Over the past decade-and-a-bit, Renault’s performance division, RenaultSport, has given us a string of hotted-up Clios and Meganes, providing those of us with petrol in our veins an accessible way into fast, front-wheel drive cars - ones that seemed to have been invented specifically to make driving quickly on the average (badly surfaced) British back road great fun.
According to Renault, this new Raider model is a special-edition final hurrah for the RenaultSport Clio 200 – a car that’s been on sale since 2009. There’s a brand new Clio due in September, so this limited run of just 50 cars is the pinnacle of the current fast Clio’s development.
And if you’re looking for affordable fun on four wheels, this is as close to Nirvana as it gets. In many ways, the Clio 200 Raider is the antithesis of a Pocket-Lint car, but it’s proof that sometimes cars are better when they’re simpler and stripped back.
It has a naturally aspirated two litre engine, - there are no turbos, plugs or battery packs here - a manual six-speed gearbox and no "flappy paddles:, to quote a certain loudmouthed BBC motoring journalist. And while it does come with Bluetooth, hands-free keyless entry and the ability to play mp3s, we can’t really tell you how well any of these things work. That’s because we were so busy having fun on deserted back roads in North Wales that we forgot to try them. Sorry about that, but if you get to have a go in one of these, you’ll understand why - it’s a car that makes you just want to get in and, well, drive.
So given all this apparent simplicity, why does it feel so special? The Recaro race seats for a start, which grip you like a vice and make you feel like you and the car are a whole. Then there’s the engine. It might only have 200 horsepower and the lack of turbo(s) means you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about below 4500 rpm, but get it spinning beyond 5000 rpm and it lunges for the redline like it’s possessed. In fact, it goes so hard up at the top end of the rev range that Renault equip the car with not only a change up dash light but a "beep" system – one beep means you’re at 7000 rpm, two beeps meaning "change up now, you’re nearly at the limiter".
Best bit though is the grip and handling of this car. The Raider has uprated wheels and tyres compared to the standard 200, and at one point we almost got out to check the car wasn’t leaving a trail of glue behind it, so sticky is it on a twisty road. Turn the wheel and it just grips and grips and grips – until you’re pitching it into corners at frankly crazy speeds and chuckling like a madman as you do it.
Of course, you can have nearly as much fun and save yourself nearly £4000 by buying a regular Clio 200. But you’ll be missing out on those special wheels and tyres of the Raider, plus those epic Recaro seats (an option in other Clio 200s) and the choice of free inbuilt TomTom SatNav or the RenaultSport monitor - basically a computer game type read out of telemetry showing you how many Gs you’re pulling round corners.
Buy a regular Clio 200 and you won’t get the choice of the Diavalo Red of this test car or a Stealth Grey paint finish either - both "true" matte paint finishes applied in the factory (rather than a wrap), which we suspect accounts for much of the price hike over the standard car.
Of course, the ride is hard, the interior plastics are lousy and on a motorway slog it’ll be far from the most comfortable or refined place to while away a few hours. But if you’re after something for those tasks, you’re unlikely to be in a market for a car like this anyway.
But if you are after something that’s fun, fast and relatively affordable and are into spirited driving on the average British back road, the RenaultSport Clio 200 Raider comes highly recommended. Given that the next fast Clio will almost certainly be powered by a turbo engine and weigh more than this car, the whole focus and attitude of the next generation looks likely to be quite different. So, if you truly enjoy driving in the old fashioned sense of the word - working hard in order to drive quickly, changing your own gears and wringing the engine out to extract every last drop of power - the Clio 200 Raider could just be the last, and greatest, hot hatch of a generation. Analogue thrills for the digital age? They cost just £21,820.
Will you be one of the 50? Let us know below: