Renault's been making feisty hot hatches for, well, decades really and unlike Peugeot has rarely taken its eye off the GTI ball. My first car was a 1980s Renault 5 and I recall lusting after the Turbo I couldn't afford; the Clio Williams were seminal pocket rockets; and a succession of Renaultsport models since has left us in no doubt that La Regie's engineers know a thing or two about le hatch chaud
I've recently spent time in the latest Renaultsport Clio Cup. Now I don't know about you, but I've become slightly confused by the nomenclature of fast Renaults. A Cup here, a Trophy there, a sprinkling of numbers all over and don't get me started on the forthcoming, brand-stretching Gordini models. It's a confection of marketing nuance that makes me wince. But there's nowt wrong with the product.
A bright lime green Clio Cup is about to join CAR's long-term test fleet, driven by our inestimable staff writer Ben Pulman. He's plumped for the purist's choice: a stripped-out Cup model. In the quest to junk 36kg over the regular Clio 200, it dumps niceties such as air-conditioning (a pain in winter), posh dash plastics and leccy mirrors and he's specced some grippy optional Recaro seats too. He doesn't mess around with cars, Mr P.
In an age where even the blandest of Korean cars does most things reasonably well, we motoring journos often talk about character. Well, the Clio Cup positively fizzes with the stuff. From its eye-searing paint job to the purist's cabin, this is a car for driving
The basic Clio is often overlooked now, so fast is the pace of change in the supermini sector. It remains a roomy, well built and peppy small car. A perfect foundation for a racy pocket rocket. But the Renaultsport gurus have added a sprinkle of magic to transform good to great.
You sit hugged in those Recaros, and all the controls are perfectly weighted and right where they should be. Even an amateur like me can roll his foot over the brake and blip the throttle, so well placed are the pedals. And you'll want to do that at every downchange, so eager is the Clio 200 to slice into the next corner. The 2.0-litre four-pot is a characterful thing, too, delivering its 197bhp at a screaming 7100rpm. No wonder editor McNamara came back mumbling about this being the Lambo of superminis.
I recently drove the Clio Cup back to back on the same roads as the Lamborghini Murcielago SV. And you know what? I had just as much fun in the Renault as the supercar. The Clio thrills on a different level; it flatters the driver, goads you into perfecting your line and is a timely reminder that fun needn't happen at mega speeds in this camera-infested climate.
I'd go as far as to say it's one of the best cars for sale today for less than £16,000. Do you agree? Click 'Add your comment' and tell us which car you think is the best hot hatch on sale today.>> Read CAR's insider profile of Renaultsport in the current February 2010 issue of CAR Magazine