In the history of the hot hatch the Renaultsport Clio 200 will surely come to be regarded as the pinnacle of the old school formula. A car where stuffing a big, naturally aspirated motor into a supermini body was still the name of the game, rather than the current trend for smaller turbocharged engines and flappy paddle gearboxes.
The result in the Clio 200 that was built between 2009 and 2013 is a car that oozes engineering integrity. That’s doubly so if you choose one with the motorsport-inspired Cup chassis, which lowers the ride height, stiffens the springs and adds a quicker steering rack to give a very firm ride but even more precise handling.
For the truly hardcore buyer Renault even offered a full Cup version of the car, which not only included the aforementioned chassis upgrades but was also lighter on account of ditching items such as air-conditioning or a reach adjustable steering wheel. This not only made the Clio 200 even more entertaining to drive, but also lowered the price to a bargainous £15,750. The result is a vehicle you can quite reasonably kid yourself is like the hot hatch equivalent of a Porsche 911 GT3.
If that sounds far-fetched bear with us for a moment and consider, for example, a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine that revs past 7,000rpm with such enthusiasm that Renault felt compelled to install a beep to remind you when to change up a gear. Or that the 200 Cup is not only brilliantly engaging as a road car, but also seriously capable when it comes to track driving.
This is a small, affordable car that can be driven from the UK to Germany for a few tourist laps on the Nurburgring before hopping over to Spa Francorchamps in Belgium for a track day and then heading home again without even breaking a sweat. We know because we’ve done exactly that, and had a blast in the process.
Not that you need a track for this car to shine, because on any half decent road you’ll be able to experience the grippy yet adjustable chassis, the quick, precise gear change, the forceful Brembo brakes and the tenacity with which the front tyres hang on through bends. Anybody who enjoys driving is sure to love it.
The Clio 200 can even be reasonably economical if driven carefully. On a motorway run, for example, 30mpg is not out of the question, although start to push harder and you can soon chop 5mpg off that.
As the prospective buyer of any hot hatch you of course have a few important considerations, chief of which is whether it’s been crashed as a result of over exuberance on a previous owner’s part. As such a vehicle history check should be considered as essential for it will detail if the car has ever been recorded as a write-off.
We’d also want to look for a full service history, not only in the forms of a stamped service manual (at least every year or 12,000 miles, but more often still if the car has been used on track) but also invoices detailing any work. Bear in mind too that at five years or 72,000 miles the engine needs a new cambelt at a cost of around £500, and that a crunching gearbox could spell big bills ahead. Meanwhile if you find a car wearing anything other than premium brand tyres it’s prudent to question where else corners might have been cut.
In terms of our half-the-price-of-a-new-one budget, a figure of £8000 buys a very clean car with less than 40,000 miles on the clock in either the standard 200 specification (with or without Cup chassis) or as the more hardcore Cup model. If you’re happy to accept a higher mileage prices become cheaper still, with the most affordable Renaultsport Clio 200s coming in from about £5000. Keep an eye out for special editions too such as the Silverstone, Gordini and Raider, all of which add a little exclusivity to a winning formula.
Whatever model you choose you’ll soon come to realise that while turbocharged engines and paddle-shift gearboxes are all well and good, when it comes to hot hatches there’s still an awful lot of be said for keeping things simple.
Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup
Power: 197bhp @ 7100rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds
Top speed: 141mph
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