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£21,595 when new

Car specifications

Budget
£21,595
Brake horsepower
217bhp
Fuel consumption
47.9mpg
0–62 mph
6.60s
CO2
135g/km
Max speed
146Mph

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Ooh, what’s this?

A hotted-up Clio 200, and the latest Renaultsport hot hatch to wear the ‘Trophy’ badge. Exciting news because, on past form, Renaults endowed with this sprinkling of petrolhead-pleasing fairy dust have been among the most satisfying hot hatches to see a B-road.

The standard Clio 200 isn’t Renaultsport’s finest hour, is it?

Not if you wanted a car in the vein of its brilliant predecessors, no. It’s totally understandable – inevitable, even – Renault had to junk the last-gen Clio 200’s revvy old 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine for a 1.6-litre turbo job. A 200bhp power output just doesn’t square with the modern emissions rules otherwise.

But, in also ditching the three-door body and manual gearbox, Renault rather threw the baby and entire bathroom out with the bathwater. This new, £2650 dearer Clio Trophy is a chance for Renault get back on terms with the spectacularly successful Ford Fiesta ST, not to mention the newly revised Peugeot 208 GTi and VW Polo GTI.

So it’s got a manual gearbox?

Sorry, no. It hasn’t. Renault’s stuck with the dual-clutch paddleshift ’box – shoehorning a manual into the Clio now would be as much a packaging nightmare as it would be the mother of all PR climb-downs. But Renault claim the 1.6-litre’s 217 horses – 20bhp more than before – now arrive at the front wheels via gearshifts fifty per cent faster than the standard car.

That’ll save you 75 milliseconds every shift. So every 13 shifts, in theory, you gain a second of not-waiting over the standard Clio 200. Have that, track day fans!

Keep it pinned into fourth and fifth gear, and the engine now ‘overboosts’ on torque. All new RS Clios have been treated to a 14lb lift – but in higher gears the Trophy piles on another 14lb ft above that, managing 207lb ft in total.

So it’s faster, then?

Despite the snappier gearbox and power hike, only a tenth has been trimmed from the official 0-62mph time: a claimed 6.6 seconds. Top speed is a heady 146mph. But that’s plenty in a Clio, surely?

What the Clio does have is deep reserves of boosty torque. In combination with the gearbox’s competent auto mode, it’s now terribly easy to lope along at a fair old lick without trying too hard.

I don’t buy a hot hatch for loping.

True. See, here’s the thing. Paddles are great for lots of things. Allowing you to keep both hands on the wheel on a tricky road. Launch control.

But in a hot Clio – a Trophy especially – a paddleshift ’box surely needs to be either world class, or absent entirely. In this one, you’re still left a bit out of the equation. Renault insists the Trophy, in Race mode, will not upchange automatically at the redline. But for that, you have to put the gearbox lever into manual, press the R.S. button, then press and hold it again for the driver-focused mode. Surely this could be simpler? Why is the main mode Trophy buyers care about ashamedly squirreled away where only the I.T. crowd will find it? 

Sounds… disappointing.

Time the shifts intelligently and they are indeed palpably quicker than before, and Renault claims the distance you retract the paddles is 30 per cent shorter, but you’d never know.

When you’re properly, properly going for it, then the gearbox melds with the entire Trophy package and this feels like a serious little racer. Where it loses out to rivals is not having quite the same verve below nine-tenths. So, if you like a car that delivers on max attack, go for it.

Do I get a nice upchange ‘parp’ noise on cue, though?

Yes. That’s the best bit.

I’m guessing the Trophy has a bone-breaking track-spec ride?

Actually, no. It’s 20mm lower at the front and 10mm lower at the rear (where Renault’s also stiffened up the suspension by 40 per cent) than the standard Clio 200, but this is still a remarkably compliant hot hatch, absorbing bumps rather than clambering over them in a huff.

There’s more body roll than you might expect, but a touch of lean is actually quite handy for feeling the car’s weight shift when you’re on it. It’s a properly sorted compromise between feeling sporty and not shaking your eyebrows loose, and a big thumbs up for Renault’s choice of pricey rally-style dampers.

What else is good?

The stopping power. You no longer get designer label Brembos (just as there’s an upsetting lack of bespoke wheelarch bodywork or Recaro bucket seats) but the brakes – lifted from the ordinary RS Clio – will absorb more complaint-free abuse than a football referee.

Grip from the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres is tenacious too. The darting, quicker steering’s not great – the obese steering wheel even less so – but you can drive the Clio so hard on the front end. Racing drivers like that sort of balance. It equals predictability, and neat’n’tidy speed.

Us mere mortals might prefer the slightly looser, more playful shimmying of the Fiesta ST, though.

So it’s better, but not the best?

Pretty much. Good though the Trophy is in parts – it’s fast, easy to drive, and pleasantly comfortable for such a hot hatch – you just get the sense Renault made life way too difficult for itself to start with. The RS Clio’s spec list reads like it’s almost designed to irritate traditional hot hatch devotees. And for a Trophy, improved though it is, there isn’t quite enough clear air between this supposedly ultimate version and the standard Clio 200 either.

What do you think?

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