What's the greatest hot hatch ever made? Any definitive answer would be a pretty brave one, even for a seasoned journalist. Which I am not. Yet I've seen many state that the Renaultsport Clio 200 is the best naturally-aspirated hot hatch they've encountered; I had to find out myself.
Before I started working at PH, more than four years ago now, I had always shunned the idea of buying 'some French tat.' But Dan and James soon made me see the light and it wasn't long before I bought a Clio 182 Trophy. Little did I know at the time that it would be the first of many Renaultsports I'd own, and the best decision I've ever made. It taught me that proper drivers car can be had on a small budget.
'Bang for your buck' is a phrase commonly thrown around in hot hatch circles, but a Clio 172/182 really is the definition of it. For a short while my first 182 was run alongside my Lotus Elise 111S and not only was it a quarter of the price, but I had far more confidence driving it harder and faster than the Lotus. Perhaps that was more down to the former point, but suffice it to say, they are incredible value for money, with early versions having been Shed money for a long time.
Having now owned a string of five Clios and Meganes, then, I was deliberating trying another car from the range. With PH Towers having relocated to central London, I'm barely covering any miles on my daily commute to the station. I still wanted something relatively comfortable with a few creature comforts, but most importantly it had to be a car capable of delivering thrills on and off track; this is what Renaultsports are famed for after all.
After weeks of throwing different ideas around the office, and hours researching - including reading our very own buying guide - my decision was final. There was just one small problem with concluding I wanted a 200 though - I'd never driven one. So, after several weeks of pouring over the market and not finding a car that ticked all the boxes, I took to a popular Clio forum to see if anyone local to me had a 200 they'd be happy to take me out in for a drive.
It didn't take long for a kind individual to come along and offer to take me out in their car. That person was in fact PH dealer Steve Murr (also known as R-Sport) who had a car sat just outside of my saved search criteria with his own 200 being identical bar a few modifications. He was also just down the road from me, so it seemed the stars had aligned. It was an absolute pleasure meeting Steve, it was just like going for a drive with a mate and there was no sales pitch whatsoever. He's been a dealer for a decade and has sold more than 100 Renaultsports, so knows a thing or two about them. EK60 BLX turned out to be perfect in every way so, perhaps surprisingly to Steve, a deal was struck on the spot and I headed home to tell my fiancée I might have just bought another car...
So what exactly have I bought? It's a late 2010 Renaultsport Clio 200 in Glacier White, in 'full fat' spec with Cup pack. This takes a standard Sport chassis car with its luxuries such as air-conditioning, keyless entry and cruise control, and adds the best bits from the Cup chassis with 30 per cent stiffer springs that sit 7mm closer to the ground and a steering rack that's 7.5 per cent quicker. Notable improvements over the 197 which the 200 succeeded were a 20 per cent rise in torque in the lower half of the rev range, with lower gear ratios for the first three gears and a longer sixth for cruising.
It produces 200hp at 7,100rpm from its 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-pot and will complete the 0-60 sprint in 6.9 seconds, if that's your thing. It's a chunk lighter than the Megane it has replaced, too, at 1,240kg. With just 25K miles on the clock, my car looks and feels brand new; it's exceptional. Expect that mileage to rise quite quickly over the coming weeks as I find out if it can live up to its hero status.
Car: 2010 Renaultsport Clio 200
Run by: Ben Lowden
On fleet since: May 2019
Last month at a glance: Ben does downsizing properly, as Megane makes way for Clio