- Max Speed
This review was first published in Issue 185 of Top Gear magazine (2008)
This is hardcore. Around me is a lattice-work of roll cage, and I’m clamped tight into my deep bucket seat by a race harness. If I wiggle hard enough, the whole car rocks – it’s that light. I strain against the straps, reach out and prod the start button. The R26.R thrums into life.
It’s an important letter, ‘R’. That little suffix turns the standard R26 (already a scorching hatch) into a pared-down, more intense version of itself. Essentially, it’s the same car – same engine, same chassis, same differential. But Renault has thrown out any unnecessary bits and pieces, like the rear seats, the radio and other electrical things. Also gone is the passenger airbag (that’ll please your partner), as well as ‘most of the soundproofing’. Earplugs ready, then.
Overall, it’s lost 123kg, or 19 stone – the exact equivalent of a darts player. So, unless you’ve got Bobby George along for a ride, it’s quicker too. And did I mention the tailgate and rear windows are polycarbonate? And that the bonnet is carbon-fibre?
From the depths of the bucket seat, though, it feels like more than just a stripped-out R26. it’s got a whole new character. Not intimidating, just different. It’s very driveable, and I can’t help weaving about for the first few miles like Fernando Alonso on a warm-up lap. Best to get some heat into the special, cut-slick Toyos, eh?
When they’re hot and sticky, I try a little poke at the throttle. And God, it’s whooshy. The turbo gets blowing instantly, and the boost seems relentless. You get 90 per cent of its torque from 2,000 to 6,000rpm, and it feels like a never-ending rush. Then you get the sound from the titanium exhaust – a sort of white noise that resonates around the barren cabin. This thing is intense, and I feel a little whooping is in order.
The whoops quickly turn to manly ‘yeahs!’ when i reach a bend. The R26.R is a massively satisfying thing to throw into a corner. Forget skill – it’ll just go where you point it, and let you get away with stupid things after that. Even the most clumsy, violent input won’t unsettle it, and you feel like it’s here to play along, not fight you. Whatever you do, you can really feel the diff working, helping the tyres dig deep into the tarmac.
It’s got new suspension too, which helps it to make the most of its less portly frame, including all-new springs and re-sorted dampers.
Then, of course, there’s the Nürburgring thing. Back in June, it lapped it in 8m 17s – the fastest ever time for a front-wheel-drive production car. And on UK roads, you can see why. It’s just so forgiving, so taut, so bloody eager. You could imagine it hammering through Flugplatz, right on the limit, with a mere amateur at the wheel. The grooved brakes are excellent too, being bigger and, er, groovier than the R26’s drilled discs.
And when you back off, it pops like rapid rifle fire as unburned fuel gets shot down the blue titanium exhausts.
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Breathe. I slow down and grab a moment’s rest in a lay-by. Gravel gets spat around the arches as I roll to a stop. Yes, it’s hardcore. And it’s pretty impractical. But you do get a cargo net to strap in your Tesco bags, small children, other half, etc.
So you could probably use it as an everyday car, but that’d miss the point. Track days are where it’s really at.
Verdict: Make room for one of these in your life – it’ll make you very, very happy. Probably the hottest hatch ever.
2.0-litre turbo 4cyl
0-62mph in 6.0secs, max speed 147mph