Car: Renault Megane R26.R
Owned since: August 2015
Previously owned: Toyota MR2, Lotus Esprit GT3, BMW M3 (E46), Audi RS4 (B7), Ferrari F430, Porsche 911 GT3 (997.1)
Why I bought it:
"Question: Which car came fifth in Evo's 2009 100 Greatest Drivers' Cars? Answer: The Megane R26.R. I recall that one reviewer observed that the R26.R is the car that the weekend GT3 RS driver should buy with "loose change" and then drive it around during the week. And let's not forget the R26.R, for a time at least, was the fastest production front-wheel drive car round the revered Nordschleife (evidenced by a logo quoting its time in the rear-quarter driver's window). So the reputation of the R26.R very much preceded it when I was perusing the PH classifieds during the summer of 2015 and by chance came across a pristine 10,000-mile example (from Dove House Motors) at sensible money.
"I also have an antipathy towards depreciation so the fact the R26.R was originally set to be limited to 230 UK examples was an important consideration. However, data from last year suggests that were only a meagre 53 examples either taxed or declared off-road; its place in the rarity charts appears to be assured.
"By adding the R26.R to my collection, I hoped to spread my total annual mileage (which stays surprisingly constant) between more cars and give the more mileage sensitive supercar candy longer breaks from the stresses and strains of the public road!"
What I wish I'd known:
"I love the styling of the R26.R: red wheels, race decals, carbon fibre bonnet, carbon fibre seats shod with blood red Sabelt harnesses and polycarbonate windows (passenger and rear). However, if I am honest, I initially felt a bit self-conscious, like a person in jeans at a black-tie event, once I was out and about in it! At these moments I have to remind myself that astonishingly it rolled out of the Renault factory in Dieppe (to be precise, as number '75 of 230', as evidenced by a plaque inside the car) with this specification: this is not my after-market aberration!
"The harness can be a little irritating particularly at petrol stations when it can take a bit longer to get yourself sorted before you can vacate the pump. Like an OCD you soon learn to take the time to lovingly lay the harnesses out and over the seats before you get back into the seat.
"In stripped out race-car style, there is no stereo. Now, some may say this simply creates a purity of connection between car and driver. I say that on long journeys it simply creates boredom! The engine note is not particularly sonorous particularly if you do not have the luxury of the titanium exhaust (a £2k plus factory option). However, every turbocharged lunge is accompanied by a sound that is utterly unique; like the sound of the Starship Enterprise engaging warp drive but travelling under water rather than in the vacuum of space (I know, technically longitudinal sound waves cannot travel in a vacuum)!
"To save weight the rear seats have been removed, but this also frees up lots of rear-storage space; you will be surprised how much flat-pack paraphernalia can disappear inside it, notwithstanding the bold red rear-strut brace. Trying doing that in a Lotus!
"It is important to look out for wear particularly on the gearknob (part no longer available), the side bolsters of the carbon seats and chips on the carbon fibre bonnet (expensive to replace). Fortunately my example was fine and I promptly protected the bonnet with paint-protection film."
Things I love:
"There is much to love about the R26.R. It is a very rare at this price point you can buy a car with both your head and your heart. A car that is practically depreciation proof, with very modest upkeep costs, but which totally engages and immerses you in the basic joy of driving. Mine also came with the lovely 'presentation pack' including a complimentary one-lap ticket so you can recreate the record-breaking lap at the Nordschleife!
"I love the simplicity of the R26.R. This is a back-to-basics car: light weight (1,200kg) and powerful (230hp in standard guise). My R26.R has a K-Tec tune to about 270hp and the corresponding power-to-weight ratio is comparable to my departed E46 M3. This translates on the road to a car that feels very quick. On paper, the important performance statistics do not bear comparison to modern-day hot hatches although a front-wheel drive car invariably has a relatively poor 0-60 mph time. By way of example, after a spirited drive in the Performante, I drove my other performance cars and there was only one that still felt quick - and yes, that was the R26.R. Perhaps, no matter how many times you drive it, you don't quite ever get your head around the fact that this diminutive old-timer Megane can feel so damn quick.
