It’s a given that the Cup is special. Otherwise it wouldn’t be here, amongst quarter-mil Italian exotica and daft stuff without windscreens. But just how special a £15k French hatchback can really be is something that still took every one of us by surprise.
It’s a well-worn truism that point-to-point, across the typical British B-road, a sorted hot hatch is as fast as anything else on the market. And Blightly is almost uniquely suited to this unlikely phenomenon, thanks to a road network that is both too small and too congested to drive around seriously fast, and largely made up of pitted, pockmarked and generally dreadful little roads.
So a car that is compact, agile, reasonably fast and, crucially, able to tackle the insufficiencies of the surfaces it is on, is going to positively slaughter both your massive, mid-engine, V12 monster and your uncompromising, road-intolerant track-day special.
What’s astonishing, however, is just how uncompromised the Cup feels. It is firm, but it still rides out the undulations in a way that means it never feels brittle or unsettled. And as your speed builds, so does the Cup’s competence.
The steering is light, with perhaps a shade too much play, but that’s the trade-off for keeping it calm on the motorway. The gearchange is similarly breezy, but also addictively short when that urgency comes calling.
Worked hard there is always enough power in the engine to keep up with the company on today’s test too – an unlikely achievement when you consider by just how many horses the Clio is short.
And then there’s the cornering. Get the Cup set up early and it handles with an almost eerie confidence. Enter a corner too fast and its behaviour is still predictable, with gradual understeer. Drive like a bell-end, with too much lock and a sudden lift for instance, and you can provoke oversteer, but even that is easily contained.
The Cup 200 has a preternatural purity, allowing its driver to escape the normal limitations of warmed-up mass-production motors and feel utterly involved in the very visceral dynamic processes going on below.
Renault deserves a medal for building such a visceral dynamic car, but we Brits can pat ourselves on the back for being the nation that’s noticed too.
In the last 10 years 70,000 Renaultsports have been sold in Europe, and the UK has accounted for 35 per cent of those sales. Whether it’s our national need for speed, or our awful roads, this is the answer, and it’s yours for £15,750.