Thanks to the six-speed manual transmission's quick and precise lever movements, one never really misses the dual-clutch option offered by some of the competition. You might expect the chassis of a car like this to make no ride-oriented compromises. In reality, however, the relatively compliant suspension mates stiff dampers with less extreme springs, fights body roll but still permits enough wheel travel, and allows plenty of lift-off oversteer when stability control is switched off. A limited-slip differential straddles the line between strong traction and steering fight.
The Mégane R26.R's engine is a 2.0-liter turbo four that delivers peak output at an unexciting 5500 rpm. The performance, however, is little short of breathtaking. The R26.R, according to Renault, sprints to 62 mph in only 6.0 seconds, tops 147 mph, and averages a relatively miserly 28 mpg. The strong urge continues in the 60-to-125-mph bracket, where the French two-seater almost matches the BMW M3 in fourth-gear oomph. Even beyond 125 mph, the Renault offers a rare synthesis of stability and poise, of power and control. The price you pay for going flat out in the R26.R is a barely muffled noise level, which must be the reason that a radio isn't on the options list. What you get free of charge are ugly decals, pretty aluminum wheels, bigger spoilers front and rear, a suede-rimmed steering wheel, polycarbonate rear side windows, a carbon-fiber hood, and less sound-deadening material. Complete with lightweight exhaust, roll cage, and semislicks, the R26.R retails at 39,190 (about $52,000). The bad news is that Renault will build only 450 examples, all of which are already spoken for, and all, of course, only for the European market.
On sale: Now (in Europe)
price: 39,190 (about $52,000)
Engine: 2.0L turbo I-4, 230 hp, 229 lb-ft