A week ago we discovered that the Renault Sport Megane Trophy has improved on the bar set by the standard 280 model. It's slightly quicker and slightly sharper than its lower-powered sibling, and therefore worthy of both its badge and the premium charged for it. But is it as incisive as the previous generation Trophy? Even with four-wheel steer and all the latest party tricks? Prior wasn't entirely convinced, which suggests the Renault Sport experience - so often defined by the quick Megane - is still less vivid that it once appeared.
We can thank the R26.R for that. As the brand's first go at turning its Focus rival into a 911 GT3-esque track warrior, the R26.R set the bar so high that each successive hot Megane has been presented with the daunting task of living up to its mechanical benchmark. Arguably none has done it quite like the original. Even the last equivalent model, the entirely excellent 275 Trophy-R, was somewhat hindered by its stronger (and therefore heavier) shell and the use of glass back windows, as per modern safety regulations.
The R26.R, then, is already well established among the ranks of modern classics. Its formula, of course, is now so well set in stone it virtually ranks as commandments. Without a radio, rear seats, sound-deadening, air con and anything else deemed weighty and non-essential to the pleasure of driving (even the passenger airbag was removed!), the hottest Meg was a substantial 123kg lighter than the standard Renault Sport model. And you really could feel it. 230hp from a turbocharged 2.0-litre is nothing special today (it's only 30hp clear of our fleet Fiesta ST's 1.5), but in a 1,252kg car, it's enough to ensure genuinely rapid progress.
But the R26.R was at its most invigorating through the bends. Thanks to that weight saving the car's spring rates were actually wound back by 10 per cent, but it got far more advanced dampers to create something that rode rather nicely but had body control more comparable to a class of cars two or three leagues above its pay grade. Coupled with optional Toyo Proxes R888s and a bit of Dieppe geometry magic, it meant the R26.R's chassis could be hustled around corners with delightful precision and predictability, but in a way which didn't limit its adjustability or entertainment value. The car worked for you, rather than you toiling for it.
It's an icon of driving, alright, and prices today - in a swollen market - reflect that. With only 230 examples of a global 450-car run headed to Britain, its values were never likely to plummet, although they still make eye-watering viewing for anyone who remembers how much trouble Renault had shifting the car back in the bad old days of 2008. Today's Spotted brings the sense of retrospect into sharp focus as it claims to be among the former press cars. Clearly no-one is holding that against it - especially as 002 has remained entirely original and only racked up 22,000 in three owners. The last one even had it dry stored as part of a collection, which is something you may want to consider when weighing up the £31,990 asking price.
SPECIFICATIONS - RENAULT MEGANE RS R26.R
Engine: 1,998cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Torque(lb ft): 229@3,000rpm
MPG: 33.2 (NEDC combined)
First registered: 2008
Recorded mileage: 22,000
Price new: £22,990
Yours for: £31,990