I had to double take when I looked at the spec sheet for the Renault Clio which arrived for testing last month. 217bhp in a B-segment hatch is beyond hot.
The fastest Peugeot 205 GTi was 130bhp, the first Renault Sport Clio was 172bhp and, pre-facelift, the current-generation hot Clio boasted an output of 200bhp.
In 2016, the faster â€˜220â€™ version was released and, along with a cosmetic facelift, Renaultâ€™s engineers upped the power, increased the torque and reduced the shift time from the trick paddle-shift gearbox by 50 per cent.
Read more:Â 2018 Ford Fiesta ST review: the complete package
The â€˜liquid yellowâ€™ attention magnet delivered to my office was fitted with the â€˜Black Editionâ€™ option pack released last year (2017) which meant a contrast black gloss bodykit which sharpens up the styling no end but has zero effect on performance.
Making a terrific noise was the Â£900 Akrapovic exhaust system and, completing the look, red brake callipers visible through the 18-inch black Renault Sport alloy wheels.
Renault Clio RenaultSport 220 Trophy
Price: Â£23,000 (Â£27,345 as driven)
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder. turbo, petrol
Transmission: 6-speed EDC Auto
Top speed: 146mph
0-62mph: 6.6 seconds
CO2 emissions: 135g/km
So was it any good?
Actually yes. When I saw the car was equipped with a semi-automatic paddle shift gearbox I was prepared to be disappointed. A hot hatch should have a short manual shift and that ought to be the end of it.
But itâ€™s just so chuckable. The steering is very precise thanks to a new quicker steering rack â€“ although like most of the current crop of Renaults, a bit lacking in feedback for my liking – and the stiff, low chassis makes this the best handling car Iâ€™ve driven in the segment.
The gearbox might not come with a manual shift, but itâ€™s quick to change and, if you put your foot down, youâ€™re rewarded with a glorious throaty roar from the Akrapovic exhaust.
Annoyingly the paddles are fixed to the steering column and donâ€™t rotate with the wheel like they do on some manufacturersâ€™ systems. If they did they would probably clash with my other big bugbear about the car: Renault persisting with stereo controls on a stalk behind the steering wheel.
The interior is comfortable (despite a firm ride) and the red/black leather wrapping the seats and controls of a nice quality. The gloss surround of the seven-inch touchscreen lets things down somewhat in an otherwise decent quality cabin.
Refinement is actually surprisingly high for a hot hatch and, despite painted-on tyres and a low driving position thereâ€™s little in the way of tyre roar and wind noise is pretty minimal too.
Thereâ€™s an elephant in the room though and itâ€™s shaped like a Ford Fiesta.
The all-new Ford Fiesta ST, which looks set to be the benchmark for the class again, is available from Â£18,995. The price of the Renault? Â£23,000. The price of the specific Renault I drove? Â£27,345.
Even a top Spec Fiesta ST-3, in five-door form, with the Â£850 performance park will come in at Â£22,995 â€“ thatâ€™s a fiver cheaper than the Renault before you add any options.
On the other hand, depreciation being what it is when it comes to small French cars, the Clio is an absolute steal when you are shopping second hand. A quick glance through the classifieds and you should find your fill of low mileage examples sub Â£15k and pre-registered cars just a few thousand more. Youâ€™ll be waiting a while before you see the new ST priced quite that low.
Itâ€™s almost a stick-on that Ford will sell a shedload of the new ST, which means if you opt for the Clio not only will you be getting a quick little hot hatch â€“ with five doors as standard – thatâ€™s absolutely brilliant fun to drive, but youâ€™ll be getting something thatâ€™s a little bit different.