I am grateful to Renault for introducing me to a breed of car I had long thought extinct: the genuinely bonkers hot hatch. In fact this might be the maddest of them all. Based on a Megane that’s no longer in mainstream production, not only has the RenaultSport Megane R26R been equipped with carbon-fibre race seats, Perspex side and rear windows, a carbon bonnet, roll cage, six-point harnesses, track suspension and tyres, it’s also lost almost all its sound deadening, its rear wash wipe, radio and even its rear seats. The resulting car weighs just 1230kg, will reach 60mph in under six seconds and has set a record for a front-drive car around the old Nürburgring of 8min 17sec, 37 seconds faster than that hot hatch archetype, VW’s Golf GTi.
It’s also fun to drive in a way that’s difficult to recall from a front-wheel-drive car. The 230bhp, 2-litre, four-cylinder turbo motor is a blunt weapon, but the chassis is a precision instrument of unrivalled distinction among today’s front-drive cars. On the sort of road you’d seek out in such a car, you’d need a seriously quick sports car to stay with it. Yet it costs just £23,815.
Despite Renault only bringing 230 to the UK and the fact that it was first shown here last summer, some are still available. But however good the car (and it is very good), the prospect of owning the world’s only two-seat front-drive hatch will be more than most can countenance. One thing is for sure: love the R26R though I did, if I was going to drop that kind of money into an impractical two-seat sports car, I’d bag myself a new Lotus Elise. But if the idea of a truly mad Megane still appeals, take it from me that the reality is no less attractive.