places the Megane really shouldn’t have things inserted.
All those working on the next Clio upstairs hear is the occasional scream of ‘structural rigidity’, echoing from the basement. Ripping the top off his paint and crayon set, Sleuth then gets to work colouring the wheels a ‘mad’ orange, before getting bored and sleeping off his attempts at car design in the corner.
I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how this R26.R came about. There is, quite frankly, no sensible explanation for it. It’s either Monsieur Sleuth or the sign off process was handed to a 17-year-old work experience boy by mistake. Yes, the French have been known to produce some pretty mad machines, but this really is something else. It’s got plastic windows from the B-pillar back for crying out loud!
That’s not to say I don’t like it. Quite the contrary. This is a car that in fact ticks a large number of boxes on my must-have list.
Complete disregard for comfort? Check. Engine madder than the bloke that made it? Check. Grip levels that Bostik would be proud of? Again, check.
It took a little while to get used to, mind. We had the pleasure of the R26.R’s company for a week before we were due to rendevous with the RS. And for much of that time it sat on my drive.
And that racing harness? Superb at holding you in when you’re pulling 3G in bends, but it’s like strapping George Doors into a man-sized baby seat at all other times which isn’t practical. It hasn’t even got a stereo!
But all that’s forgotten the minute you hit a twisty road. En route to the Ford launch I’m well and truly installed into the Megane with Dunc following in the Subaru.
With its practically slick tyres suitably warmed, we up the pace on a sinewy stretch of B-road that threads itself north through Hampshire. It’s a road we both know well – the scene of many a road test – and this Megane is a delight.
The 230bhp turbocharged engine is giving away some 73bhp to the four-wheel drive Scooby, yet it’s not only holding it off but leaving it trailing. Fully wound up this lightweight racer is a potent force on a dry, twisty road. With most of the sound deadening ripped out, you can hear every whine, every intake of breath as it charges forward. It’s totally intoxicating.
The diet this car’s been on would put Fern Britton to shame. Rear seats, belts, passenger airbag, climate control, fog lamps, headlamp washers, CD player and soundproofing have all ended up in the recycling bin (thanks to Mnsr Sleuth, no doubt).
A carbon fibre bonnet saves 7.5kg, those plastic windows a further 5.7kg and the carbonfibre Sabelt seats a whopping 25kg. This weight loss programme sheds an incredible 123kg over the Megane R26. And it’s this low kerb weight that’s the reason why I’m edging out car lengths on the Subaru behind. You only have to look at the performance stats to see what a remarkable
machine this is.
Despite a huge power deficit it still registers a 60mph dash exactly the same as the mighty Focus. But it’s the grip this thing generates coupled with class-leading driver involvement that make it so utterly superb.
I applaud Renault for producing this car. Only 230 of the 450 production run will be coming to the UK and it’s a machine aimed squarely at the performance, track day enthusiast. Yes, if you’re dedicated, it could be used on a daily basis, but really this is a car that’s going to be bought alongside something far more comfortable and practical.
No-one really uses a Caterham or Porsche GT3 on a daily basis do they? And the R26.R is easily as uncompromising – but as exciting – as both of those cars. And that’s why we love it.
by James Baggott
I SELL THEM
I’VE got two on order and know they will become collectors’ items. They’re for the kind of customer who’d go out and spend £22k on a 54-plate Lotus Exige but fancies something a bit different – and newer.
The credit crunch means not everyone can afford a Porsche GT3 RS and the R26.R is really in the same vein. I’ve specialised in Renaultsport models and know a classic when I see one. Renault said they’d get 230 brought to the UK but I’ve heard they won’t make that many – it’ll be more like 120 I think.
You’ve got to have the titanium exhaust though – at £2,250 it’s either that or a Tag Heure Monaco, and I know which I’d rather have…
Steve Coulter, All Vehicles, West Sussex
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