A step forward isn’t always a step far enough
It is fair to say the RenaultSport Clio 200 did not receive the rapturous press reception its creators coveted. Used to a uniformly rich diet of purple prose for its each and every creation to date, Renault might have found the trenchant criticism of its new baby somewhat thin gruel.
But if you insist on removing pedals from footwells and adding turbochargers to the engines of hot hatchbacks, perhaps you should not be too surprised, especially if the normally aspirated cars with manual transmissions you seek to replace are among the best loved in the history of their breed.
So see this Clio 220 Trophy as Renault’s way of trying to crawl back into the hearts of those whose loyalties have become strained or lost altogether by the Clio 200. It couldn’t practically install a stick shifter or remove the turbo from the engine, but do not doubt the effort expended to make the most of those materials already at its disposal.
For a start the engine has gained a further 20bhp, and the justly criticised gearbox has a new shifting strategy said to cut change times in half. The suspension is both lower and much stiffer, the steering wheel attached to a significantly quicker rack.
Renault has even reduced the travel of the gearshift paddles in an attempt to provide a new sense of dynamism.
The good news is that every one of these modifications is welcome, each contributing to a driving experience elevated far beyond the reach of the standard RenaultSport Clio (which remains in production). Even characteristics that might traditionally be regarded as undesirable, such as a notable increase in torque steer and a considerable deterioration in ride quality, actually quite suit the far more racy character the car has acquired.
Now it feels genuinely quick, faster than its traction-limited acceleration times suggest. Far more important is that the changes to the chassis have catapulted the Clio’s handling back
to the top of its class for the pace, precision and exuberance it shows on the right road.
Best of all you can drive it in two entirely distinct ways: keep it neat and it will be electrifyingly quick from point to point, employ a more rudimentary ‘chuck it in and sort it out’ approach, and marvel at the natural agility of the chassis and its eagerness to adjust its stance according to throttle position.
But problems remain: the gearbox is improved but still sluggish and unpredictable if left to change for itself, while the engine’s sometimes delayed throttle response is typical of small capacity high output turbo motors. It rarely sounds that great, either.
This, then, is a dramatically improved Clio, but that does not automatically earn it a place among the many great fast Renault hatchbacks of the last 30 years. It’s now a good car, fully competitive in its class, but true greatness continues to elude it.
Price – £21,780
Engine – 1.6 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power – [email protected]
Torque – 206lb [email protected]
Transmission – six-speed paddle-shift, front-wheel drive
Weight – 1204kg
Power to Weight – 180bhp per tonne
0-62mph – 6.6sec
Top speed – 146mph
Economy – 47.9mpg
CO2 – 135g/km