It's safe to say we were pretty big fans of the previous Renaultsport Clio 200, a three-time nominee in our Hot Hatch of the Year category.
However, this all-new version marks something of a change of direction for fast Clios. Not only is it the first to be fitted with a turbocharged engine, it's also the first with an automatic gearbox – no manual version will be offered.
If you're worried this means the chaps at Renaultsport have forgotten what hot hatches are all about then fear not, because the new Clio 200 is lighter than the model it replaces and is packed with technology to help you accelerate quicker and go round corners faster.
More of a concern for the Clio is that it faces some pretty stiff competition from the new Ford Fiesta ST – a car we've already described as 'a classic in the making' and which undercuts the Clio by a hefty £2000. The new Peugeot 208 GTi could also have something to say on the matter when it arrives in the next few weeks.
On sale in April, with first deliveries expected in June, the new Clio 200 is priced from £18,995. An optional Cup chassis – which lowers the suspension and provides a quicker steering rack and 18-inch alloys – adds £450 to the price.
What's the 2013 Renaultsport Clio 200 like to drive?
As its name suggests, the new Clio 200 has exactly the same amount of power as the model it replaces. However, the new engine produces much more torque, so you don't have to rev it as hard to make swift progress.
If you do thrash it, though, the Clio is deceptively rapid and can manage the 0-62mph sprint in just 6.7 seconds. Getting off the line quickly is aided by a standard-fit launch control system; you simply press the brake with your left foot, followed by the accelerator with your right, then lift off the brake and the car will automatically get the best possible take-off.
The engine sounds great, too, thanks in part to a 'sound pipe', which directs engine noise into the cabin under hard acceleration. Thankfully, the noise fades away under lighter throttle loads, meaning motorway cruises are remarkably sedate by hot hatch standards.
The new Clio 200 is certainly a softer car than the one it replaces. Whereas the old model darted in the bends with practically no body lean, the new car doesn't feel quite as focused. It's still remarkably agile, though, gripping hard and staying neatly balanced through corners.
The steering isn't especially quick, so you need to apply plenty of lock in the slower corners. It is at least accurate and nicely weighted, though.
We haven't yet tried a version fitted with the optional Cup chassis, but based on our drive in the standard car we reckon the £450 option could be well worth adding if you value your thrills. Unsurprisingly, Renault expects around 70% of buyers to go for the Cup.
In standard form at least, the new car is much more comfortable than the previous model. Where the previous Clio 200 was decidedly firm, this new model rides remarkably smoothly for a hot hatch.
There's certainly no arguing with Renault's point that the new six-speed automatic allows you to change gear faster (in just 150 milliseconds in Race mode) and keep your hands on the wheel while doing so (even though we'd rather the paddles were mounted on the steering wheel rather than behind it).
If your idea of fun is quick lap times at your local track day then this can only be seen as a good thing. The auto 'box responds quickly enough to commands and (in Race mode) gives you full control over changes, meaning it won't override your chosen gear. Switch to Normal mode and shifts are also remarkably smooth, even at low speeds.
However, the ratios for third and fourth are quite widely spaced, so there are times when neither feels right and some might feel the automatic 'box robs you of a little of the driver involvement you get from a manual. It also helps explain why the Clio is considerably more expensive than its closest rival, the Ford Fiesta ST.
What's the 2013 Renaultsport Clio 200 like inside?
There are several eye-catching embellishments worthy of note, including colour-coded inserts on the steering wheel and around the gear selector. You also get a central touch-screen that shamelessly pays homage to the latest generation of portable tablets.
We're not normally fans of touch-screens in cars – they tend to be fiddly to use on the move – but the Clio's has large, spot-at-a-glance icons and is quick to respond, so it's surprisingly simple to operate. That's just as well really, because you control the stereo, phone and navigation systems through it – you can even download apps.
It's a shame the interior plastics are mostly hard and cheap feeling, but Renault's efforts to liven things up makes this more forgivable.
The seats are more disappointing. The bolsters are too soft, so don't hold you in position particularly well during hard cornering. It's a real shame Renault hasn't decided to offer Recaro sport seats as an optional extra – these were a real highlight in the previous Clio 200.
More positively, the driving position is good and you get plenty of standard equipment, including air-conditioning, 17-inch alloys, keyless start and entry, electric front windows, Bluetooth and a USB socket.
Lux trim pushes the price up by £1000 and brings sat-nav, a more powerful stereo system, automatic lights and wipers, climate control and electric rear windows.
Renaultsport's on-board telemetry monitor – which displays G-forces, lap times and acceleration times – is available as a £95 option.
Should I buy one?
The new Clio 200 isn't the hardcore hot hatch its predecessor was and as a result it isn't quite as rewarding to drive quickly.
Equally, though, there's no arguing that the new car is much easier to live with. Its softer ride and five-door practicality mean it won't annoy on that drab Monday morning when you just want to get to work in peace.
For us, though, hot hatches are mainly about fun, so we'd happily trade a little comfort for a few more thrills. The lower and stiffer Cup version could be just about perfect.
What Car? says...
Ford Fiesta ST
VW Polo GTI
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
Up to the minute news from around the globe