The Clio Cup feels as fizzy and as effervescent now as it did eight years ago. Perhaps more so, in fact, given the car that replaced
it went soft, with its flat, turbocharged engine and hesitant paddle-shift gearbox. The Recaro sports seats – so heavily bolstered that they look like wingback armchairs – could hardly be more purposeful. They do place you a little too high, though, and the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, so you sit hunched up like a hungry trucker leaning guardedly over his breakfast.
There’s so much tension in the low-speed ride that you wonder if this thing is just going to skip and bounce uselessly over every tiny bump in
the road, front wheels spinning up with a flare of engine revs every time they leap up off the tarmac. But with a little speed, the dampers get into their range, each one allowing its wheel to rise and fall over the shape of the road, all four tyres kept firmly in contact with the surface. The body is always very busy, bobbing up and down like a hyperactive child on a pogo stick, but under the skin, the chassis works beautifully.
The Clio holds on like a limpet, which is where its giant-killing cross- country pace comes from. The front end generates massive cornering grip, and with the whole car buzzing away with messages from all four corners, it’s easy to use every last ounce of that grip, mile after mile. This is a
car you drive flat out everywhere, leaving nothing in reserve. Isn’t
that just so much more rewarding than tentatively prodding the lower tranches of a supercar’s absolute pace?
We’ll miss gritty, revvy engines like this one some day, if we don’t already. Use the 2.0-litre lump like you would a torque-rich turbo engine and you’d call the Clio Cup dog slow, because it feels lacklustre in the mid-range. Once you get it working above 5000rpm and right up to the 7500rpm redline, though,
it really does fling the car along at a good old lick. The manual gearshift is snappy and mechanical, too, so you relish every down change and fire through every upshift.
As far as small hot hatches go, this Clio Cup really is one of the very best of all time. In fact, in recent years, there has been only one other small, quick hatchback that could stand toe to toe with it. Put a gun to my head and I’ll tell you the Ford Fiesta STis the better car, but the truth is that it depends on the scenario. The ST is the more accomplished all-rounder but, as a car to get stuck into on a really inviting stretch of road, or perhaps a circuit, the Clio Cup just about edges it.