Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy - 1:16.8
We won't dwell long on this group, because they appeared in our ‘Best driver’s cars for under £25k’ contest recently. But what we didn’t factor into that contest was just how fast they were around Enid.
The contenders are the DS 3 Performance, the Ford Fiesta ST200 and the Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy. There are differences in their mechanical specification, but none so grand as in the supercar or sports car pairings. All are front engined and front driven and all are within touching distance of 200bhp.
Two manufacturers, though – Renault Sport and the team at Ford – have more hot hatch heritage and experience than the other. So it’s a pleasant surprise to find that the 3 is, by a nose, the quickest car in this group.
It’s a really enjoyable track car, I think. It’s poised and agile, it cocks a rear wheel in the air on turn-in and its front can be lent on heavily under power without overheating its tyres. It finds terrific traction with only a little corruption to its steering and there’s some adjustability under braking and on turn-in.
There’s more in the Clio but not enough, despite its power advantage, to overcome the 3’s lap time. At 1min 16.8sec, the Clio is just 0.1sec slower than the DS, but although it has a wonderfully adjustable and grippy chassis, it’s less communicative than the 3 and has a far less engaging powertrain.
Neither matches the Fiesta for fun, though. It has poise and agility to spare, plus it makes the best exhaust note of the three. But, down on power on either, it can’t go as fast as ’em. At 1min 17.3sec, it’s half a second slower again than the Clio. But, as usual, the stopwatch only tells you the half of it.
Fiat 124 Spider vs. Mazda MX-5
Fiat 124 Spider - 1:19.6
Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport - 1:17.1
It's important not to be harsh here.
The Fiat 124 Spider is arriving in one of its softer forms, because that’s what was available, and it goes up against the keenest variant of the Mazda MX-5, so we’ve not given it the easiest task. The 124 Spider is a 1.4-litre turbocharged car with only 138bhp and the MX-5 is a 2.0-litre Sport Recaro edition with not just 158bhp but also Bilstein dampers and a limited-slip differential.
They all count. The MX-5 laps Blyton Park in 1min 17.1sec – 0.2sec faster than a Ford Fiesta ST200, which gives you an idea of how relatively quick it is – and the Fiat is 2.5sec slower than the Mazda. More than that, the MX-5 feels more engaging, alert and involving everywhere.