When Renault first lobbed the Megane 225 into our laps in ’04, it was obvious the idea had potential.
This feature was first published in MOTOR Magazine's August 2008 issue.
True, the car was flawed in some reasonably major ways, but if this was the future of turbo engines, bring it on, we argued. The view at the time was the chassis needed a little taming for less torque-steer and better power-down. If Renault could do this, it would have had itself a proper tool.
Somebody was listening, it seems, because by the time August last year rolled around, Renault had the best Megane ever ready for us. Its full name is the slightly bizarre Renaultsport Megane 230 F1 Team R26, but it soon became known as the R26 among the faithful and those who, after just one drive, were about to become the faithful.
You still scored the perky styling that not everybody appreciates, but which we reckon suits the car’s extroverted nature just perfectly. Even better, you still scored the rumpy-pumpy little 2.0-litre with snail which blurted out 168kW of power and a blistering 310Nm.
There was still no auto option (surprise, surprise), but the six-speed manual has a brilliant shift and enough ratios to keep the engine simmering in what is already a very wide torque zone. But what really turned 2006’s Megane F1 from promising to a genuine PCOTY contender was its tricky limited-slip diff.
Suddenly, the thing would accelerate in a dead straight line and paste its kilowatts down hard as you exited corners. Hell, it was even composed on a racetrack and refused to degenerate into the sliding, dribbling shuffler that characterises a good many big-punch tail-draggers.
As a road car, the R26 was still set up pretty firmly, but you could forgive it that because it was just so much blooming fun. It managed to pull off that rare quinella, too; tonnes of front-end grip, turn-in, plus a talkative tiller that encouraged you to go harder.
Some of the detail stuff was a bit lame – the credit card that passed for the ignition key, for instance – but other bits, like the little line of red stitching on the steering wheel indicating where the tyres were pointing, was lovely.
The R26 was nominally available only in black but Nissan (erm... Renault Oz) would also sell you one in a fetching metallic yellow for an extra thousand clams, which sounds like a bit of a liberty to us. And you also had to peel off the daft Post-It-Note graphics yourself.
Renault initially only shipped 80 of the little blighters to these shores, and they were snapped up like mouse traps. Last month they grabbed another 20, but that’s it! If you ever needed proof that you don’t need the weight or complexity of all-wheel drive, the R26 was it.
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MEGANE GETS R’d
The brilliant R26 gets stripped and sharpened for the current platform’s swansong. To be unveiled at the London Motor Show in late July, the R26R scores a roll cage and drops 125kg (to 1235kg) thanks to a carbonfibre bonnet and seats, and a titanium exhaust. Painted in sinister black, its red 18-inch rims are shod with semi-slicks. Only available as a track car, the R is unlikely to make it to Oz.
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RenaultSport was created as the French company’s official motorsport division. Its first project was the RS01 F1 car that debuted at Silvertsone in 1977 with – for the first time in a GP – a turbo engine. The 1.5-litre turbo V6 bombed in four of its first five races, and didn’t score points until Watkins Glen in October ’78, but broke through when it scored pole and victory, patriotically, at the 1979 French GP. Ferrari quickly jumped on the turbo bandwagon, igniting F1’s force-fed feud in the 1980s.
The key to planting the R26’s 168kW to its treads is a torque-sensing LSD. It works by creating torque bias as a result of friction caused during the helical gears’ separation. The bias resists ‘differentiation’ – allowing a smooth, even power delivery, turning the Megane F1 from bloody good to brilliant.