Does anyone actually know when there was last a totally new Clio, from the wheels up? Since it launched in 1991, and was overhauled extensively in 1998, the Clio seems to have been in a constant Darwinian evolution to maintain its place alongside the fittest in the sector.
And the present car has another year or more left before an all-new model is finally revealed, so for 2004 there are even more tweaks and tucks. The headline grabber is the new top-of-the-range Clio Renaultsport 182, which proves there's life in the old dog yet.
In fact, with the 182, there's not just life in the dog but plenty of bite and bark too. If there is a more invigorating well-sorted hot hatch out there, I'd like to meet it.
The new version, as the name would suggest, is 10bhp more powerful than the out-going 172 version but that is only half the story. There have been a number of chassis revisions and specification improvements.
The principle changes in the chassis come thanks to last year's Clio Cup – the stripped- out version primarily to homologate a rally car which surprised Renault with its popularity.
The wheelbase has been lengthened by 13mm, the track widened by 12mm and springs, dampers and rear anti-roll bar have been stiffened to improve the car's already prodigious ability to scoot around corners.
The 182 has wide new 16-inch Michelin Exalto tyres, developed in conjunction with Renault for the car.
There is also a Cup chassis upgrade which lowers the ride height further, stiffens the springs and has even stiffer-sidewalled tyres. It costs £200 and gets swanky anthracite-coloured wheels as well.
The modifications to the engine include a new exhaust manifold and recalibration of the fuel injectors.
The changes allow more torque at lower revs – 80% of its maximum torque is available at 2,000rpm. The 0-62mph sprint drops marginally by 0.2 seconds to 7.1 seconds.
The new system now has two exhausts appearing from the rear bumper in the middle, as in the Clio V6 and as the Renaultsport Megane's will. There are also small revisions to the front bumper but they are not immediately noticeable.
Good news is that the car will remain at the same price as the 172 at £14,613 on-the-road.
Behind the wheel
##Sport 182 int--none##
There are some improvements to the interior of the Clio, with a better stereo, perforated alcantara upholstery and some silvery seat belts, but that's not really what the 182 is about.
There's no improvement to the seating position though, which is too high and the wheel is at an odd angle. That will have to be put up with until the new car next year.
But that can be forgiven once you fire the 182 up. The car we tested had the Cup upgrade, and it is £200 well spent. Renault has managed to tread the fine line between great handling and comfortable ride – something Peugeot didn't manage with its crashy 206 GTI 180.
The ride is excellent, even on very bad quality roads, while the body control is also superb. Once you push the car hard, it communicates what is about to happen clearly, and if you try too hard, it will slide progressively and is easy to rectify.
The gearing is also excellent. A lot of cars now have six speed boxes, such is the fashion, but the Clio makes do with five. Second and third are long gears, so there is no unnecessary flicking back and forth between short ratios, and you can use the engine's torque to fire you out of corners. Did I mention it also sounds great?
The 182 builds on a winning formula, and then some. Any user- chooser wanting a hot hatch for under 15 grand needs to seriously consider this car.
Model: Clio Renaultsport 182
Engine (cc): 1,998
Power (bhp/rpm): 182/6,500
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 148/5,250
Max speed (mph): 139
0-60mph (secs): 7.1
Fuel consumption (mpg): 34.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 194
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £14,613