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Renault Clio Cup
9/10

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Road Test

Renault Clio RS Cup first drive

Driven September 2013

Additional Info

If you are concerned by reports lamenting the new Clio RenaultSport 200 - turbo four-pot, flappy-paddle gearbox and all - and its lack of fizz, this news will cheer you. Perhaps piqued by accusations of turning a bit soft, Renault has treated the new Clio RS to a full roll cage, giant rear wing, an extra 20bhp and, instead of the 200's cautious dual-clutch transmission, a straight-cut sequential 'box.

Fizz? This thing's got fizz like a chipped SodaStream. It howls like a kelpie, detonates its gearshifts like an elephant gun and corners with the force normally reserved for Thorpe Park's most vomitous rides. It is the hot new Clio we wanted. Job done.

OK, job not quite done. There is one minor issue. The Cup is in no way road legal. It is a track-only racer with slick-sticky tyres and five-point harnesses, and if you take it on a public highway, you shall be arrested and probed in the bottom and then fed to police dogs. But, for all that, it's a racer that shares an enormous amount with the hot MkIV Clio: shell, steering, engine (the only alterations are a new exhaust and airbox) and springs, though the ZF shocks are new. And you know what? The Clio racer feels unmistakably... RenaultSporty out on track: adjustable on the throttle, surprisingly compliant over the kerbs. A high-def hot hatch, if you will.

There is one other minor issue: drive it on a summer's day, and you will discover the Clio racer's cabin is slightly hotter than a rush-hour tube train on the planet Mercury. Gone is the standard car's weighty, wasteful aircon unit, replaced by a hole in the roof through which a few feeble spurts of outside air may occasionally huff into the cockpit. TopGear feels hospitalisation by dehydration is a small price to pay for those lock-and-load sequential gearchanges, activated from a pair of meaty steering-wheel paddles and approximately a million per cent more satisfying than the road-going Clio's plasticky shifters.

If you fancy a slice of Clio racer action, it doesn't come cheap: the car and entry into all eight rounds of the one-make series accompanying the 2014 BTCC circus will cost you around £45,000, while a race team, maintenance and replacement parts could set you back 80 grand a year. But Renault says that's mighty good value for a touring-car series just one tier below the BTCC.

But for those of us not seeking a springboard into professional racing, the Clio racer is proof there's a proper fast car trapped within the 200 RS. Of course, we'd love a road-going Clio with huge spoilers, more power and a roll cage, but, in truth, all it really needs is a gearbox infused with some of that race-car fightiness...

Sam Philip

The numbers
1618cc, 4cyl turbo petrol, FWD, 217bhp, 199lb ft, n/a mpg, n/a g/km CO2, 0-62mph in n/a secs,, n/a mph, 1065kg, £36,000

The verdict
The wildest Renault since, erm, the TwinRun concept we drove. But much cheaper and not quite so bad if you crash it. Ace.

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