Hardcore hot-hatch is back for seconds and is better than before
Ever since we got our hands on a Clio RS 197 back in 2008, Renaultsport's piping-hot front-drive performance hatchback has been a firm favourite at Autocar ASEAN. Prodigious speed, bags of grip and an adjustable chassis gave it a place in our hearts alongside other Renaultsport greats, the Megane R26 and more recently, the Megane RS200 Cup.
This latest Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup 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, or PS). Torque stays the same, at 215Nm, 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 the latest Renaultsport Clio Cup has much stiffer spring and damper rates, which is a huge step up from the previous non-Cup hot Clios available here. The Cup cars are also 36kg lighter and feature a quicker steering rack, which is handy in a car that possesses a true go-kart like handling.
If you've ever taken your RS197 to a track day and found yourself yearning for a smidgen more lateral grip, you'll be delighted by the new one. And that's good news for the rest of us too, because it means the RS200 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 fast flowing corners 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 guard rails. It's quick to change direction when asked, but admirably slow to punish you when you mistreat it; short of the late, lamented Megane R26, it's hard to think of another hot hatch with such a high level of adjustability.
This is a hatch with enough damping to run fast over treacherous surfaces and keep all four wheels on the ground. And crucially, it's one whose cornering line can be tightened with a trailing throttle as much as it can with the steering wheel. It possesses one of the industry's finest chassis, despite being developed with a rear torsion beam.
Renault's engineers say the car's mass is approaching the point beyond which a fully independent system would have been necessary and you'd have to agree. Even the Mini Cooper S with its fancy multi-link rear suspension would have no hope in hell trying to match the Clio for in-corner composure and control.
In the dry, front-end grip is vast and understeer all but non-existent — the Clio's playful chassis allowing you to adjust its attitude almost entirely on the throttle. In the wet, the previously unobtrusive ESP becomes rather more noticeable as it fights to keep the front wheels from spinning away the power.
The steering is a little heavier than before too, and there's a great deal of feel to be had here. If you're playing mid-corner you'll know exactly what's going on with the front wheels, topping out a beautifully honed package.
Being normally aspirated, the Clio RS200 Cup needs a right good thrashing to operate at the level its performance figures would suggest. But Renault's decision to resist a change to light-pressure turbocharging has been vindicated, because this is a fine hot-hatch motor from the old school. It demands work and fast gearchanges, but rewards with exhilaration and the opportunity to have the driver's skill level make a real difference. It sounds just the ticket, too — all induction blare and fizzing valve gear.
What of the gearbox? Sweet, that's what. It's slick, with a positive action that's on par with the best in the business. Rowing through the gears, which you constantly will to get the best out of the engine, is not a nuisance in any way. Those who have never enjoyed a manual car in anger will be surprised by how much fun you can have with the simple matter of changine gears in this car.
If you're looking for complaints, well, okay, the dashboard's not much to write home about - but the bucket seats are superb. Some will say that it lacks a few basic aesthetic and quality requirements, but even the harshest critic will have to concede that the Clio RS200 Cup has credibility where it counts. Spend time with it and you will surely be converted by Renaultsport's latest. It has created a great little fast car.
Those who missed out on the previous hot Clio can now breathe a sigh of relief. The new one is just as exclusive however, with very few units allocated for our market, each in 'Ange et Demon' Limited Edition spec (of only 666 units produced worldwide). Matte paint finish, RS Monitor, Cup chassis, Brembo four-pot brakes and leather Recaro seats come standard so have your chequebooks ready.
There's no doubt that this is the most accomplished, dynamically proficient hot hatchback around, shading even our self confessed favourite, the Megane RS250 Cup as the Clio offers more fun. It may lack refinement, not to mention a quality interior, but this is a hot hatch in the classic vein, mating diminutive proportions and agility with sports-car shaming grip and performance. It's that good.
Verdict: Park your supercars at home, this hot Clio gives you more fun both on the road and track
More fun than thoroughbred supercars
Friendly on the limit handling
WE DON"T LIKE
French interior quality
Top speed: 205km/h
Engine: 4 cyls, 2393cc, petrol
Installation: Front, transverse, FWD
Power: 197bhp at 7100rpm
Torque: 215Nm at 5400rpm
Gearbox: 6-spd manual
Kerb weight: 1204kg
Brakes (f,r): Ventilated disc/solid disc
Suspension (f): MacPherson strut,
Suspension (r): Torsion beam
Tyres: 215/45 R17