Renaultsport Megane R26.R

French flier aims to strike a blow for the hot hatch market.

There’s no denying the Renaultsport Mégane R26.R has its work cut out in this company. Not only is it front-wheel drive – giving it the least traction of our contenders – but it also has the lowest power output. The one saving grace is that it has the cheapest price…

Even though it’s based on the previous-generation Mégane, the R26.R has proved itself to be one of the most capable hot hatches of all-time. And this is largely down to the fact that Renault engineers put it on an intensive diet.

Externally, the most obvious signs of weight loss are the carbon fibre bonnet and plastic rear windows. Look closer, and you’ll see the headlamp washers and tailgate wiper have been removed. There is even a titanium exhaust option.

Inside, the rear bench and stereo have been ditched, while driver and passenger get carbon fibre racing seats.

Once on the move, the increased engine, road and wind noise highlight the fact that heavy soundproofing has been removed. Hopefully, you’ll never need to discover that the passenger and curtain airbags have been taken out, too!

The result of all this stripping down is a kerbweight of 1,230kg – incredibly, that’s 123kg less than the standard R26.

A limited slip differential increases traction, as do our test car’s sticky optional semi-slick tyres. There’s also a short-throw gearshift linkage for faster ratio changes. On paper, the Renault’s 227bhp 2.0-litre turbo looks a little weedy here – the Audi RS6 serves up another 353bhp, while even the electric Tesla can muster 248bhp.

And after the explosive acceleration of the Porsche and Audi, the Mégane does feel sedate. The combination of the clever diff and grippy rubber helps launch the Renault smoothly off the line, while the four-cylinder engine is progressive and fuss-free in its power delivery.

The only real drama is provided by the distinctive induction whoosh from under the bonnet as you press the throttle, together with the clatter of stones firing into the unprotected wheelarches.

However, one look at the laptop at the end of our run revealed the Renault to be deceptively fast. It blasted from a standstill to 60mph in 5.9 seconds. In-gear acceleration was even more impressive, with the sprint from 30-50mph taking 2.8 seconds.

Yet agility is the R26.R’s party trick. Thanks to its low kerbweight, firm suspension and racing rubber, it carries incredible speed into corners, leaving more powerful models trailing.

It’s not the quickest car in a straight line, but the Mégane does a fine job of upholding front-wheel-drive honour. Factor in its bargain £23,314 price, and it’s sure to satisfy any track day fan.

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