Even two years on, there's little better to stoke an Internet hot hatch debate than mention of the
Renaultsport Clio 200 EDC
. It appears none of the vitriol directed at Renault for such a drastic change of hot hatch course has mellowed since 2013; still the criticisms of it being too dull, rather uninvolving and just a bit plain ring out.
A fast Clio that looks it - yes!
aims to address, but it's worth noting to start the standard car certainly wasn't and isn't the abject failure many point it out to be. Sure, the powertrain required some work, but underneath that rather dowdy exterior sat a chassis of real quality, some great brakes and clear hints at some latent Renaultsport genius. Problem was these attributes were veiled beneath a level of maturity unknown to previous Renaultsport products.
The spec of the Trophy certainly hints at some significant improvements. No trick components this time, but a lower, stiffer, faster and more responsive fast Clio would seem just the thing to answer the keyboard critics. And the Fiesta ST for that matter...
The Trophy gets off to a great start by the way it looks. That drop in ride height (20mm at the front, 10mm at the back) combined with larger 18-inch wheels gives it a much more confident, assertive stance and the Trophy add ons are largely successful. The name probably doesn't need to be emblazoned across the bumper though.
New 18-inch wheels and Michelin Super Sports
As for driving, where better to begin than the gearbox? It's probably the biggest bone of contention with current Renaultsport Clio, torpid when left to its own devices and just not exciting enough with manual control. Pleasingly it's much, much improved for Trophy. As an automatic the biggest compliment that can be paid is that it works almost imperceptibly; no longer are you left baffled at its choice of gear. Sport feels entirely intuitive in its more aggressive shift pattern and Race mode is simply really good fun. Yep, the f-word and the new Clio RS. Shorter gear ratios means third is pretty much done by 70, giving ample opportunity to flit up or down. Chasing that newly raised 6,800rpm limiter the warning beep comes, then the warning light, then the 'bap-bap-bap-bap' of the limiter if you've left it too late; pull a (shorter travel) paddle, the exhaust burps in appreciation and it's off again. Brilliant.
It feels quick enough as well, the combination of those gear ratios, a tad more power and some aural drama doing wonders for the Clio's speed, both perceived and actual. It's a more engaging engine to use than before too, with some whooshes, pops and bangs redolent of the Megane much more noticeable. It will never be remembered as one of the great hot hatch engines in a way the old 2.0-litre will but certainly it's a step in the right direction.
Rear 10mm lower with springs 40 per cent stiffer
Megane similarities are evident elsewhere too, which is mostly a good thing. With firmer dampers and 40 per cent stiffer rear springs that almost languid gait of the standard 200 is gone, replaced by a surprising level of tautness. It's not Fiesta ST stiff and the damping has the quality and resolve we would expect from Renaultsport, but the standard car's comfort has been compromised. The pay-off though is a Renaultsport Clio that just feels naughtier than before; more alive, more agile and more willing to entertain.
A 10 per cent reduction in steering rack ratio and Michelin Pilot Super Sports - in place of Dunlop Sport Maxxes on a Cup-spec 200 - give the Trophy more conviction on turn-in. Understeer can be trimmed accurately with a closed throttle and being bolder will see the Trophy shakin' its ass (wrong Renault but you get the point) as you please. The key is that while the standard car would do this it required a great deal of effort; the Trophy, encouragingly, feels much happier playing to your childish side.
As much fun as a Fiesta? The Clio still lacks the Ford frenetic nature but the noticeable gains in enjoyment and speed would make a twin-test far closer than previously. The superb Peugeot 208 GTI 30th can not be discounted either. What's happy to report is that a comparison would now feel like a genuine three-way encounter in a way it never has previously.
Good enough for hot hatch, er, trophy?
Having said that, the Clio does still have a few issues that hold it back. The first is, despite the marked improvement, that gearbox. Renault describes the Trophy as a car "unashamedly targeted at track day enthusiasts", yet it won't even offer them a manual gearbox? Even when there is a good one utilised in the mechanically very similar
? That the Trophy feels more like a traditional Renaultsport product in the way it drives make the missing gear stick all the more frustrating. So here's an idea: the manual as the cost option. It doesn't offend the existing customers and it may well draw back a few purists. Controversial perhaps, but at least it would ensure the choice is there.
Finally, while speaking of cost, the Clio's price may hold it back. Its basic list of £21,780 doesn't look that unreasonable in the context of the Peugeot (ignore the £25K as tested price; £3K is seats and paint) but that pesky Ford does make it look pricey. A top-of-the-range ST3 with the Mountune upgrade is still £1,500 less than the Renault. Hmm. Perhaps that's an unfair point to end on given the Trophy's considerable and tangible improvements over the standard 200 but it's a significant one. We'll hope to establish how close the two are, and whether that premium can be justified, in a comparison soon. For now though let's be content that there's a fast Clio worthy of the Renaultsport badge again!
CLIO RENAULTSPORT 220 TROPHY EDC
Engine: 1,618cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 220@6,050rpm
Torque (lb ft):207@2,000rpm
Top speed: 146mph
MPG: 47.9mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £21,780 [£24,975 as tested comprising of £1,600 for Trophy branded, high-backed, heated front seats in Renaultsport dark-carbon leather upholstery, £1,300 for Renault i.d matt paint, Frost White (with gloss black roof and rear spoiler) and £295 for Renaultsport Monitor v2]