But shorn of the need to carry two of those occupants and their trappings, the Mazda, despite having to be rigid enough to contain a folding top – an easily stowed
piece of canvas genius of which Cotswold Outdoors would be proud
– is 153kg lighter again.
Understandably, neither of the other two finalists can quite match that weight figure, and it’s no surprise that the smaller Renault is the closer of the two. At 1204kg, the Clio is only 82kg heavier than the MX-5, which ain’t bad given that it’s a five-door hatch, its four-cylinder engine wears a turbocharger and it has two clutches in its automated gearbox.
For those of us who are used to the way Renaultsport does things with the Mégane – by which I mean deathly seriously – the latest Clio was a peculiar diversion. Somehow it was just too… easy.
A lightweight in the metaphorical, bad sense of the word. The 220 Trophy rights so many of those wrongs, and it isn’t just
the additional 20bhp. It’s tighter, keener, more composed and a bucket-load more engaging.
No wonder it saw off the rest of the hot hatch newcomers here.
When it comes to being serious about performance, mind, the Honda is the apogee of the breed at the minute, which is why it beat the Focus, an outcome that might not upset Ford too much.
The Civic Type R is allowed to be a car that is backed up by an ordinary motor in the garage. The purpose of a Focus ST is to be mildly entertaining while also being the ordinary everyday motor. That result won’t bother Ford, then: it’ll have another Focus RS along soon that’s closer to Honda spec. Only that will have four-wheel drive.
The Honda, to its credit, does a remarkable job of putting its 306bhp to the road through the front wheels only, thanks to its limited-slip differential and Honda’s take on the double-axis strut front suspension, aimed at reducing torque steer. Not that it does so completely.
The Honda’s steering wheel is a thing of decent precision and weight, but it does shuffle in your hands under power – more than the Renault which, shorn of having to cope with 295lb ft, has a less challenging rim out of tight corners.
Credit to the Honda, though. Despite weighing 1382kg and having as much power as it does, it has one heck of a front end on it. It finds extraordinary amounts of both
grip and traction.
Given the amount of power with which the front wheels are expected to deal, perhaps it’s no surprise that the handling balance is nearly always biased around the leading end. Choose a line and the Honda will try to stick to it and, if it veers off, it’ll do so at the front first. Lift off and, despite a mechanical limited-slip differential that could tuck the driven wheels into a corner, there’s very little propensity to oversteer. On the road, that’s fine – the Honda’s limits are fairly preposterous anyway – but on a circuit, that can leave the Civic feeling a touch inert.
The Renault isn’t like that. It’s difficult to imagine that its front end is any stronger than the Honda’s – although obviously it’s less troubled by torque steer – so it must just be that Renault has designed a more intimate connection with the rear wheels into the Trophy on purpose.
Barrel into a bend at Bedford Autodrome and the Renault will slip at its front first, but judge the cornering speed well, trail the brakes in as you begin to turn, to settle the nose and lighten the loads on the rear, and the Trophy shows the kind of composure and throttle adjustability for which Renaultsport is rightly renowned. And, you suspect, it’s not just more fun this way but also faster.