Does it matter that a version of the Clio now holds the record as the fastest small hatchback at the 20.8km long Nordschleife? To Renault it certainly does, especially with the plans that the company has for multiple high-priced sports models.

Germany’s Sport Auto magazine was able to lap the Green Hell in 8 minutes 23 seconds late last year. That’s an identical time to the Porsche Boxster S and for the version tested, more than 30 seconds quicker than the time set by the Clio RenaultSport. The extra speedy TROPHY edition has 15kW/20hp more power compared to the Clio R.S., plus a host of modifications.

The Trophy, a limited edition, comes with a quicker steering rack, an electronic differential lock, and an electronic stability system that can be switched off. Further, the brakes are modified and the chassis stiffened. Can you feel any of all of these features on normal roads? You can indeed. Push the car as hard as you like out of a corner and the pull is amazing. Torque steer is there but it’s minimal and you can almost begin to believe that there could also be drive to the rear axle, which there isn’t. The 1.6-litre turbo engine isn’t quite in the same class for vim as a Honda unit of the same capacity but the sound it makes and its rev-happy nature aren’t far off the best V-TEC units.

You could argue that cars such as this are pointless. That would be missing, er, the point. Renault, Peugeot, Opel, Vauxhall, Seat, Ford and other non-premium brands need their little hyper-hatchbacks for both image and profit. And they only have to sell a couple of thousand of these a year to justify the engineering changes. 

The R.S. Trophy comes as a five-door only, meaning there is no estate (will any OEM try to find if there is a niche for such a car?) and with a standard six-speed automatic – Renaults calls it an EDC – gearbox. You would expect paddle shifters and yes, these are fitted as standard. Other RS or Trophy touches included, on the test car, grey leather seat facings with red stitching. This is matched by same colour sewn into the steering wheel’s leather covering, red plastic trim on the gear selector and red seat belts.

Ignoring the inconsistency of RenaultSport’s official abbreviation as R.S., you’ll find these two letters on the base of the steering wheel as well as on a button between the front seats. Leave it in normal and the car is still a manic performer but if you want the settings to be even more lively, then give it a press: there is also the especially delicious option of Race mode. In each of the three, the ride is firm, but it’s not hard, and that was a welcome surprise considering the lowered chassis, 18-inch rims and 205/40 tyres.

The 1,618cc engine doesn’t start to shine until about 4,000rpm but performance is strong from there upwards. Peak power of the M5Mt400 is reached at 6,050rpm and the 280Nm torque is attained at a low 2,000rpm. The Trophy will shoot to 62 mph in 6.6 seconds and reach an eventual claimed top speed of 146mph. Economy? Not that bad, in fact, as all Clios are light cars. This one weighs 1,204kg and delivers 47.9 mpg on the Combined cycle. CO2 is 135g/km.

You fire up the Trophy by having a card key on you and pressing a START STOP button on the passenger side down low on the centre console. The seats hold you tightly but the downside is their width. While they look the business, this means you don’t have much room to slide your right hand down to use the adjusters. 

On the outside, there is a big TROPHY decal on the front splitter and I forgot to mention the same word is picked out in (yep, red) stitching on the head restraints. The test car was white but there are a couple of striking paint options, Flame Red being one and Liquid Yellow being another.

The Trophy has more equipment than the standard R.S. Clio, with things such as electric rear windows, the R-Link multimedia system including a 7″ touch screen, the 18″ diamond-cut wheel facings and climate control. The springs and shocks are stiffer too, the ride height is 20mm lower at the front and 10mm at the rear and the steering which I mentioned above is 10% quicker. 

What’s next?

Later this year we’ll see a modified Clio and potentially more power for the R.S. and Trophy. That will be after the standard car has its mid-life facelift, the current fourth generation model dating from September 2012. That was when it appeared at the Paris motor show, production in France and Turkey commencing soon after.

Flins is the main manufacturing base, but final assembly for the R.S. derivatives takes place at Dieppe. And while the faster model was also a Paris 2012 debutante, it didn’t reach showrooms until the first half of 2013.

All Clios use the Renault-Nissan Alliance B platform and the cars at Flins come down the same line as the Zoe, underlining the plant’s flexibility. Incidentally, the little electric hatchback is also due for a nip and tuck later in 2016.

The future of R.S. and Renault’s plans for Alpine

Soon, we will know what Renault has planned for the much-heralded rebirth of Alpine (AL-peen), with a special sports car due to be revealed in the next few weeks. This model will be made in Normandy at the former Alpine works – that’s why fast Renaults have their finishing touches applied at this same factory in Dieppe.

A possible preview, the A110-50, appeared at the Monaco Grand Prix in May 2012. This rear-wheel drive concept was powered by a mid-mounted V6. Another concept, the Celebration, was revealed at the Le Mans 24 hours race in June 2015.

Originally a joint venture with Caterham Cars, this was dissolved in June 2014, meaning that the entire Alpine project had to be rethought. Renault at that point increased its stake in Société des Automobiles Alpine Caterham to 100%, taking on the interest held by its now former partner. As for Caterham, it is said to be developing its own sports car.

Production volume of the first of what should be a range of Alpine cars is expected to be around the 3,000-5,000 mark per annum. The new model will be revealed on 16 February.

This will be a busy year for Renault Group’s sports cars and fast hatchbacks, with the follow-up to the R.S. Megane due to appear, in addition to the facelifted Clio. The new generation of the C segment hatchback should lose the 2.0-litre engine of the outgoing R.S. Megane and gain an uprated version of the Clio’s 1.6 plus its EDC (Efficient Dual Clutch) transmission. Why? CO2 and fuel economy, as well as the general preference for dual clutch automatics by people who buy these types of cars. We probably won’t see this car until the Paris motor show in September and it might not be in showrooms until 2017.