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9/10
Overall verdict

The Top Gear car review:Renault Clio 200

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9/10
Overall verdict
Utterly magic. There’s simply no evading the fact this thing is spectacularly good to drive
 

For: 

Superb chassis and drivetrain. One of the greatest hot hatches of all time

Against: 

Watch out for gearbox and steering rack issues. Interior a bit sparse

Overview

What is it?

There have been numerous performance cars spun from the Renault Clio during its nearly 30 years. But perhaps none are as sharp, precise and downright fun as this one.

Which, with bundles of joy like the Clio Williams and utter madness such as the Clio V6 in the family, is quite a claim. But something good was clearly in the water when RenaultSport was putting the finishing touches to the Clio 200 in 2009. Few hot hatches have ever been so fit for purpose.

The Clio 197 was the first hot hatch spun from the MkIII Clio, and it launched in 2006. To faint praise initially, being bigger and more grown-up than the feisty, frenetic little Clio 182 it followed.

RenaultSport has a habit of continual improvement over a car’s life, though, and frequent spec upgrades brought a sharper focus to the Clio. The biggest and most successful change of all (although perhaps not aesthetically) was the launch of the Clio 200, which arrived with the standard model’s 2009 facelift.

Attention was given to the steering, suspension, gearbox and engine calibration. The end result was a 3bhp rise, the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four now producing 197bhp (or 200PS, as per its name), enough for a 6.9-second 0–62mph time. More importantly, the car proved riotous fun.

All generations of MkIII Clio RS had a wonderfully bespoke set-up. This wasn’t a case of teasing out a bit of extra power and fitting some stiffer suspension: the whole engine was unique to the model (its roots going right back to the Clio Williams), and new suspension components were accompanied by a slightly longer wheelbase and broader track widths.

The latter necessitated bespoke body panels for the 197 and 200. Look at the wheelarches – they’re subtly swelled out, and the superbly nerdy differentiator between a regular Clio and an RS, for those in the know. If you follow one from behind, it looks so muscular and broad-shouldered as it sits squat on the road. It means business.

As car companies crave more efficient ranges, such nuanced detail changes have been lost. Not least the most recent turbocharged Clio RS, much maligned for its five-door-only body.

There are numerous special editions to keep an eye out for, though none offered key mechanical changes. The Clio Gordini was a trim level, as opposed to a limited-run model, and is marked out by its blue and white colour scheme and plusher interior trim. Prices don’t differ wildly from regular RSs.

More interesting is the Raider. Effectively an end-of-line special (and named after an iconic Renault 5), the Raider came with matt paint (in either grey or red), leather Recaro seats and larger 18in wheels, which brought a bit of extra grip and steering weight thanks to their bigger tyre contact patches.

Just 50 came to the UK, and costing £21,695 new, those aren’t cheap now. If one comes up, expect to pay a premium for it. Ultimately it’ll be no more fun than any other 200, though, so is only really for the perfectionists who are willing to properly clean its precious paint.

Continue: Driving

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