Clio Renault Sport 200 Cup Review
It’s only been a few months since Renault handed us the keys to their Renault Clio Sport F1 Team R27, which we unanimously rated as the most accomplished and most focused hot hatch in the business.
But while its no world-beater in a straight-line sprint (although I wouldn’t call it slow either) the moment you stumble on anything resembling a curve in the road, this little hatch morphs into a giant killer, with more grip than you’ll find in sixteen Velcro factories running back-to-back 24 hour shifts.
And then there’s the pinpoint accurate steering, allowing the driver to utterly obliterate corner after corner, quicker than a mongoose in a box full of cobras.
Yes, it really is that good.
So how do you turn the Holy Grail of the hot hatch world into something even better? Answer - you go to the small Parisian suburb of Les Ulis and ask the fanatics at Renault sport to build a better Clio.
Renault, more than any other car company, instinctively know how to blend race car performance with their road cars. They’ve been doing it for over 100 years, from that night in 1902, when founder Louis Renault drove his one-cylinder Voiturette to the top of Montmartre, just to prove the car could make it up the hills.
It did, and according to reports, twelve additional orders for the tiny hill climber followed this success and Renault was off and running.
Racing soon became a passion of Louis and his brother Marcel and Renault became a keen competitor in some of the earliest motor races from 1903. Tragically, Marcel was killed that same year in the Paris-Madrid race and Louis never raced again although, the company continued to enter cars and won the first ever Grand Prix in 1906 with Hungarian engineer/driver Ferenc Szisz at the wheel.
That fanatical passion for motorsport through the ages, is the principle reason why the people at Renault sport are capable of building such extraordinarily good performance hatches in their modest but notoriously secret operation near Paris.
And after several quick laps at Melbourne’s Sandown Motor Raceway, I can assure you, that the new Clio Renault Sport 200 Cup is better in every way than its predecessor, the RS Sport 197.
But don’t take my word for it, just ask F1 pilot Vitaly Petrov, who steered the car around the track quicker than any 2.0 litre naturally aspirated hot hatch has any right to be.
There’s motor sport pedigree all through this car, starting with a proper aerodynamic frontal blade splitter, which looks a lot like that on the current Renault F1 car.
Walk around the side of the Renault Clio, and you can’t miss the front-wing air-extractors, which neutralize the air turbulence caused by the wider wings as well as reducing drag and extracting heat from under the bonnet.
The rear air diffuser is a serious looking bit of kit if there ever was one. And it works too as we were doing 185km/h down the back straight of Sandown and the Clio was rock solid.
It’s just physics really, air is channeled along the car’s flat bottom to the diffuser where it exits at a higher speed, which creates a low pressure zone, sucking the car to the tarmac.
The result means that at just 100km/h, lift is reduced by close enough to 35 kilograms or more, as speed increases.
You’ll also notice the wider rear tailpipes, which are nicely integrated into the outer edge of the rear diffuser.
If there was ever any criticism at all leveled at the Clio RS 197, it was the lack of outright grunt at launch and up through the lower gear ratios.
Renault has answered that call, with slightly more power (just 2.5 kW) and significantly more torque (20 percent) at lower revs.
You can feel it on the track when accelerating out of the corners and on to the straight, with 95 percent of maximum torque available as the rev counter nudges 3000 rpm.
The six-speed close ratio gearbox is smooth enough, while the first three ratios have been shortened for quicker shifts off the mark. Hammer down the straight at close to the car’s 7,100 rpm redline (check out the superb bright yellow rev counter), and you’ll be rewarded with an audible shift indicator. Nice touch and well suited to the Clio.
If the 0-100km/h sprints are all-important to you, then the Clio RS 200 Cup will do it in 6.9 seconds and push on to a top speed of 225km/h, should you happen to be driving in the left lane on a German autobahn.
But outright power has never been a Renault Sport thing, a significantly higher value is placed on dynamics and handling, and these guys have a PhD in both subjects.
At a super light 1204 kilograms, the Clio Renault Sport 200 Cup enters the market with the best power to weight ratio in its class and a feature common to several warmed up little Renaults of bygone days.
Think Turbo 5 or the ultra light Renault Gordini collection, which might have seemed underpowered by many, but these cars could out corner and out brake anything in their class, or above.
And braking is what this Renault does particularly well. Several times, I came into the corners off the straights faster than I would have liked, but a quick dab on the Brembo four-pot calipers up front (312mm ventilated discs), and any excess speed was reined in expeditiously and with considerable ease. I can also report excellent pedal feel on the stoppers.
With just four laps of Sandown, you can’t possibly come close to finding the grip levels this car possesses, but be assured, very few road cars will ever come close.
It’s all about the chassis with these Renault Sport hatches and the RS 200 Cup’s ability on turn in, is nothing short of race car like, with completely flat corning - that’s no body roll whatsoever.
Torsional rigidity has been stiffened by 10 percent, allowing the unique double-axis strut front suspension to maximize steering response on turn in.
But despite their immaculate on road ability, Renault’s hot hatches have been criticized by owners and the automotive press alike, for their often dull and generally uninspiring interiors.
That’s not a problem you’ll need to worry about with the Sport Cup or the Sport Cup Trophee, which are the two editions making their way to Renault dealers around the country, this very minute.
A set of superbly comfortable Recaro sports seats are reason enough to put down the extra two grand for the Cup Trophee and both cars come equipped with a stack of creature comforts, making the daily drive a viable proposition. That's especially true when you factor in the car's ultra frugal fuel consumption of just 8.2l/100km. That's an improvement over the RS Clio 197, despite the power and torque advantages of the Clio RS 200.
Push button start, USB connection, Bluetooth, Automatic Climate Control, Cruise Control, Front Fog Lamps, some very nice 17-inch five spoke wheels in anthracite (BeBop alloys for the Trophee) and one of the best leather sports steering wheels in the business.
The Clio Renault Sport 200 Cup is an inspiring drive that once again set’s the benchmark in the hot hatch class. Only this time, with a thoroughly decent interior and some seriously reduced price points.
Not only did drivers Petrov and Kubica arrive at the track in the yet to be released (in Australia) RS Megane 250, but we got a quick peek inside the car and can’t wait for the chance to drive this stunning looking hatch.
Expect a full review and road test of both the Clio Renault Sport 200 Cup and Cup Trophee on CarAdvice in the coming weeks.