For years, Renault has been building cars that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The Megane Sport R26 F1 Team continues that tradition and is, quite simply, one of the best. From its retina searing hue to its Kim Kardashian rear end, every part of this machine screams sports car. The sticky 235 tyres, wrapped around 18 inch alloy wheels ensure you can make the most of the 230bhp, while the four-pot Brembos pull you up on a dime. That's pretty helpful when you can do 0-100 in just 6.2 seconds. Mated to the 2.0l turbo motor is a slick six-speed manual gearbox which transfers all the power to the road through a limited slip differential. The way this hot hatch performs is nothing short of epic. The gear change is ultra direct and is paired brilliantly with the perfectly weighted steering. The switchable ESP manages to handle the monster 310Nm of torque with ease and allows you to extract its full potential on the straights. Despite these driver aids, when under full throttle in corners, the pull on the steering wheel can be enough to tear it from your hands.
Unfortunately, the interior appearance doesn't reflect the same striking design as the exterior. It looks a bit plain. The sports seats hold you securely through the turns and the straight-ahead stitching on the wheel is a nice touch. In the R26 edition, a numbered plaque on the centre console is a constant reminder that you're in something special. Cruise control, climate control and a CD player come as standard, however modern conveniences such as Bluetooth and electric seats are sorely missed. The interior is littered with handy cubbyholes and the boot, as the standard test goes, is big enough for a set of golf clubs. Rear seat room is surprisingly good with the headroom maximised by the relatively flat roofline. There are some unique aspects to the interior as well, such as the handbrake that looks like it's been pulled straight from a commercial jet and audio controls on a stalk behind the wheel.
Some other things could have been done better. The number of interior rattles this car produces is unbelievable. It's something I have never experienced. Although the ride is generally fairly forgiving, on long trips it's harsh enough to give you a sore back and the hard compound brakes squeal like a newborn pig. It would have been nice to see the design cues employed on the exterior brought through to inside and, although unique, that Sir Mix-a-Lot bum on the back will catch literally every speck of road grime it sees. Once you get over the fact that you'll be called ‘Frenchy' by Golf drivers and you put your foot down, though, you forget all the issues, because this car moves. You can feel the LSD working, dragging the front wheels through bends while the ESP tries to maintain traction, the traction light flashing, as if on life support. The turbo takes an almighty gulp of air under load while the exhaust pops and snorts more than the Wolf of Wall Street. It is an aural masterpiece.
These days you can pick up a Renault Megane Sport with 100-150,000 km for around $10,000 but if you're looking for the R26 special edition, you'll spend $13-$20,000. Extra features in the R26 include, but are not limited to, more powerful motor, bigger brakes and stiffened steering and with just 100 examples on Australian roads you may never see another one the same. Services are scheduled for every 6 months or 10,000km, and because it's a bit unusual, be prepared to spend a little more cash than some German rivals. Combined fuel consumption generally sits at around the 10L/100km in a car driven spiritedly. Potential rivals include the VW Golf Gti and Mini Cooper S but from its looks to its performance, the R26 represents great value and certainly gives most hatches of the era a good run for their money. All up it's a stunning package, teeming with French character, wrapped in a bright yellow box.