Still the best small hot-hatch around, but difficult to justify over the standard 197

What is it?

It’s a new variant of our favourite hot supermini: this is the Renault Clio Renaultsport 197 Cup and it’s lighter, sharper and cheaper.

Mostly it’s like a regular 197, though stripped to be a tiny bit lighter and, rather more interestingly, has Cup suspension that Renault first introduced on the limited edition F1 Team R27 last summer.

What’s it like?

R27s are now sold out, but what applied to that car also applies here: this is still the best-driving small hot hatch on the market. Sharper, lither and more controlled than the regular 197, with Cup suspension the 197’s standard springs and dampers are uprated, which ties down what was an already impressive chassis even further.

Not harshly though; there’s real deftness at work underneath, so while the Cup is firm and its body movements restrained, its ride is still acceptable: controlled and supple. The Clio’s still feels slightly less agile than a Vauxhall Corsa VXR, and although that car is extraordinary and feels like it pivots around the driver, its inferior damping control means the Clio’s still the better drive.

If there is a Clio weak point, it’s still its steering. There’s too much assistance at low speeds and no real linearity to its weight or feel. Only when you’re approaching the limits of grip does it gain the sort of weight it should have more often. The VXR, not itself a car with great steering, has a more responsive rack.

What has improved is the Clio’s drivetrain. Frankly it was a tiresome car on a motorway before but now is, er, marginally less so, thanks to slightly longer gearing in 5th and 6th. At 70mph in top gear, the engine is still spinning at the best part of 3500rpm though so this remains a zingy car on long journeys.

On the plus side, the engine does its best work at high revs anyway, while the optional Recaro seats (worth every penny of their £850) do what they can to make life more bearable. This particular Clio’s long-range comfort is further compromised though by the fact that the Cup has interior trim from the base model, including a traditional key (which is fine) and a non reach-adjustable steering wheel (which isn’t).

Should I buy one?

Maybe. The Clio Cup costs £14,995, £1000 less than the regular 197 but, while you can specify as options a few things it loses over the regular car (such as air-con and curtain airbags), you can’t get back the regular Clio’s keyless entry and upmarket dash, which includes reach adjustment for the wheel.

Fortunately, there is an answer: Cup suspension is available for £400 over the regular 197 too. I suppose you’d have to do the maths, tick which options you want (white with black wheels is, fortunately, available on both models) and decide which is more important to you: 20kg or sore arms.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Renault reckons most UK buyers will choose to put up with a 1.6 per cent weight increase and opt for a regular 197 with Cup suspension. Like for like that’d be about a grand more expensive than a Cup, but get this: I visited a car finance website which reckoned the regular 197 has a such the better residual value making its monthly repayments cheaper than for the Cup.

So while the Cup is great for making a statement, and I’ll applaud anyone for buying one, don’t feel bad if you, and your forearms, aren’t quite that hardcore.

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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reef67 11 January 2008

Re: Renault Clio 197 Cup

why not simply move the seat forward to avoid sore arms? does any finance company know what the residuals are...has any one bought and sold one yet???

Jon Hardcastle 9 January 2008

Re: Renault Clio 197 Cup

Mygeemoohead. wrote:

If Renault were to insert the 225hp lump from the megane 225rs into it I would order one tomorow.


Mygeemoohead. 9 January 2008

Re: Renault Clio 197 Cup

The 197 is a little too heavy for a natrualy asp engine.

If Renault were to insert the 225hp lump from the megane 225rs into it I would order one tomorow.