When Renault took the wraps off its lightly restyled Clio Renaultsport range at the Geneva show a couple of months back, we didn’t get too excited.
Fortunately, a last minute invitation from Renault to join the recent launch of the 200 in Portugal has provided an opportunity to set the record straight.
Actually Renault launched two ‘sporty’ Clios in Portugal, so we’re bound to mention there’s a new Clio GT model coming to a showroom near you. The Clio GT is blessed with pleasingly sporty styling fripperies such as drilled aluminium pedal covers, twin exhaust tailpipes and a lippy little spoiler, but it’s also got a 128hp 1.6 petrol engine that feels gutless to the point of mild embarrassment, so you probably won’t be hearing much more about it here on PH.
So if the GT is good for anything, it’s to prove that the latest Clio chassis can be made to handle like a good ‘un, although rave reviews already afforded to the outgoing 197 Cup have made that point well enough.
Having sampled the 197 Cup’s successor for a dozen laps of Portugal’s neat little Braga circuit, we can say the new Clio Renaultsport 200 Cup rams the point home in far more emphatic style than we had a right to expect from a car that appeared to be little more than a mid-life facelift.
The key to the new model’s increased appetite for circuit work lies in the strangely disparate nature of demand for Renaultsport models in different markets.
We Brits are a hardcore lot (hooray!) who want our Renaultsport chassis to really handle. The French, on the other hand, are a bunch of softies (hiss!) who will apparently opt for a bit more comfort every time they’re given half a chance. Thus Renaultsport tends to split its hot hatch models into two lines, offering both a standard Sport chassis and a feistier Cup version beloved by the Brits. Vive le difference, as we say in France.
The 200 Cup chassis also benefits from front and rear springs that are 30 percent stiffer than the standard Sport, and the car rides 7mm closer to the ground. The other key set-up difference between the Cup and Sport 200s is electrically assisted steering that’s 7.5 percent quicker on the Cup chassis.
“We’re trying to really differentiate the two chassis types a little more. We’ve added more comfort to the Sport chassis through the damping, mainly because that’s what certain markets demand, notably in France,’ he says. ‘On the Cup chassis we went a bit more radical and have adjusted the damping and steering, as well as making the car lighter.
‘We’re also using dual-effect dampers – instead of using one set of damper valves you’ve got two sets. That means you’re working the fluid in the dampers less, so there’s less chance of cavitation or the dampers going off. The performance will keep up even when you’re giving the car a really hard work out.’
‘We were a bit miffed when Ford came up with the name Revo-Knuckle for the suspension on the Focus RS, as we introduced our system on the Megane RS five years ago but without a catchy name so fewer people have heard about it,’ jokes Steve. In the 200, the set-up has been improved over the 197 with new alloy hub carriers and rose-jointed bushes to replace the top bearings.
These revisions have reduced the unsprung mass by 1kg at each corner, with lower rotating mass improving ride comfort and sharpening turn-in.
Renault claims the 200 Cup has the best power to weight ratio in its class at 166hp per tonne, but that hasn’t deflected earlier criticism in the PH forums that the Clio is on the lardy side at 1204kgs.
He continued: ‘I drove an original Clio Williams recently, and while it was great fun to have 150bhp in a 900kgs car, it didn’t feel very stiff by today’s standards and the refinement isn’t there either. You wouldn’t think twice about a doing a long journey in the 200, but you might feel differently about doing the same in the Williams.’
The only other significant criticism that has been aimed at the 197 Cup was the notion that the steering was lacking in feel.
‘We switched to electric power steering in the 197 for the fuel saving benefit and also to improve reliability by eliminating the chance of fluid leaks,’ says Steve. ‘We think the steering is now very precise with the improvements we’ve made for the 200, but we haven’t gone out of our way to make it heavier for the sake of it.’
Once out on the track at Braga, it’s time to put the revisions to the test. First time around is a warm-up behind a safety car, and an opportunity to be immediately impressed by the slick yet positive change of the six-speed gearbox; the lever always seemingly in the right plane for the next ratio, and never a hint of notchiness or baulking during snatched gear changes. In fact the shift embodies an easy, confidence-building familiarity that shines through in nearly every aspect of the Clio 200’s character on the track, and helps make it such a hoot to drive.
As speeds increase for our handful of ‘hot’ laps on a dry track, the combination of super-grippy Continental Contact3 tyres (a bespoke compound for the Clio 200), roll-resistant suspension and supremely accurate steering makes the Cup chassis an utter delight.
The brakes, too, are utterly gob-smacking and offer performance on a par with far more exotic machinery. Independent testing in Germany has proved the point, with the 197 Cup matching the Porsche Cayman’s impressive 35 metre 100km/h to Zero distance over 10 consecutive stops.
On the track, the brakes are so intoxicatingly strong there’s an inevitable tendancy to try outbrake yourself, but plunging headlong into a tightening apex with braking still to be done reveals the most rewarding aspect of the 200 Cup’s handling. The chassis is simply so ‘adjustable’ on the brakes and throttle that even the most cack-handed of pilotes will find themselves nonchalantly balancing the car on the edge of adhesion as they hurtle through the trackday twisties – and if they’re anything like this humble scribe, feeling utterly heroic while they’re at it!
If you’re looking to spend £15,570 on having a ball, but also need a car that offers genuine practicality and sufficient refinement for everyday use, you won’t be disappointed with the Clio Renaultsport 200 Cup. However Renault expects most 200 customers in the UK to splash out an extra grand for the more luxuriously-equipped Sport version, and then top it off with the £400 Cup chassis option. Either way, you’ll be on to a winner.