The all-new Renault Clio 200 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 stiff competition from the new Ford Fiesta ST a car we've already described as 'a classic in the making' and which undercuts the Renault by a hefty 2000.
Available to order now, 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 650 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 turbocharged 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 impressively rapid; in our tests it managed to hit 60mph in just 6.4 seconds, making it more than half a second quicker than the Fiesta ST.
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 Clio's engine doesn't sound quite as sporty as the Fiesta's, but it still growls away loudly under hard acceleration, thanks to a special pipe that directs engine noise into the cabin.
Thankfully, the burble fades away when you settle down to a steady cruise, although you do have to put up with quite a lot of wind noise at motorway speeds.
The new Clio 200 is certainly softer than the car it replaces. Whereas the previous model darted into 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.
A Fiesta ST's steering provides more feedback, but the Clio claws its way out of slow corners more effectively than the Ford, thanks to a sophisticated traction control system that mimics the effects of a limited-slip differential.
The optional Cup pack (650) is a worthwhile addition, because you get quicker steering and stiffer suspension. This helps the Clio stay flatter through corners.
Even with the stiffer set-up, the Clio is much more comfortable than a Fiesta ST, because it soaks up bumps and potholes remarkably well by hot hatch standards.
There's 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, some of the ratios are quite widely spaced, so there are times when none of them feel right, and you 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 a 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 generally simple to operate. That's just as well really, because you control the stereo, phone and navigation systems through it.
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 shame Renault hasn't decided to offer Recaro sport seats as an optional extra these were a real highlight in the previous Clio 200.
Unlike the Ford Fiesta ST, the Renault benefits from five-door practicality, and the Clio also has more headroom in the back. However, rear visibility is pretty awful; reversing into tight parking spaces requires lots of guesswork.
More positively, the driving position is good and you get plenty of standard equipment, including keyless start, sat-nav, air-conditioning, 17-inch alloys, electric front windows, Bluetooth and a USB socket.
Lux trim pushes the price up by 1000 and brings a more sophisticated sat-nav 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 295 option on the Lux model.
Should I buy one?
For us, hot hatches are mainly about fun, so the fact the Fiesta ST is more fun, more of the time makes it the better car. The Ford's significantly lower price also gives it a major advantage.
That said, the Clio is undoubtedly an easier car 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. In fact, if you prefer your hot hatches slightly less one-dimensional, the new Clio 200 could be just about perfect.
What Car? says...
Engine size 1.6-litre turbo petrol
Price from 18,995
Torque 177lb ft
0-62mph 6.7 seconds
Top speed 143mph
Fuel economy 44.8mpg