Some thought it was just plain stupid, others stupidly fun. But, thankfully for the French marque, most fell into the latter category.
With competition in this small car hot hatch sector fierce, the Renaultsport models have consistently managed to stay ahead of the game with every evolution of its feisty Clio.
From the first 172 that evolved into the 182, to the 197 and now this, the 200, the sporty Clio has proved a sales success for the manufacturer, shifting 70,000 units worldwide.
The latest incarnation features a number of improvements over its predecessors. Firstly there’s that all important power increase that gives rise to the car’s name.
Power’s up to 200hp – which, in old money, equates to 198bhp. More important, though, is a power-to-weight ratio of 166bhp per tonne and the fact low-down torque has been improved. Emissions and economy are also better.
Looks wise it’s aggressive with F1-style aerodynamics, cool rear diffuser, anthracite alloy wheels and loud colours schemes, such as this lurid yellow paintjob.
Sitting in this Clio 200, you seem to forget that it was a car originally designed all those years ago to be bought by ‘Papa’ to get ‘Nicole’ to the village. The journey this vehicle has made over the years, as it has got ever more sporty, has taken it a long way from that original concept. Now it’s a performance icon, with thrills to match.
The Renaultsport Clio Cup 200, a younger brother to the brilliant Megane R26.R you’ve just read about, is superb on the road. Our test took place at the SMMT test day at the Millbrook Proving Ground and incorporated a bit of everything: town driving on the city circuit, motorway work on the two-mile speed bowl and, the stomping ground of any hot hatch, fast and twisty country roads in the shape of the facility’s Hill Route.
First impressions were good. Very good. The Clio feels properly sorted. The first three gears have been shortened for better acceleration, and it really shows. Couple that with that modest, but meaningful power hike and increased torque, and it seems this Clio might just be close to being a hot hatch enthusiast’s dream.
However, it’s the new chassis that really shines. On one of the best corners of the track – a right-handed, bumpy turn with a stomach-churning crest – the Clio excels. The 200 ploughs through corners, rippling the Tarmac as it cocks a wheel. It flicks through bends with total composure making for a hugely satisfying driving experience.
The interior does disappoint a little, though. There are too many bland plastics for our liking – still, at least the seats are good. But then any concerns you have over the interior quality quickly disappear, like the scenery, as soon as you plant your right foot.
The stiffer suspension, that works so well in the bends, does have a pay off. And that’s on the motorway. It is a little bumpy, to say the least. The revised suspension is 27 per cent firmer up front and 30 per cent at the rear, which makes for superb cornering, but a bit of a compromise everywhere else.
That said, it’s still a hoot to drive. The seats are brilliant, the steering is full of feedback and it sounds great too. What’s more, the fact it hasn’t got a blown engine like say, a Corsa VXR, makes it all the more impressive. Where the Corsa rips the
steering wheel from your hands, the Clio continues straight and true, building power as the revs rise.
The tested Clio Renaultsport 200 Cup will set buyers back £15,750 and comes with a specification list that includes ABS, traction control and an alarm. Or, for a little more comfort, buyers can opt for the £16,750 200, which adds niceties like climate control and electric powered options to the spec list.
We’re impressed by the new Clio. It looks good, feels good and drives superbly. It’s the hot hatch, hot hatch buyers would build – and will easily add to those 70,000 sales already notched up.
by DUNCAN CHAPPELL