Alpine's vision for the French hot hatch's future looks good – the past still ain't so bad, either
By Matt Bird / Sunday, 14 May 2023 / Loading comments
It’s fair to say that Alpine’s A290 hot hatch has been received well, its combination of muscular good looks and innovative tech – plus the involvement of the team we used to call Renault Sport – promising a great deal. If anybody can make the small, electric car fun, it’s got to be the French. The powertrain might be drastically different now, but there’s simply too much heritage, too much goodwill, and too many brilliant cars for the segment to be hollowed out. Renault knows what brand building a great hot hatch can do perhaps more than anybody else.
While the A290 previews a smaller model, something more Clio-sized (and looking very much like an R5), the Renault Sport magic touch made icons of almost everything it touched. Here’s a Megane for proof; it’s now off sale in the UK, the final one having never quite fulfilled its potential, and the original R.S. didn’t launch to a wonderful reception almost 20 years ago either. But in that sweet spot between about 2006 and 2016, the Renault Sport was the C-segment hot hatch benchmark.
It’s hard to imagine the big-bottomed Megane being anything but fantastic, yet early 225s really weren’t at the races. (Incidentally, they’re now very cheap to buy.) Seemingly aware of a dropped ball, Renault Sport introduced the Trophy model just nine months after launch, followed by a Cup chassis option as well, both immediately hailed as steps in the right direction. Renault eventually made the Megane so good that it even worked well with a diesel engine. It was in 2006 that the Megane really began to establish itself as a contender against cars like the Golf GTI and Focus ST, with the introduction of the R26.
Created to celebrate Fernando Alonso’s back-to-back F1 championships (whatever happened to him etc), the Renault Megane Renaultsport 230 F1 Team R26 tweaked the suspension over the Cup with new dampers, stiffer springs and anti-roll bars and changes to the bump stops; there was another 5hp, too. Most crucially, however, the R26 got the front limited-slip differential denied to all previous Meganes and a vital bit of equipment for the model’s future success. No great Meganes after this one would go without a locking front diff. The experience was noticeably better, with traction and precision for the pointy end now where they should be for a 150mph hot hatch. The R26 was the Megane as it should’ve been from the start. And, if you listen to some people, how it always should have stayed.
More than a decade and a half later, finding a good R26 presents the same problems as seeking out one of the older heroes. They would have been less vulnerable to scrappage schemes as newer vehicles then, but cars that encourage (and reward) hard driving inevitably fall by the wayside at a faster rate; related to which, cars that respond so well to modifying become harder to find in standard guise. It’s a bind we’ve all been stuck in trying to find Peugeots, Citroens and Renaults of a certain age.
This R26 looks a real treat, then, in the lesser-seen red and apparently unmodified. Those of a certain age will be surprised to see an advert suggest a Megane 230 is investor spec already, but time really does move that quick – and these certainly were that good. There can’t be many remaining in this condition. As always with these F4R-engined Renaults, it’ll be worth checking when the cambelt was last done, and factor that into an offer on the £9,495 asking price. Otherwise, get comfy in those Recaros and enjoy. If the French hot hatch’s future turns out as good as its recent past, there will be nothing to worry about at all.
SPECIFICATION | RENAULTSPORT MEGANE F1 TEAM R26
Engine: 1,998cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive, LSD
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],000rpm
First registered: 2008
Recorded mileage: 72,000
Price new: £19,860
Yours for: £9,495
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