If you're looking for a small hot hatch then there's a lot of choice on the market, not many of them truly float my boat though I'm afraid to say. Rarely are they as exciting as the manufacturers claim they will be, even rarer do they have the drop dead sporting pedigree and looks promised. In fact most of the time small "hot" derivatives are nothing more than the same small car but with a bigger engine, lowered suspension and have a few daft spoilers bolted on in the appropriate places.
Then there's the Renault Clio 197 Sport, Renault have never really pulled any punches when releasing insanely "hot" versions of one of the regular model line-up.
Take the R26 Megane (please don't, let me keep it, I've been a good boy honest guvner), it looks like it eats small hot hatches for breakfast and is totally insane, its also the best there is in the "hot" hatch stable, hence why I voted it "TopGayer Hot Hatch of the Year 2006".
So on to the Clio 197 Sport which once again doesn't disappoint in terms of looking good, extra wide wheel arches, super low slung profile and a sound from the exhaust to rival a super-club. Cosmetically everything about the Clio 197 Sport screams it means the business, it's a great looking car, it sounds great and handling wise it's one of the best out there and could be considered somewhat of a Rival to its R26 bigger brother (the R26 is better though lol). Sadly one thing lets the butch-but-still-cutesy 197 down and that's the performance, it is quick 0-62mph takes 6.9 seconds making it almost as quick as it's sibling the R26 (0-62mph - 6.2 seconds), however it just doesn't feel that quick in reality and the performance although great just feels a little lacking lustre in the thrills department.
The interior is good with plenty of sports styling, if you could find a partner that hugged you as tightly as the seats do then you'd marry em as quick as you could.
It's also full of gadgets and gizmos, from the card key keyless entry and push button start through to the MP3 and electric everything, your left wanting for nothing.
Overall I do love the little Clio and it's a fabulous sporty little run around, it sounds amazing, looks fantastic and the performance is more than adequate even if you do feel like your not really shifting, all those headlights disappearing out of sight in your rear view tell you that you are!
I'm a huge fan of the Renaultsport versions of the bog standard Clio and Megane, they're great value for money and rarely disappoint. So when I got chance to get behind the wheel of a new facelifted Renault Clio 200 Cup for a week, I couldn't say yes quick enough. Having driven and fallen in love with the 197 it replaces I wanted to see just how much a facelift could change the monstrously performing little hatchback.
Now I say it's a facelift, the engine has had a few more tweaks to it than the bodywork. Yes that amazing 2.0-litre 16-valve screamer is under the bonnet, yes it still kicks out just under a massive 200bhp (hence the 200 in the name). The 0-62mph time is a Golf GTI worrying time of 6.9 seconds and it'll keep going to 141mph. Power and strong good looks is what the 200 Cup is all about. So with some tweaking and fiddling around Renaultsports engineers have managed to squeeze around an extra 20% more torque at low revs. They've also played about with the gearshift and now first, second and third are rapidly quick. So it looks like Renault have listened to owners comments about the 197 being a tad on sleepy side of sporting. The other huge achievement for Renaultsport is that the gas guzzling qualities of the 197 have been improved (albeit ever-so-slightly!) on both mpg and C02 emissions.
So what's it like to drive? Its got more grip that a drag queens hold on the last 'whore red' lippy in Boots. It still has very slight torque steer, but only when you give it large without warning, and the balance is so beautifully arranged that manages to be both incredibly forgiving, when you push your luck too far, and highly entertaining. As with all Renaultsport derivatives Brembo brakes are the brake of choice, after all it's no good having super quick acceleration if you can't stop in time when you need to! So the Brembo's are top notch without being to snatchy, the steering is responsive and light (sometimes a little too light!) However you do feel somewhat of a Rally driver sat in the Recaro bucket seats, tiny steering wheel in hand. The other huge thing to remember is that the 200 Cup is stripped out, if it doesn't need to be in there, then its not, this includes all the nice touches like air-con, reach-adjustable steering column (I'll come back to that later) electric mirrors and much lower quality dashboard and interior, all this in the name of saving weight and increasing performance.
It, without doubt, handles brilliantly, its more fun than Alton Towers and performance is enough to worry almost all hot-hatch drivers. Not to mention the fact that in the Alien Green colour that Renault sent me the Cup in, it looks demonic and most drivers look petrified as you rocket up alongside or up behind them. The Cup's styling is almost as aggressive as the noise that comes out the back of it. You cant fail to hear it coming, unless of course you've been sat inside it and then due to the excessive cabin noise from that beefy engine, you'll probably half deaf.
So on to a few issues I have with the otherwise superb 200 Cup… The chassis for a start, saying its excessively stiff would be an understatement akin to saying that Leona Lewis is a bit big in the thigh department (the woman has the legs of an Arabian Thoroughbred race horse). I love a sport ride as much as the next man (minds out the gutter!), not however if the next man is bloody Jenson Button! It's a road going car, regardless of how sporty it is there is a limit to how back breaking the ride needs to be to emphasize this. Its 15% stiffer than its predecessor's, which Renault say gives the car a more distinct more distinct personality from the standard Renaultsport 200 version. I kid you not when I say, that so hard is the suspension on the 200 Cup, that whilst testing it I came to the end of the A417 (Swindon - which is not the smoothest of roads and it certainly wouldn't win any prizes for its flatness either) that it shook me and my passenger so hard and so violently for so long that I actually felt sick!
My other major issue is with the optional Recaro seats, they look and feel great, they look and feel like a great idea to buy. However, over long journeys they're uncomfortable, they're an £850 cost extra and they sit way way way too high, it's meant to be a sports car, I want to sit and feel part of the car, not sit so high that I get altitude sickness! Stick with the standard seats, I've checked it out and the driving position is way better and far more comfortable than in the Recaro's. Finally my last issue is with the lack of rake adjustment on the steering column. Again the steering wheel sits far too high and at an odd angle, especially when combined with the Recaro seats. It's less-than-ideal driving position and totally removes the feeling of being at one with the car. It makes you feel like your driving a Go-Kart whilst being sat on a kid's bumper seat.
So do I like the 200 Cup…. Yes of course I do, I'm a petrol head!
I can say without a shadow of a doubt I'd buy one, and I'd love every minute of driving it, I just wouldn't have the Recaro seats. And at just over £17,000 for the top of the range 200 Cup, yes it's a great track day car, but you can drive to and from the track as well.