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I've had my Renault Clio Trophy for almost two months now and still enjoy each drive more than the last. It really is an outstanding little car.
For those of you who don't know, the Trophy is essentially a 182 Cup with a few added extras; added extras that turn what is already an extremely capable hot hatch into something truly exceptional.
Just 500 came to the UK, with 50 left-hand-drive models going to Switzerland. Every one bears its number on a small plaque on the base of the driver's seat.
The Trophy gets minor cosmetic tweaks: Capsicum red paint (it really is VERY red), a larger rear spoiler taken from the Clio V6 and some rather nice "Trophy" stickers on the sills.
It also gets some rather more substantial upgrades: the Recaro sports seats that were an option on the 182 are standard and really are the bees' knees for comfort and support; it rides on lightweight anthracite Speedline Turini 16" alloy wheels shod with super-grippy Michelin Pilot Exalto 2 tyres; and it gets adjustable Sachs dampers at the front.
These dampers are what really sets the Trophy apart from other Clios, and indeed all other contemporary hot hatches. With remote oil and gas reservoirs and reputedly costing ten times as much as the dampers on the standard 182, these motorsport-spec items give the Trophy unrivalled composure, grip and understeer resistance.
However, the Trophy is not simply a Cup with all the options boxes ticked and a few extras. There are no xenon headlights; no climate control (although with air con this is no great sacrifice); no high-class stereo or six-CD changer; and rear seats that might as well have been left out altogether.
Seriously, don't expect to be able to take people any sort of distance in the back. Even if the ridiculously spartan bench doesn't make your rear passengers hate you, the lack of legroom thanks to the chunky front Recaros surely will.
But none of that will matter when you're sat behind the steering wheel, guiding the Trophy into a corner. Or just accelerating flat-out for the sake of it. This is not a car for cruising, nor a car for poseurs; it's a car for having fun.
With a short wheelbase and such an excellent suspension/tyre setup, the Clio turns in with absolute immediacy. It's not fidgety - although under both hard acceleration and braking some effort is required to stay within the confines of a narrow lane - but it is responsive in the extreme.
In terms of power, it's quick enough, but this car's not about quarter-mile times. An acceleration time of 0-62mph in around 6.5s and a claimed top speed of 140mph is plenty for most people in most situations, but it's really its composure and chuckability in the corners that sets the Trophy apart. I have yet to find the car's limits on the road and while I'm no Jenson Button, nor am I Mrs Marple who has tea with your gran on Tuesday afternoons.
The limits are sufficiently high that you can really push as hard as you dare on the road, in the dry at least, and if you must sample some lift-off oversteer or indulge in the Trophy's signature move - lifting its inside rear wheel as it tricycles through a corner at speed - then do so on a track, where various owners report the Trophy being more than up to the task.
I've not tracked mine yet as I can't afford the consumables at the moment, but it's something I'd seriously consider once I've fitted some new brakes.
Renault says the Trophy was configured with British B-roads in mind. It was with this thought that I flung my car down a seriously bumpy road linking a few villages on one of my ways home from work. To be honest I was a little surprised by how the car behaved - it was a bit of a handful.
Its stiff suspension setup meant the front wheels occasionally bounced what felt like clean off the road, the whole car bucking and weaving in my hands. It was slightly scary and enough to make me lift off a bit - particularly when an oncoming car meant a bump into the opposite lane would have been fatal - but it was also utterly absorbing.
Get used to how the car moves around though, trust it to go where you want it to, and you'll find it a fantastic companion. It's far from the last word in refinement - come on, it's a French small car - but it really is the last word in fun.
One last thing: this is emphatically not a "chav car". When considering buying a Trophy, I emailed a photo to a couple of friends. They implored me not to buy it, saying it was "chavvy" and that anyone who saw me in it would assume I was a boy racer.
Well I'm no boy - I'm 25 - and although I do enjoy driving my car fast, when the conditions allow and it's safe to do so, I'd like to think that the Trophy projects a slightly more considered image than your standard chav chariot Saxo VTSs and Corsa SXis.
Consistently recognised as one of the very finest hot hatches of all time, the Trophy is a rewarding and invigorating car to drive. Cheapish running costs, day-to-day usability and a willingness to seriously up the ante whenever the desire takes you - it's hard to think of a car that meets so many criteria without compromising the driving experience.
They won't be around forever, so if you're seriously considering picking one up, I strongly suggest you do it now before it's too late.
You can find out more on the excellent forum at www.cliotrophy.co.uk.