As Britain is the largest market in the world for Renaultsport products, Renault UK was keen to give its little car a decent send-off before the new version arrives next year. But whereas the process could have been another exercise in squeezing a little more power from the 1998cc, 182bhp four-cylinder engine and altering the visuals, they’ve done something that sounds unexceptional, but which in practice results in a car so complete in its role as the ultimate supermini-warrior that everyone should get a drive in one. And the nature of the modification? They’ve put some expensive dampers on it.
Doesn’t sound like much, but it turns what was already a car capable of shaming much more expensive machinery over most roads into something otherworldly. I have never driven a car like it. There are faster hot hatches, and some have more exceptional abilities in specific areas, but none adheres to the basic premise of what a hot hatch should do, nor the type of driving experience one should offer like this car.
In conjunction with Sachs Race Engineering, Renault has fitted the Clio with what are effectively race dampers. They have a remote reservoir holding nearly half of the oil and gas that fills them, and which allows a thicker and stiffer damper rod to be used. The front suspension is 10mm lower than on the Cup and with uprated front hubs and a set of Speedline rims that save 1.3kg per corner, this amounts to a large investment on a car that will only be sold in the UK and Switzerland. We get 500 units, the Swiss just 25. Each damper is roughly 10 times more expensive than the equivalent item fitted to a basic Cup car, and the list price is £15,500. Handling genius has never been so affordable.
Lowered and stiffened are not words you would normally associate with improved handling on UK roads, but the Clio Trophy is a car with so much damping sophistication that it achieves the impossible. It rolls less than the Cup, has less suspension travel at the front, and yet it rides fully 30 per cent better than that car. To drive it fast over virtually disintegrating asphalt and feel just how well controlled each wheel is for bump and rebound is eye-opening. And disappointing. Because it confirms that a small amount of damper investment would turn many cars that simply can’t cope with UK roads into great steers. Hydraulic bump-stops play a significant role alongside the dampers. Put simply, they are out of a Tarmac rally car and allow much more progressive damping behaviour once the stop is hit. Anyone who has felt how violent a Clio Cup can be under the same circumstances won’t believe the difference.
The upshot is a car of unrivalled cross-country pace and enjoyment in this class. Grip is stronger than you’d ever believe possible of a 205/45 WR16 Michelin Exalto 2, and the engineers admit that, had there been time, they’d have fitted a cup tyre. The driving position is still compromised, despite some excellent new Recaros (they’re a must-have option on the basic car) mounted 10mm lower. The only problem now is the powertrain: with the ability to carry so much speed, suddenly 182bhp doesn’t feel lively enough. That said, it’s identical to the 182 Cup that crucified the opposition in last week’s 0-100-0 contest.