On paper, and to begin with, sticking a 300bhp Focus RS on the same piece of road as a £15,750 Renault Clio seemed like a complete waste of time. And money. And petrol.
And yet…when we did so, it was anything but.
The Focus, as you probably know, is a sort of four-wheeled equivalent of the second coming. It’s so quick and so composed, it’s already taken care of what is arguably one of the greatest performance cars of the modern era; the Nissan GTR. When we compared the two recently we found the Ford to be more fun, more civilized, half the price and damn near as fast as the GTR in real world conditions – assuming you have some sort of a conscience and aren’t prepared to drive like a lunatic just to make a point.
So the idea of comparing a car that’s good enough to put one over the Nissan GTR with a Renault that has two-thirds the power, well, like I say, to begin with it wasn’t my idea of fun.
But the moment I climbed into the little Renault and drove it with vim at a few corners, I knew the RS had competition. It’s so well balanced and so unfeasibly nimble and agile, you can drive it like an absolute maniac and still get away with your mistakes.
And so we decided, let’s take them to the hill route at Millbrook and see if the Clio – in controlled conditions, with nothing coming the other way – could keep up with the Ford if its driver was sufficiently unhinged.
Road test chief and all-round tasty wheelman Matt Prior drove the RS while muggings here got the keys to the Renault. We agreed that Matt would drive as fast as he could but with all the Ford’s various traction and ESP systems still engaged. I was allowed to turn the traction control off on the Clio, a small but important advantage over the crests and jumps at Millbrook.
Although it became blindingly obvious from the moment we set off that the Clio wasn’t as pokey on the straights or up the hills – of which there are quite a few on the hill route, amazingly – it wasn’t completely destroyed by the Ford in a straight line, either. Which meant that under brakes and through the corners I could, so long as I was prepared to drive like someone with a brain the size of a cumin seed, actually reel the RS back in.
The Clio’s relative lack of weight and its extra agility meant that, if pushed, it could corner harder and stop faster than the Ford. And that was a very big surprise indeed.
When we reached the end and parked up my hands were pretty much welded to the steering wheel, and my heart was about ready to burst. The Renault had got airborne at least twice and gone sideways a lot more than I’d planned. But after three miles it was still nailed to Ford’s back bumper, and the expression on Matt’s face when he climbed out said it all. He looked disgusted, and amused, and confused, all at exactly the same time.
The Clio had blown both of us away. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.