It’s fair to say we haven’t fallen for Renault Sport’s turbocharged Clio 200. When it was launched we were disappointed but the dual-clutch gearbox, the only transmission available, as it was slow and the ratios seemed unsuited to spirited driving on UK roads. The new engine might have produced enough power, but it lacked any real character. There’s was the occasional hint that the chassis possessed some of the spirit that is abundant in the other Renault Sport cars that we love, but dull and lifeless steering made it difficult to access its qualities.
But just as Renault Sport lost its way when it came to small hot hatches, other manufacturers upped their game. In a market now dominated by the Ford Fiesta ST and Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport, the Clio struggled to get noticed.
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Renault Sport rectified some of the new Clio 200’s issues with the limited production 220 Trophy, but it still wasn’t enough to worry the Ford or Peugeot that possess drivetrains with the zeal and immediacy that a hot hatch deserves. Now, in combination with a facelift, the Clio 220 Trophy has been updated again and becomes a full production car rather than a limited edition.
Sadly, the changes to the new Trophy are mostly superficial. The engine still lacks urgency and throttle response is poor. The needlessly complicated gearbox, although a huge improvement over the standard Clio 200, simply isn’t immediate or engaging enough and makes you yearn for a manual.
The dreary engine and ‘box, combined with totally numb steering, mean that despite the enthusiastic chassis, the Trophy feels like a normal Clio with in a sporty trim rather than a dedicated hot hatch. There is a great car underneath, but the lacklustre controls and drivetrain don’t allow access to that often enough.
Renault Sport Clio 220 Trophy: in detail
Performance and 0-60 time > Despite a dual-clutch gearbox and launch control, the Clio still takes 6.6 seconds to get to 62mph, a distinctly average time in the class.
Engine and gearbox > The 1.6-litre turbo engine is shared amongst the Renault/Nissan alliance and although punchy through the gears, feels nothing like as special as the naturally aspirated engines in previous sporty Clios.
Ride and handling > Revisions to the handling set up have made the Trophy a better steer than the original Clio 200, but still trails the best in class for vim and vigour.
MPG and running costs > Part of the reason for the move to turbocharging, the Clio has an on paper average of 47.9mpg, however like always, drive with any sort of enthusiasm and those numbers will be impossible to achieve.
Interior and tech > The 5-door only body affords the Clio more space inside than previously, but the driving position is flawed, tech feels a little outdated and is a little plain compared to most rivals.
Design > New headlights mark out the facelifted car from the original Clio 200, the Renault Sport specific daytime running lights are a nice touch and overall the car is attractive.
Prices, specs and rivals
The Trophy has its work cut out to make its name in this sector. There are so many good small hot hatches for sale right now, and to stand out a car has to be incredible.
At £21,780, the Trophy is bang in the middle of the pack price-wise. It’s cheaper than the Audi S1 (£24,900) but isn’t as quick and isn’t as refined. It’s also cheaper than the Mini John Cooper Works (£23,050), and like the Renault, the Mini used to be a serious contender in this market. But just as this generation of Clio has disappointed, so has the Mini. Both use an uninvolving paddle shift gearbox and both feel big and lazy by comparison to their predecessors.
The cars to beat are the Ford Fiesta ST and the Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport. Both are smaller, lighter and cheaper than the Trophy. The 208 GTi has been thoroughly reworked by Peugeot Sport. The motorsport division changed the balance of the car so dramatically that it took the standard 208 GTi from a forgettable hot hatch to one of our favourite cars of 2015. It may have finished last in evo Car of the Year 2015, but that it was even included in such a competitive year is a worthy accolade in itself.
Everything about the Fiesta works together so harmoniously that it feels greater than the sum of its parts. With the factory supported Mountune upgrade, its even better than Ford’s own ST 200.
Neither of them have the power of the Trophy but both are exceptionally good cars that thrill and engage in a way the Trophy can only dream about.