In recent years, the hot hatch landscape has changed beyond recognition. The quest for even greater performance has meant a huge increase in the popularity of turbocharged engines, while more and more manufacturers are ditching traditional manual gearboxes in favour of faster, F1-inspired twin-clutch transmissions.
One of the first brands to embrace these hi-tech gearboxes was SEAT, with its Ibiza Cupra in 2009. Now, the rakish hatch has had a refresh. Tweaked looks, an upgraded interior and more kit provide greater showroom appeal, while under the skin is the same turbo and supercharged 1.4-litre engine.
Facing up to the SEAT is the new Renaultsport Clio. Like the Ibiza, it’s available exclusively with a twin-clutch gearbox, but it ditches its predecessor’s rev-hungry, naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine in favour of a turbocharged 1.6-litre that delivers the same power, but with much improved claimed fuel economy.
That’s not the only major change, because the old car’s aggressively styled three-door body has been replaced by a sleek and stylish five-door look. The Clio has already been defeated by the Ford Fiesta ST, but with its eye-catching looks, agile handling and dual-clutch gearbox, it’s a challenging rival for the facelifted SEAT. So, which of our two-pedal pocket rockets takes the spoils?
1st Renaultsport Clio 200
The latest Clio isn’t the last word in fun, but it’s still fast and capable. The sophisticated suspension strikes a balance between sharp handling and comfort, while the five-door bodystyle makes the Renault easy to live with. It’s short on kit and more expensive to buy, but a broader spread of abilities hands it victory.
2nd SEAT Ibiza SC Cupra
With its head-turning looks, strong performance and attractive price tag, the SEAT has bags of showroom appeal. It’s also well equipped and benefits from a sporty soundtrack. Yet the vague handling and stiff ride count against it, as do the cramped rear seats, small boot and poor fuel economy.
Hot hatches should be fun to drive, but neither of our contenders is as entertaining as a Ford Fiesta ST. Sophisticated dampers and strong grip make the Renault faster and help it inspire more confidence than the SEAT, which is let down by a crashy ride and slightly vague steering. You can also alter the Clio’s throttle response and steering via its RS Drive function, plus it’s possible to disable the stability control fully for track days.
These cars are closely matched in terms of performance. The 197bhp Clio uses its power advantage to deliver a faster 0-60mph time, at 6.7 seconds to the Ibiza’s 6.9 seconds. Still, the torquey SEAT edged ahead in our in-gear tests.
Gadget fans will love the Clio’s R-Link and Renaultsport Monitor kit, both of which are available on the £19,995 Lux. The former includes a sound generator that uses the stereo speakers to mimic the engine notes of a range of cars. With the £295 Monitor, you get displays of everything from lap times to the g-forces the car generates. SEAT buyers have to make do with a neatly integrated sat-nav, which has a comprehensive trip computer.
|Renaultsport Clio 200||SEAT Ibiza Cupra|
|On the road price/total as tested||£18,995/£22,595||£18,765/£21,215|
|Running costs/contract hire||£11,112||£11,259|
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate||£752/£1,504||£706/£1,412|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£2,768/£4,613||£2,908/£4,847|
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost||29/£342/F/£140||27/£326/E/£125|
|Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service||4yrs free||£169/£189/£129|
|Engine||4cyl in-line/1,618cc||4cyl in-line/1,390cc|
|Peak power||197/6,000 bhp/rpm||178/6,200 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque||240/1,750 Nm/rpm||250/2,000 Nm/rpm|
|Transmission||6-spd auto/fwd||7-spd auto/fwd|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||45 litres/sealant||45 litres/sealant|
|Boot capacity (seats up/down)||300/1,146 litres||236 litres/N/A|
|Turning circle/drag coefficient|
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery||4yrs (100,000)/4yrs||3yrs (60,000)/2yrs|
|Service intervals/UK dealers||12k miles (2yrs) /248||10k miles (1yr)/120|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.||21st/9th||27th/31st|
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars||88/89/66/5 star||82/77/59/5 star|
|0-60/30-70mph||6.7/5.8 secs||6.9/5.9 secs|
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th||3.0/4.5 secs||2.8/3.5 secs|
|50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th||6.3/8.2 secs/N/A||5.2/6.8/8.8 secs|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||143mph/2,500rpm||142mph/2,500rpm|
|Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range||27.0/5.9/267 miles||25.7/5.7/254 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||242/144g/km/20%||254/139g/km/19%|
|Airbags/Isofix/rear parking sensors||Six/yes/£315||Four/yes/£215|
|Automatic box/stability/cruise control||Yes/yes/yes||Yes/yes/yes|
|Metallic paint/xenon lights/keyless go||£495/no/yes||£450/yes/no|