Hardcore, you know the score. And hot hatches don’t get much hotter or more hardcore than these two. And, for all intents and purposes, the RenaultSport Megane R26.R is the watermark for stripped out, race-ready shopping trolleys - one that will now probably never be topped in the dedication stakes.
Words and photography: Rowan Horncastle
See, with a set of 2020 (both time and vision) specs on, the lengths that the big-foreheaded boffs at Renault went to in order to turn a humble hatch to a Nurburgring record holder is slightly mad. It just wouldn’t be possible in today’s current economic and social climate. Actually, we know that as a fact – we’ve got the Trophy-R as evidence.
Now, you may think that the Trophy-R is pretty hardcore with those carbon wheels, carbon panels and lack of back seats but they were precedents set by RenaultSport’s first offering. The R26.R engineers were strictly told they weren’t allowed to squeeze more power or torque from the 227bhp 2.0-litre turbo, so they went down the next best route to make a car fast: lightness.
Everything that could be stripped out was. Any equipment that didn’t contribute to performance was thrown in the bin. 123kg of the stuff. That means no rear seats, no radio, no sound insulation and only one airbag. Then expensive exotic materials were used to add more lightness; plexiglass (rumoured to be eight times as expensive as glass), carbon shell bucket seats, a carbon bonnet (a segment first) and a titanium exhaust.
And, yes, technically the Trophy-R has lost more weight from its standard car (130kg), but it was a lot lardier to begin with. Look closer at the R26.R, there’s no headlamp washers or a rear window wiper - that’s the crazy diet it went on. To be honest, we’re surprised the engineers didn’t make the ECU intermittently fast fuel between track days.
It worked, though. The R26.R was arguably the harbinger for the ‘Ring king hot lap contest that currently engulfs the news cycle. But back then, things were different. Its 8:17:54 lap time was 19 seconds quicker than the previous record-holder, an Opel Astra GTC OPC. And Renault hasn’t let that crown slip – the Trophy-R is the current FWD record holder with a slightly unbelievable time of 7:40:01. Now that’s progress.
It’s still a joy to drive; a proper engaging, motorsport-like experience. The cabin is sparse and there’s a hilarious amount of metal in the back with properly skinny, hip-hugging seats and Sabelt harnesses. And even though it’s only 10 years old, it’s a completely different experience to its Trophy-R grandson, primarily because there’s been a horsepower war in that preceding time.
Where the Trophy-R has oodles of torque and is positively punchy in a straight line, the R26.R gets lost on the straights thanks to a torque vacuum, so you have to thrash the knackers off it to get to the juicy power then make it up in the corners. Which it’s fantastic at. You have to constantly stir the shorter-throw gearbox to stay in the powerband then pitch it in and let it cling onto those hilariously sticky Toyo R888 tyres. Because it’s so light, the R26.R actually has softer suspension than the standard car in which it’s based – providing a better ride and making it incredibly tripod-happy.
With all the soundproofing ripped out, you hear the suck of the induction noise and whoosh of the exhaust. It’s like putting your head in a Dyson Airblade. Then banging on the sides as you also hear all the road debris in the arches and underside. It’s an experience. One different to the Trophy-R. There you have to manage what the diff is doing a lot as it hunts for any bit of camber and tarmac to get its power down. You have to concentrate in a different way to get the most of it. Both cars are mobile at the rear, primarily as there’s nothing but some scaffolding in the back and they have monster brakes – especially the Trophy-R’s ceramics that are so powerful you feel that a hard stop will end with the Megane doing a roly-poly.
It’s as close to the definition of a ‘Modern Classic’ as they come. Thanks to the wonder of hindsight, it’s mad to think that they didn’t sell at the time when they had a sticker price of £23,815. But there was a rather cataclysmic financial crisis happening at the time, so only 159 of the allotted 230 UK cars sold with the remainder sold back into the French market with UK VINs.
But prices now are not far from what they were when the car was new in 2008. And some cars with all the Gucci bits (titanium exhaust, cage and track tyres) are listed way over that. So, considering a new Trophy-R with all the performance trimmings to give you that incredible Nurburgring lap time is £72k, the old boy looks like an absolute bargain.