Currently reading: Video: Focus RS500 v Clio Cup
Ford Focus RS or Renault Clio Cup - which is the ultimate hot hatch?

Ford Focus RS or Renault Clio Cup - which is the ultimate hot hatch? To find out Autocar tested them back-to-back.

The Focus RS500 is billed as the ultimate expression of a hot hatch. But has it gone too far? With 345 bhp and a price tag up with a BMW 335i or a base spec Porsche Cayman has this extremely talented but insane hatchback forgotten its roots?

See the exclusive Ford Focus RS versus Renault Clio Cup picturesSee the cars in action on video

At £35,750, up £7,855 over the ‘standard’ RS, the RS500 has an extra 45bhp, a shade more torque, a matt black vinyl wrap and a few interior details. It also comes with the hugely evocative RS500 name, last used on the whale tailed Sierra Cosworth.

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It is also a world that features a fair amount of torque steer, even with its trick Revo-knuckle suspension. On a dry straight road you have to hold the wheel quite tight, but it seems a reasonable trade-off for the performance available.

Find a section of road that’s quiet enough and the Focus feels brutally rapid. Just as we found with the regular RS, the RS500 has a playfulness to its chassis that is downright amusing. Turn in, lift off and the nose tucks in nicely without any real risk of misadventure, then get back on the power.It’s the classic front wheel drive recipe, but honed for maximum enjoyment.

Swap into the Clio and it can feel underwhelming. With the poorer ride and an artificial feel to its steering, the only obvious advantage is its lightness: at 1204kg, it carries 263kg less than the Ford. But it is from this lack of mass, and a closely stacked set of ratios, that everything else grows.

See the exclusive Ford Focus RS versus Renault Clio Cup pictures

Although its outright pace will still be less than the RS500, between the wave of gearchanges, frenzy of revs and a surprisingly useful upshift buzzer, the sense of pace is at times greater in the Clio.

But it is into braking zones and corners that the Clio’s lack of weight pays dividends. The steering, brakes and lack of body roll the car gives you a sense of freedom that encourages a little more entry speed and a little more throttle.

This means you arrive at the end of a fast drive wired and exhilarated, exactly the point of a hot hatch.

But the fact remains the Focus RS500 will always be going slightly quicker. To find out how much quicker, we visited the Bedford Aerodrome for a few laps free from the moral (and legal) restrictions of the road.

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See the exclusive Ford Focus RS versus Renault Clio Cup pictures

Up to a point, the Focus proves an entertaining track car, with good front-end bite and plenty of adjustability in the chassis. However, at the limit the movement in the rear axle that makes the RS500 such a fun road car robs time around a lap.

The RS500’s brakes also lack modulation and it is difficult to carry speed into a corner without tripping into messy oversteer. The result is a one-shot lap time of 2min 12sec.

The Clio is at a disadvantage on the circuit’s straights, but the fact is you can brake later and turn in with more speed than in the Ford. At first your cornering speed is limited by front end grip, but persevere with more speed and it can be persuaded into the sweet spot between understeer and oversteer, giving a lap of 2min 15.5secs – very close considering the power deficit.

Where does this leave the Focus? Well, it remains a hugely exciting car, with refinement and space the Clio can’t match.

But a hot hatch should be about simple ingredients and a balance of abilities not dominated by any single component. Having 345bhp is great for a time, but using every last one of the Clio’s 197bhp is simply more fun.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be more or less powerful or expensive hot hatches out there, but I reckon the Clio Cup defines better than any other where the centre of gravity for the hot hatch should be.

The full test review is available in this week's Autocar magazine, on sale now.

See the exclusive Ford Focus RS versus Renault Clio Cup pictures

Jamie Corstorphine

See all the latest Ford Focus reviews, news and videoSee all the latest Renault Clio reviews, news and video

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Straight Six Man 30 June 2010

Re: Focus RS500 v Clio Cup

I'm sorry, but the thick end of 35k for a Focus RS500, or 28k for a standard RS... even just 28k is tidy used M3/M5 money! Sorry for the BMW fanboy-ism... I'm sure you can get really good Jag Rs and Merc AMGs and Audi Ss and RSs for that sort of money, too. Hell, 35k for the RS500, that's NEW Vauxhall VXR8 money!

Also, I'd like to see how the Focus RS stacks up against an S40/V50 T5, or an S60/S80/V70 T6, or an S60R or somesuch... not the same type of car, I know, but it would make for an interesting comparison.

Still, if I wanted two doors, a big, practical boot, great handling and a great soundtrack, I think there's only one car I'd consider. Yes, that's right. The Holden HSV Maloo.

andrepaul999 29 June 2010

Re: Focus RS500 v Clio Cup

They do not! there is no way a potential RS 500 customer would buy a Clio it just wouldnt happen! The RS500 is competing with the Evo's and Imprezas of this world. not souped up superminis.

And Price always comes into it.... but the kind of person willing to spend 30K on a Focus woulnt even give a Clio a thought

Johnnytheboy 29 June 2010

Re: Focus RS500 v Clio Cup

beachland2 wrote:

anyway other brands aside, what it makes me think is that i would rather have a focus ST (£22,895) with 221bhp as standard. and spend the £12,895 saved on making it lighter and better handling and steering.

it would end up being a faster car than the RS500, and much cheaper on mpg and wear and tear on the mechanicals.

Oh Beachland2, you don't half talk some cock about the RS family at times. Did a fast Ford pick on you at school?

The RS/RS500 has a wider track than the ST and is widely acknowledged to be a far better handling car, so even you with your evident genius may struggle to make it a better handling car. I've never driven an ST, but here's the opinion of a guy who'd tuned his ST to ~300hp, thought it was the match of any RS, then had a spin in my standard RS:

"Also thank you to Jonnytheboy for taking me for a quick spin in his mk2 FRS, i love those things. Anyone who claims they are simply a tuned ST.....erm you're wrong. lol."

I can link to this if you think I'm making it up.