How? Well, it helps to cook with the right ingredients. Off the back of the Clio Williams, Dieppe had already spent half a decade turning the humble second generation Clio into something special. Shoehorning a modified 2.0-litre 16-valve engine into the supermini helped some; the F4R730 four-cylinder unit had variable valve timing and made 172hp. To make the most of it, Renault Sport launched the Cup model in 2002, which relieved the car of everything from air con to its spare wheel.
By 2004 a facelift had turned the Clio into the 182, the extra power liberated by a redesigned exhaust manifold and high flow catalytic convertor (the changes culminating in the model's new dual tailpipes). The standard RS version already sat on wider tracks and stiffer suspension and had the 172 Cup's caster angle, but for £200 more you could add the chassis pack which lowered the car by 3mm onto even firmer springs and dampers, and strengthened the front hub.
Rather than mating the Clio with a higher output (as it had already done with the surreal V6 model), Dieppe blew the development budget on Sachs Race Engineering dampers ten times as expensive as those worn by the Cup car. With separate reservoirs to handle half the oil and gas, a thicker damper rod could be deployed - and because the hydraulic bump stops were included, the Trophy could afford to feature shorter springs. This meant that it rode 10mm lower than even the Cup version. And was about 100 times cooler.
It is instructive here to recall that the Cup version did not ride badly; it was merely unflinching in the way you might expect from such a small and single-minded car. Thus it occasionally bridled or banged or clattered - not enough to scupper the fun, just enough for you to heed the strain. In the Trophy, while the vertical stiffness remains pronounced on Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres, it is also made to feel soft-edged and accommodating by an entirely different league of wheel control.
With all the same handling pungency present and correct - only better and sweeter and more congruous - the limited-edition model is one of those rare front-drive cars that rewards total commitment without seeming fraught or over endowed. It remains honest and easy to drive on the surface, and the harder you try, the more enigmatically gifted it appears to get. Even hunched over the controls, with your fingers stuck to the steering wheel, it's hard to conceive of a way it might have been made better. Crushing then to learn that only 304 remain registered in the UK, and of that number there can hardly be many as box-fresh as Renault's own heritage fleet constituent. Expect the seller of such an example to make you pay handsomely. And expect it to seem cheap at twice the price.
SPECIFICATION - RENAULT CLIO 182 TROPHY
Engine: 1,998cc, 4cyl 16v
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 182@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 148@5,250rpm
0-62mph: 6.5 secs
Top speed: 138mph
On sale: Sept 2004 - Sept 2005
Price new: £15,500
Price now: £5,000 - £9,000
Inspired? Buy a Renault Clio 182 Trophy here