So step forward Renault and its hot Clio – confusingly badged Clio Renaultsport 172. This model has been around for a few years now and has benefited from the mid-life facelift which took place in 2002.Its recipe for hot hatch success is pretty straightforward – take one Clio bodyshell which is small and light and add a 172bhp 2.0-litre engine.
Mix it all together and you are left with a fast and agile hot hatch which rewards spirited drivers well. As befits a tuned four-cylinder engine, all the power is at the very top of the rev range – peak power is at 6,250rpm – so to get the best out of the 172 you have to drive it hard.
And when you drive it hard the car seems to love it – the gearbox is a lovely short-throw affair and the chassis simply relishes being thrown into corners hard.
But there is no worry about coming unstuck because the chassis and low-profile tyres endow the Clio with plenty of grip. However, be warned – lift-off oversteer, where the rear end swings out as you take your foot off the accelerator, makes itself known if you are foolish enough to back off while cornering hard, as I discovered on a large roundabout.
But a quick dab of opposite lock soon sorts things out. And that is the beauty of a car such as the Clio 172 – you can drive very hard and have a lot of fun without putting yourself in danger. The power is readily accessible and the chassis is a joy. You couldn't live with it if you were covering a lot of miles, but for out-and-out fun there is little to touch the little Renault in this price bracket – apart from the new MINI Cooper S. Model Clio Renaultsport 172
Price (OTR): £14,595
Engine (cc): 1,998
Max power (bhp/rpm): 172/6,250
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 148/5,400 Max speed (mph): 138
0-62mph (secs): 7.3
Fuel consumption (mpg): 34.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 194
CAP residual value (3yrs/60,000 miles): £4,875/34%