Renault Clio Gordini 128

Gordini model promises thrills of flagship Clios for lower price. We see if it delivers

The brilliant Renaultsport Clio 200 is one of the best-value hot hatches around. But with prices starting at £16,930 and the likelihood of a hefty insurance bill, there’s scope for a more affordable go-faster Clio – and this is it.

The Gordini range also includes a 197bhp flagship and an entry-level 105bhp diesel model, but the 126bhp 1.6-litre petrol version tested here is the perfect Suzuki Swift Sport rival.

On the outside, you get racing stripes, a rear spoiler, twin tailpipes, tinted rear side windows and polished alloy wheels. The changes mark the Gordini out from ordinary Clios, but we’re not sure about the overall effect – the wheels and stripes are acquired tastes – so the Suzuki gets our vote on looks.

The cabin is equally divisive. While we like the amount of space and the driving position, the switchgear isn’t as logically 

laid out as the Swift’s and quality isn’t up to Suzuki standards, either. A gloss-black finish on the centre console, blue leather trim on the steering wheel and gearlever and sporty details like bolstered seats and white dials all make the right impression. And the Renault beats the Suzuki for space – with a practical 288-litre boot, it’s easier to live with.

So how does the Clio measure up on the road, where it really counts? On paper, this is a close contest, as the 126bhp Renault trails the Suzuki by only 8bhp and 5Nm under the bonnet – but our tests show the Swift Sport has a more urgent character.

The Clio covered the 0-60mph sprint in 9.6 seconds – that’s 1.4 seconds slower than its smaller and lighter rival. In higher gears, shorter ratios helped it to achieve more impressive figures. For example, the Clio took 9.8 seconds to go from 50-70mph in fifth, compared to 10.5 seconds in the Swift.

Regardless of figures, the Renault takes second billing for raw performance, as its engine lacks the great soundtrack that characterises the Suzuki. A muted exhaust note and slower responses mean it doesn’t provide the same thrills as the Swift.

The Renault isn’t outclassed here, but it’s slower to accelerate out of tight corners and not as willing to rev hard.

What it does offer is greater driving involvement. Its supple suspension copes better with bumpy surfaces and it maintains its composure under heavy braking. The Clio is also more adjustable than the Swift – when you lift off mid-corner, you can sense the rear of the car helping to tighten your line.

Unfortunately, the electric power-steering weights up more heavily than the Suzuki’s, and electronic stability control is relegated to the options list. So despite the Clio’s reputation as a great hot hatch, this version isn’t without fault.

Details

Chart position: 2
WHY: Don’t get distracted by the garish racing stripes and famous badge – the Gordini version of the Clio is all about attainable driving thrills.

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