French and fantistique

Renault Mégane RS 230 Renault F1 Team R26

It’s been only 12 short years since the French stopped exploding thermo-nuclear devices on our doorstep and it’s always worth remembering that it’s not just the North Korean’s who like to play with their weapons.

France’s determination to go ahead with nuclear testing in the South Pacific in the face of international criticism was unwavering and even the French secret service was dispatched to foreign countries to silence any protests viz the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.

We all know that practice makes perfect and the French felt the need to set off 147 devices at Muraroa atoll.

But doctors learn much more quickly than that and can follow the adage of “See one, do one, teach one”.

Negative sentiments towards the French and their products persisted for years and as Renault was then owned by the French government Renaults sent to Perth by train sometimes arrived with bullet holes at no extra cost compliments of roo shooters protesting about the nuclear tests.

And though the Muraroa atoll will be uninhabitable for at least 10,000 years we’re slowly forgiving the French, and their cars are having a renaissance with great models from Peugeot, Citreon and Renault.

Nuclear protests and poor sales did mean that Renault abandoned the Australian market from 1995 to 2001, but through an alliance with Nissan they’re definitely back here to stay.

Renault’s hero car at the moment is the Megane R26.

My test car in Victory Yellow was $1,000 more expensive than the standard black colour, but it certainly caught the eye of pedestrians and I hesitate to say that I actually liked the shape though there will be many who won’t.

One limitation of having such a big bum is that they forgot to put a decent sized rear window in and the view out the back is a bit restricted.

On the inside every R26 has a numbered plaque on the centre console just to remind you of the exclusivity of ownership and to fit the racing theme the pedals are made of drilled aluminium.

There is no leather in the cabin apart from the steering wheel and gear knob, but the Recaro seats are very supportive for cornering and there is room in the back for three spectators with a lap sash seatbelt for all participants.

The Megane also scores five stars on the EuroNCAP safety scale and the rather heavy doors have a re-assuring bracket that prevents side intrusions.

Renault proudly boasts that they have more models with a five star safety rating than any other carmaker, including Mercedes and Volvo.

The R26 is also one of only a few front wheel drive cars with a limited slip differential and along with ESP it completely removes any hint of torque steer, but it does mean that the steering strongly self centres which does take some getting used to.

Whilst it’s no slouch in a straight line it’s around the bends that its handling really shines.

My local dealer delighted in taking me to an unused cul-de-sac where he turned the steering to full lock and then flattened the accelerator.

I’d never felt anything like the tenacious way it cornered without any hint of body roll or tyre squeal from the 18 inch Michelin Pilots.

My fundoplication stood up well, but I still wished I’d put on the G suit for my vertebro-basilar insufficiency.

And to pull up the R26 has Brembo brake callipers and drilled discs.

The test drive did re-inforce in my own mind why I’d never buy a demo car and the fact that the salesman is with you doesn’t mean that the car still doesn’t receive a caning.

With only 80 R26s sent to Australia you’ll have to be quick to get one or you can wait for a few weeks for the Clio R27 which will be Renault’s next hero car.

Safe motoring,
Dr Clive Fraser

For: Safe, economical excitement machine.

Against: Only 80 available so you’ll have to be quick.

This car would suit: Doctors without borders.

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    Medical Motoring is an online record of the articles written by Dr Clive Fraser and published in the Australian Medicine magazine by the Australian Medical Association.