The most accomplished hot hatchback this side of 20 grand

What is it?

It’s the latest incarnation of the hot Renault Clio, a vehicle that’s been one of the benchmarks for rapid small hatchbacks ever since the Clio 16v and Clio Williams. This latest Renaultsport Clio 200 is more of a mid-life refresh than an all-new vehicle, but it does include some notable refinements.

The 200 features a revised version of the Clio 197’s 2.0-litre normally aspirated engine, now producing 197bhp instead of 194bhp (the 200 and 197 are figures for metric horsepower). Torque stays the same, at 159lb ft, but peak twist and power are both produced 150rpm earlier than before, and Renault claims that a reworked cylinder head and ECU have greatly improved the amount of torque available beneath 3000rpm. Shorter first, second, and third gears help low-end urge, too.

In chassis terms Renaultsport has tried to widen the gap between the regular Clio 200 and the more hardcore Cup chassis variant. The normal car’s dampers are 15 per cent softer than a Clio 197’s, and feature what Renault calls ‘double-effect’ valves for improve ride during motorway cruising. The Cup model, meanwhile, has 15 per cent stiffer dampers than the 197 Cup, and stiffer springs (27 per cent at the front and 30 per cent at the rear) than the standard Clio 200. Cup cars are also 36kg lighter and feature a quicker steering rack, but they’re also less well specced; the dashboard is made from a harder plastic, and even air conditioning is an option.

What’s it like?

If you’ve ever taken your 197 Cup to a track day and found yourself yearning for a smidgen more lateral grip, you’ll be delighted. And that’s good news for the rest of us, because it means the 200 Cup is a belter.

First, the engine. It does feel a little more urgent at lower revs, more forgiving of those who barrel into a corner and scrub off a little too much speed. There’s also an audible gearshift indicator that kicks in just before the redline; we doubt many owners will get benefit from this on the road, but it’d be a boon on track days.

And that leads us to the chassis, which is a peach. The stiffer set-up means that on a circuit the Clio is a delight to play with, and happy to cope with ludicrous mid-corner throttle lifts that would have many other small cars in the gravel. It’s quick to change direction when asked, but admirably slow to punish you when you mistreat it; short of a Focus RS or the late, lamented Megane R26, it’s hard to think of another hot hatch with such a high level of adjustability.

The brakes feel strong enough for track day use too, and they’re nicely progressive. And the six-speed gearbox is slick, with a positive action.

The steering is a little heavier than on a 197 Cup, but there’s still not a great deal of feedback in there, so if you’re playing mid-corner you can occasionally (very occasionally) feel a little detached from what’s going on. That’s pretty much the only downside, though, of a beautifully honed package (well, okay, the dashboard’s not much to write home about - but the bucket seats are superb).

Should I buy one

The most popular spec of Renaultsport Clio 197 was the regular car - and its toys - mated to the Cup chassis. We suspect that trend will continue with the 200, and those buyers will get what is the most accomplished, dynamically proficient hot hatchback this side of 20 grand. It’s that good.

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martinj 18 January 2010

Re: Renault Clio 2.0 Renultsport 200 Cup

A mate's just ordered his as a present to himself after he got a raise at work. Arrives March 1st, I'm excited.

Andrew Lee 5 May 2009

Re: Renault Clio 2.0 Renultsport 200 Cup

Renault HAVE to get their styling sorted... And is this the return of eau de nil paint? Hope not - it's horrid!

Ruined 2 May 2009

Re: Renault Clio 2.0 Renultsport 200 Cup

This is going to be a bit controversial but..... I think the looks are growing on me. And I quite like the bigger, more visible, exhausts. I'm very tempted...