When we say hot hatch, a number of models should spring immediately to the mind. There's the Volkswagen Golf – a vehicle that has been at the pinnacle of the segment since its inception decades ago, and of course the Ford Fiesta ST – a vehicle that for all intents and purposes is a rally car for the road.
These are the two stalwarts of the modern era for this segment, one that is made up of small city cars that defy their often simple appearance with astounding performance.
What makes an excellent hot hatch?
The key to a great hot hatch is accessible performance – they should be cars that put power back in the hands of the people. While we can't all drum up the change needed to purchase a speed demon like a Lamborghini, these hatchbacks provide a thrill to petrol heads on the tightest budgets.
While this segment still exists in the vehicles detailed above, they aren't quite the same as the cars that started the golden era of hot hatches. Thanks to the relaxed safety criteria of the 80s, these cars were even smaller than their modern counterparts, existing as little more than oversized go-karts with roofs.
Some of the classics of the era were even more mental than those on sale today. While the Volkswagen Golf played a starring role in the formation of this style of vehicle, it was the subject of this piece – Renault – which decided to strap a turbo to their offering and release it out into the wild.
The Renault 5 Turbo eschewed some of the major trends of the era, resulting in a truly unique creation that turned the regular car on its head. The standard Renault 5 was front-wheel drive with the engine sitting in its normal position over the front wheels – the traditional layout for hatchbacks and their jumped-up siblings.
At this time, the legalised insanity that was the Group B World Rally Championship was also taking place, Renault needed to make a road-going version of the car it wanted to race, and thus the Renault 5 Turbo was born. Unlike regular hot hatches, the 5 Turbo was mid-engined and rear-wheel drive (like a Ferrari).
The point of this history lesson? Renault has always pushed the limits of the hot hatch formula, and now it's back…
Unfortunately for some, the 2005 Renault Clio RS200 is not quite as unwieldy as some of its predecessors. Even the older Clios received a mid-engined version – a recipe for disaster in many cases.
Now, the French marque has returned with the operating philosophy of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' – mostly. It's back to the front-engined front-wheel drive layout and it's still based on the sensible Clio, but it sports a few additional touches to ensure it isn't mistaken for any old hatch back.
The biggest problem with this approach is that it has put the Clio smack bang in the middle of the Golf's territory, an area that's been dominated by the superstar since its inception. With no outrageous characteristics to separate it from the rest of the hot hatch masters, the Clio RS200 must go toe-to-toe with the best.
How is the RS different to the regular Clio?
As is standard with hot hatches, on the surface the RS200 variant appears as a regular Clio that's been made to look a little bit rowdier.
Where the base Clio possesses refined features that sees it blend in with the other traffic on the road, the RS sports a design that would look more at home on the track. A wider, more aggressive grille files more air through to the 1.6 litre powerplant, and more attention-seeking rims replace the stock option.
Even the rear end of the Clio RS200 has seen a race-ready redesign. Just like the Formula 1 cars Renault powers, this version has a rear diffuser, essential for keeping the back wheels stuck to the ground at high speed. It's also a great way to appeal to petrolheads – who's going to say no to race car parts?
Speaking of Formula 1 inspiration, the Clio RS200 comes complete with an option that could upset the purists.
Older hot hatches were also about the purity of the experience, prioritising simplicity and analogue technology to connect drivers with the road. In this regard, the Clio RS200 brings with it a shocking twist – no manual option.
No matter how much you plead, you'll be swapping cogs with F1 technology instead of a clutch and shifter. Like modern supercars and GT racers, the Renault Clio RS200 forces drivers to move through the gears with paddle shifters. At least you can still feel like a racing driver doing it.
How does it perform?
Thanks to the combination of hot hatch DNA and modern race car technology, the Clio RS200 is more than ready to tackle the demands of the road. From city driving to spirited country road excursions, the chassis, engine and gearbox meld into an experience easily capable of rivalling the class-leading Golf.
In fact, it's this demand for performance that necessitates the lack of a manual transmission option. While these options are generally the more satisfying experience, they're significantly slower. In case you need proof, just ask yourself, what are Formula 1 drivers currently using?
This is due to the fact they can be paired with a dual-clutch transmission, an option that greatly speeds up gear changes, meaning drivers can flick through the gears with the tips of their fingers.
In Renault's case, the French marque's dual-clutch option is mated with a peppy 1.6 litre engine that – thanks to the joys of turbo charging – makes 200 horsepower. While it's a third of what has become standard for modern supercars, for a giant go-kart it's more than enough to put a smile on your face.
Is it comfortable?
With all this talk of performance, you might be thinking the Clio RS200 is some sort of stripped-out racer for the road that compromises comfort for the sake of speed. Thankfully, this isn't the case, and the Clio is just as equipped in the comfort stakes as it is under the hood.
However, in keeping with its aim of being a hot hatch, it also isn't overloaded with technology – these cars were founded on simplicity remember.
In saying that, the Clio RS200 still does enough to keep up with what modern buyers expect from new cars. There's satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and automatic windscreen wipers.
What keen-eyed buyers will notice, however, is that it still does as much as possible to put the control in the hands of the driver, meaning none of the features that are the precursors to fully autonomous vehicles make an appearance.
How safe is the Clio RS200?
Naturally, the Clio comes packed with the kind of safety equipment that's has become standard in the modern era of motoring. Electronic stability control keeps the car pointed in a straight line no matter what, and electronic brake force distribution ensures any panicked attempts to stop the car occur safely.
On top of this, the Clio RS200 still prioritises safety at low speeds too. A reversing camera combined with sensors means that drivers are never ensure of what could be lurking behind them – essential in busy car parks and in driveways.
Is it the hot hatch for you?
If you're set on getting a hot hatch, there'll likely be number that have caught your eye by now, so why pick the Renault Clio RS200?
For one thing, this modern commitment to providing peak performance is backed by heritage that is hard to top. For a walk on the weird side, why not find out what else the Clio can offer?