RenaultSport Clio 200

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A good car, but one which will exist in the shadow of the Fiesta ST

Being a one-man band and having been unable to master the art of being in different places at the same time, sometimes I am already committed to driving one car when the opportunity to sample another arises. And that, coupled with my first decent holiday in three years, is why you’re reading this review of Renault’s new hot Clio some time after it appeared in certain other car magazines.

But being late to table can actually have its advantages. You could of course cut yourself off from all automotive media and jam your fingers in your ears every time a colleague mentioned the car in conversation, so no unintended colour could be added to your judgment. But as that is a somewhat impractical approach, I decided to seek as much information as I could, just so I could have a body of opinion against which to measure my own. And that body calls this car disappointing. Renault, which has for a while been the only company you could count upon to produce one cracking hot hatch after another, has sold out. If true this means that not only have we lost a great driver’s car from the market, but also one of the depressingly few remaining reasons for someone like me to recommend to someone like you that you might consider buying a Renault.

The good news is I think they’ve got it wrong. I’ll go further: if they had chosen to assess the car on its own merits rather than see it entirely in the context of replacing the most loved hot hatch of the 21st century, I think their view of it would be substantially warmer than it has so far proven.

The new RenaultSport Clio 200 is a handsome, well made and entertaining small, fast hatchback. Its engine provides rousing performance and remarkably little throttle lag, given the 197bhp it squeezes from just 1.6 turbocharged litres. The decision to equip it only with a paddle-shift transmission seems a mistake, because the gearbox is rather slow to respond to your inputs in anything other than ‘race’ mode, but it remains to be seen whether this helps or hinders its success in a marketplace that is obsessed with these F1-like gadgets.

It handles extremely well. Grip levels are excellent, the steering linear and accurate. If you arrive too fast at a corner and feel the nose starting to shy wide, a brief lift of the throttle will bring it faithfully back onto line.

Once you start driving normally, you’ll find a car with good ride characteristics and excellent high-speed refinement, meaning you can drive it several hundred miles and emerge fresh. So that’s it: an entire assessment of the car in its own right. If you really want my view of how it compares to the car it allegedly replaces, it is that the two are so utterly different, the comparison is almost meaningless.

But there is a comparison that does need to be made: good though this new Clio is, it cannot hold a lit match to the cheaper Ford Fiesta ST. And that, as they say, is that.

FACTFILE
£18,995
Engine 1.6 litres, four cylinders, turbocharged
Power 197bhp @6000rpm Torque 177lb [email protected] Transmission six-speed paddle shift, front-wheel drive, dual clutch 0-62mph 6.7sec
Top Speed 143mph
Economy 44.8mpg CO2 144g/km

Andrew Frankel