What is it? The all-new hot Clio designed to improve on its class-leading predecessor. The Renaultsport Clio 197 is impressively removed from ordinary Clios. Its rear suspension and track width are so different that the wheelbase is longer and the front track wider. The accompanying bodywork swells to cover these changes – vents sit on the trailing edges of the front arches and a socking great diffuser (which actually works) sits under the rear bumper. A revised version of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with continuously variable valve timing and 194bhp is fitted (the 197 being a PS figure) and a six-speed gearbox. What’s it like? In a word, scintillating. Not because it bungs you down the road like an old-school hatch and rattles your fillings. Rather, because Renault has managed to retain most of the inner-hooligan and then injected a massive dose of comfort and refinement. This car has such exceptional damping it will cope with any surface at ludicrous speed without throwing itself into a hedge (historically a common hot hatch issue) and then cruise home. Although the motor needs big revs to work, it is much more linear than before. The gearbox is in a different league and the driving position is sorted. Plus, it has some of the finest front seats ever fitted to a production car. Should I buy one? In an ideal world you should buy at least two, but we would forgive you for taking just the one. The 197 is a very special car. At £15,995, it’s a performance bargain –even if Renault has been a bit cheeky and made climate control and automatic lights/wipers an option. There is no other small hatch so perfectly resolved for UK B-roads. Chris Harris
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