"The performance is also accessible on public roads and it is not a car that you need to keep reaching for three figures (where permissible) to get that elusive hit of adrenaline. The power feels like it comes in big surges in each gear. Being a turbo, the torque feels like it is delivered earlier in the rev range and you don't have to brutally chase the rev limiter like I am conditioned to do in the naturally-aspirated Ferrari 360 and Lambos. The sound in the car is pretty distinctive as the turbo kicks in. And yes, there is a scintilla of turbo lag but I think that this just adds to the drama of the whole experience. Throw in the fact that there is surprisingly little torque steer, a sweet gear change (with a light clutch), confidence-inspiring brakes (Ferodo replacing the standard Brembo brake pads) and steering which is well-weighted, you have the recipe for one of the very best hot hatches. The car is compact and agile, inspiring confidence to carry speed, particularly on tighter roads. I have no doubt that on a narrow, greasy B-road, piloted by similarly skilled drivers, the R26.R would not be far behind one of my supercars.
"If cars were judged based on the performance/enjoyment delivered measured by reference to their purchase cost, the R26.R would win hands down! For example, the R26.R delivers about 75 per cent of the thrills of my Porsche GT4 on the road but the R26.R is only 25 per cent of the cost of the GT4. Perhaps this is the law of diminishing returns?"
Things I hate:
"I dislike the 'throttle-style' handbrake. It is an awful piece of plastic design and sounds horrible when you engage and disengage it.
"I have previously mentioned a few niggles but for me the suspension is sometimes a little too firm (although apparently much better than the R26) so that at slower speeds the rear (using torsion beam suspension) can feel like it skips over nasty bumps. When you are 'on it' the ride improves dramatically and it has very good body control. Perhaps I am judging it a little too harshly against the likes of Stuttgart's finest."
"This is where the R26.R builds an irresistible case for inclusion. The service costs are the same as any other vintage Megane Mk2. The last service at Renault Romford cost £155 (inclusive of VAT) - now that is cheap! Even timing belt changes are relatively cheap (using K-Tec) and due every five years. Road tax is £270 for the entire year. Insurance is relatively cheap and no need for a tracker (which saves nearly £300 per year). It returns on average about 20 mpg. For someone who is used to the sadomasochistic costs of super-car ownership, these figures are a welcome relief.
"The car is nearly 10 years old and has been completely and utterly, 100 per cent reliable. The interior is a bit plasticky but it is well constructed and has worn very well indeed. The only consumables have been the two front tyres that I changed at modest expense. I do love the simplicity of the car; no obvious electronic gizmos to go wrong. The R26.R even has manually adjustable wing mirrors! In contrast, my £250k Performante has a rear-view camera feature that has been recently afflicted by electronic gremlins which issue a typically Italian message: "Rear View Camera Currently Unavailable... please try later". But I want to reverse now please!
"So far prices have remained rather static than increase significantly. At the very least, I expect to get my money back (no mean feat in the car market) when I eventually decide to sell particularly as I do not clock up too many miles - lovely!"
Where I've been:
"I have attended a day of car control at a disused airfield. The R26.R was tremendous fun on a short-coned section that the instructor had created. It darted round the course with the boundless enthusiasm of a small dog going around the agility course at Crufts! Incredibly, it was only fractionally slower than my friend's Porsche 991.2 Turbo S (admittedly, he had a lot more to lose!). I have a trip to Europe planned and one at the 'open' event at the Porsche Experience Centre but sadly the hypothetical end-of-term report currently reads: "R26.R - B+ must try harder and do more track days."
"I was rather enthused by the new Transformer-inspired Honda Civic Type R at the Geneva motor show. It has received stellar reviews. Not sure of the styling but then again what do I know? I own a R26.R!"