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Renault Clio Renaultsport 200 Cup

Click to view picture gallery“The latest Renaultsport Clio 200
  Cup will leave other hot-hatch
  owners green with envy — it’s such
  a great handling car that on twisty
  roads it will leave almost any other
  car for dead

ALIEN GREEN. I've come across some bizarre paint names in my time (Fiat's Goth Metal Blue anyone?) but rarely has a name seemed as apt as this one from Renault. 'Alien Green' perfectly suits a shade of green so virulent that Fungus the Bogeyman himself would have to wear sunglasses to cope. And, to cap it all, there are white alloy wheels!

Make no mistake; no-one's going to miss you coming in this Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup. But they're far more likely to miss you when you're leaving — this latest hot Renault is such a great handler that it will leave almost any other car for dead on twisty roads.

Renault has a reputation as the creator of the best front-wheel drive chassis on the market. Its Renaultsport Mégane and old-shape Clio Sport 197 were stand-out examples of engineering mastery. So, can the new Clio Renaultsport 200 equal those legends?

The version I've got on test should answer that: it's the hardcore 200 Cup model. Renault will sell you a plush Renaultsport 200 with things like climate control and curtain airbags but serious enthusiasts will be drawn to the Cup version. This is really stripped-down (no AirCon, no split rear seats, manual door mirrors, etc.) and weighs-in at just 1,204kg.

What makes this particular Cup floweth over, however, is its special chassis. You get a truly focused spec incorporating stiffer springs and dampers, a lower ride height, extra torsional rigidity and a higher ratio steering rack.

This is certainly a very stiff-riding machine. Every small bump comes right up through the ultra-thin — and rather wonderful — optional hard-back Recaro seats to interact firmly with your posterior. But that's the trade-off for sharp handling, and this is one of the best front-drive chassis I've ever encountered.

The fast-acting steering feels fantastic as you carve into corners. Indeed, the exceptionally crisp initial turn-in is perhaps this car's stand-out feature: its neutrality and feel inspire absolute confidence.

A large part of this sublime feeling is down to the unique suspension design which makes the steering axis of the front suspension independent of the damping. As a result, that bugbear of high-power, front-wheel drive cars — torque steer — is virtually absent under acceleration. Grip from the 215/45 Continental Sport 3 tyres is also exceptional.

With its fat wings,
front aero blade, air
extractors and rear
diffuser, the Clio 200 Cup
looks a bit like
an alien spacecraft
Compared to the old Clio 197, the new 200 gains — you guessed it — an extra 3bhp! That means 100bhp-per-litre from a non-turbo engine (enough to make even Honda raise an eyebrow) and a best-in-class power-to-weight ratio of 166bhp-per-ton. Low-end torque is 20 per cent better than the old Clio 197 but, even so, you really do need to keep the revs up to make good progress. And don't expect a Honda-like exhaust note either. While the 2.0-litre Cup engine loves to rev — peak power arrives at 7,100rpm — it's more of a loud buzz than something you'd want to wind the windows down for.

And buzz is certainly what you get on the motorway: as ever, the Clio Sport is geared super-low to get the best acceleration possible (first, second and third gears have even been shortened compared to the old Clio 197). At 6.9 seconds from standstill to 62mph, the Clio 200 is quick if not class-leading. However, the combination of high-revving power and a super-crisp chassis makes for extremely fast cross-country progress. With an extreme grin on your face.

Another impressive attribute is the brakes: chunky 312mm ventilated discs with four-pot Brembo callipers up front (painted red on the Cup version), and 300mm rear discs with single-piston TRW callipers. The brake pedal offers plenty of feel and you can haul on the anchors very late with supreme confidence.

With its fat wings, front aero blade, air extractors and rear diffuser, the Clio 200 looks a bit like an alien spacecraft. The test car also came with an 'i.d. Design Pack' — basically a black front bumper, mirrors and rear diffuser. The i.d. package can be extended with things like yellow seatbelts and yellow interior trim highlights, which set-off the standard yellow rev-counter rather nicely and give you an 'alien' glow inside the car too.

For my final word, let's return to that Alien Green pearlescent paint scheme. Costing an intergalactic £1,200, it's fine if you've got NASA's budget. But my advice would be go for a subtler shade and stay under the radar — that's police guns and UFO scanners. Then you can really have some fun without fear of an abduction. — Chris Rees

Renault Clio
Renaultsport 200 Cup | £16,115
Maximum speed: 141mph | 0-62mph: 6.9 seconds | Overall MPG: 34.4mpg
Power: 200bhp | Torque: 158lb ft | CO2 195g/km | Insurance group 15