Three cheers for the beancounters at Renault Australia! The regular Clio is so dull and over-priced that it can't even be arsed bringing it to Australia. The Renault Sport version is different, though. It has a wider bulgy body, special suspension, a perky engine and huggy seats.
Renault Australia makes the effort to import it because we're suckers for fast small cars, especially good ones. The latest hot Clio arrived in late 2008 and it has just been revised with a few upgrades and extras that make it even more fun.
Officially called the Clio Renault Sport 200 Cup, it starts off at $36,490 which works out to about $30 a kilo. That's about same price as prawns, but the Renault lasts longer and is a lot more fun.
Its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine manages 148kW, which is unlikely to impress people obsessed with big numbers, but you don't need to have a heap of power in a car like this to have fun. In fact, the Mazda3 MPS shows too many grunts in a front-drive car is a bad thing and means your arms can be ripped from your body if you dare to accelerate and steer at the same time.
The Clio doesn't have a turbo, so you don't get a crazy surge of power at a particular point, just nice smooth and progressive herbs. Its engine revs smoothly, so you can enjoy giving it hell all the way to 7100rpm. There is even a beep to tell you to shift up or risk hitting the cut-out. A six-speed manual is the only transmission available. If you so much as ask about an automatic version there is a good chance you shall be spat upon.
The Clio was plenty fast on our test drive at Sandown Raceway, pushing past 170km/h on the back straight, but it was the way it was able to navigate the witches hats strategically places to slow us down that was so remarkable. It is just so nimble. You can throw this at mad angles and crazy speeds and chances are that you will make it. The stability control is not too intrusive, but switching it off means you can fling it around and even get the tail to hang out.
The steering is very sharp and precise and Renault has even thrown in a yellow centre marking on the wheel, like a rally car, in case you lose your place. Standard Brembo brakes stop it in a hurry and Recaro seats hold you in around bends. Renault has fiddled with the design, but maintained the nice-car-gone-bad exterior.