Up the hatch

WE’VE tested some super-hot hatches on these pages, most recently Honda’s Civic Type R Mugen and earlier in the year Ford’s Focus RS, both of which are stunning performers. Here we have another. The preceding version of this car, the Renault Clio 197 Cup, had brilliant agility and grip and was a riot of fun, especially on the track. How can such a great package be bettered?

At first glance, it seems that Renault have actually done very little to this car. They’ve given it a facelift to bring it in line with the new Megane, with its trademark black mouth. Power has been upped by a slightly pointless three bhp. That said, there are two versions of the new Renaultsport Clio to choose from. The other one offers more comfort and therefore weight. Thus one is the lighter of the pair, and is all about raw fun. With an F1 derived aerodynamic package, it has stiffened springs and dampers and a brake upgrade that now features larger ventilated front discs with red Brembo callipers.

The engine is still the same 2.0 litre as used in the previous incarnation but as a result of some fine tuning, the additional three bhp is extracted earlier and equates to better low-end pull.

You do still need to rev the engine, but not nearly as much as you did with the 197 and there’s much more pull the whole way through the range. The first three gears are shorter legged to maximise this early power too and the result is a fine balance of fun and satisfaction. I had the optional Recaro seats fitted but the sole steering wheel adjustment is reach instead of rake, so the driving position is limited and not for everyone.

The car sounds good too, and in alien- green paint you’re louder than ever – the anthracite wheels look fantastic though, and the car turns heads.

And the nutty fun you can have with this is brilliant. Gone is the torque steer, where the front wheels tug from side to side while finding grip under acceleration. Agility, balance and roadholding are even better than before – the Cup is fantastic for every day use, but the best bit of all is how it rewards you as a track day car. The stiffer suspension has not made it too stiff for British roads, in fact I’d say it’s as near-as-damn-it perfect.

Even in waterlogged England, the brakes continue to grab hold while hitting repeated lakes of water, and turning into corners is clean and sharp despite ploughing through many a bow wave.

So are there any grumbles? Apart from not finding the optimum driving position, no. You could go for the standard seats, which are adjustable, instead of opting for the sporty Recaros, but then that would nip into the performance feel of the Cup.

With a basic entry-level price of £16,115, this track-led Clio offers such a superb return on your investment that it has to be considered one the best hatches money can buy, if not the best. Mad, brilliant and a little bit lairy fun. More of that please.

Price: £18,340
0-62mph: 6.9 secs
Top speed: 141 mph
CO2 g/km: 195
MPG Combined: 34.4