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What do we have here?

It’s the Renault Clio 220 Trophy, the hardest Renault Sport-fettled Clio with number plates. Until they pull their finger out and make the mighty Clio RS16, anyway.

The Trophy was introduced in 2015, so isn’t exactly gagging for an update, but it has been swept along with the Clio range facelift and gets some new goodies as a result.

Such as?

Some excellent lights. Note the new pattern at the extreme ends of its front bumper, looking like artistic interpretations of a chequered flag. A mixture of nine LEDs and six reflectors, these units incorporate not just fog lights and cornering lights, but the regular dipped and high beam too.

Yet those latter two are also taken care of by the regular headlights. So what you get is 40 per cent extra light, and a wee hot hatch that could illuminate a night time blast on your local B-road like it’s packing the Old Trafford floodlights.

Um, why?

Well, it should keep the local wildlife away from the subtly redesigned front styling, while also helping illuminate your clipping points, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re not, then take solace in the new (albeit £900 extra) Akrapovic exhaust, which aims to tease some character out of the mk4 Clio RS’s much-maligned 1.6-litre turbo engine.

Otherwise, tweaks over the old Trophy are in line with the rest of the Clio range; some nicer materials inside, with the ability to stick a whacking great subwoofer in the boot thanks to the option of a Bose stereo.

The Trophy’s 217bhp engine, 6.6sec 0-62mph time and 146mph top speed all remain intact. At £22,030, it only costs a little more than before, too.

Must be the same to drive, then?

Yes. Which is a mixed blessing. Overall, this is a fun, and really quite fast little car. It’s evidently sharper than the standard Clio RS, what with its stiffer, lower suspension and the snappier shifts of its twin-clutch transmission.

Put the gearbox in manual mode and switch the car into its Race mode (the uppermost of three driving profiles), and you won’t get automatic upshifts, Launch Control will be activated, and the ESP deactivated. Stig mode, basically.

Thus setup, it’ll act the scamp on track, cocking a rear wheel at will and sliding subtly but predictably at the rear. But only with provocation. Otherwise this is a hot hatch ruthlessly efficient at going quickly. As a car to learn a new circuit or build your trackday confidence in, it’s very, very good. As a car to make you grin from ear to ear, it still lags behind a Ford Fiesta ST or Peugeot Sport 208 GTI. And, indeed, fast Clios of old.

What might fix it?

That’s easy, and the answer in part comes from Renault Sport itself, thanks to the RS16 concept. Fit a manual gearbox and immediately there’s a whole new level of interaction with the car.

Us Brits, though, are apparently the only ones to complain. The German and Swiss markets – alongside the UK, the biggest fans of Renault Sport, and hot hatches as a whole – love the new paddleshifting Clio.

Ours is the one country where sales have dipped from the old, manual-only mk3 Clio RS. And given the packaging issues, the stick-shift won’t be back before the mk5. Barring a limited-run of that mega-money RS16, of course.

What if I like the paddles?

Then there’s plenty else to like here, too. While the 220 Trophy doesn’t have lovely Recaro sports seats like hardcore Clios past, it does hug you into place nicely. The interior is a notably classier place to be than the Fiesta’s, and its wheel and dial setup more traditional and intuitive than the Peugeot’s.

The optional Akrapovic exhaust does not offer night-and-day change to the powertrain’s vocal chords or responses, and is not an essential box to tick. There’s a hard-edged rasp as you build speed, and a nice parp on high-rev upshifts, but these are traits we recall from our last drive in a 220 Trophy. A titanium exhaust system with carbon tips does offer plenty of pit-lane cool, though. Our inner nerds would struggle to ignore it.

Final thoughts?

All told, this is a talented hot hatch. But it enters a market that’s never been more angrily fought, by so many great contenders. And Renault insiders freely admit that, in the UK at least, there’s little stopping the Fiesta ST. Even if the Ford won’t light up your favourite road up like a Monday night Premier League match…

What do you think?

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