$0-50K: 1st - Renault Sport Clio RS200

This wasn’t in the script. With any event such as Bang for your Bucks, there are the inevitable pre-event wagers as to what’s going to take home the silverware.

And if we’re honest, most of us had the Fiesta ST as the odds-on favourite thanks to its combination of respectable pace, incredible driver appeal and bargain basement $25,990 price tag.

So how did the Clio end up on the top spot? It simply outperformed Ford’s pocket rocket, outscoring it in every category bar 0-400m and lap V-max, providing a Bang score strong enough to overcome the disadvantage of the base Clio RS200’s still-reasonable $29,290 ask.

Renault’s copped plenty of flak for its approach to the new Clio RS, replacing the previous atmo screamer – one of our favourite hatches of all time – with a larger, softer, turbocharged, automatic five-door, but when the result is this good on a racetrack, well, would sir like some ice cream with his humble pie?

Its new-found day-to-day civility may have robbed the new Clio of some of what made the old car special, but it’s lost none of its ability to entertain when you’re driving it like you’ve stolen it.

A class-best Turn Seven apex speed speaks volumes about the grip on offer, yet it’s the Clio’s chassis that makes the biggest impression.

Whether you want to drive neat and tidy or trail the brakes in and hang the tail out, the Clio is game to play, and will do so all day.

While some of the other cars in the field could only manage a hot-lap or two before needing a Bex and a good lie down, the beak-faced Renault felt like it could’ve gone around until it ran out of fuel.

It was this stamina that led yours truly to rank it ahead of the Fiesta when it came time to tally up the judges’ vote. Whereas the Fiesta can occasionally get a little ragged in extremis, the Clio just gets better the harder you thrash it.

Brendo agreed but messrs Campbell, Dupriez and Morley all felt the Fiesta’s even more playful nature and greater character (manual gearbox, feisty engine) made it the preferred tool.

They have a point, as the Clio’s not without its faults, chief among which is the 1.6-litre lump under the bonnet.

There’s not much wrong with the way it goes, 240Nm of turbo torque and one of the best front-drive launch control systems allowing 0-100km/h in 6.99sec and 0-400m in 15.10sec despite a slippery surface.

Both times are a half-second up on what the old naturally-aspirated car could manage, but it’s lost plenty of appeal in the process.

Whereas the 2.0-litre atmo donk revved to 7500rpm+, the show’s now over by 6000rpm; the delivery feels a bit flat, too, and the artificial engine noise won’t be troubling anyone’s “greatest sounding cars ever” list any time soon.

You also won’t find a single judge that doesn’t think the experience wouldn’t be improved by three pedals and a movable lever in the centre console.

It’s not that we’re against self-shifting gearboxes per se, it’s just that this isn’t one of the better ones.

That said, it’s at its best when wicked up to Race mode and it won’t override your manual shifts, unlike a certain other manufacturer who resides at the tail end of the alphabet.

While an unexpected winner, the new Renault Sport Clio RS200 is nonetheless a thoroughly deserving one.

It scaled to the top of the podium by dint of its performance, while still asking for less than $30K, and such are its abilities that its flaws quickly become minor quibbles.

$0-50K placing – 1st
Overall placing – 2nd
Judges’ ranking – 4th

0-100km/h – 6.99sec (15th)
0-400m – 15.10sec @ 152.08km/h (14th)
Lap Time – 1:46.50sec ( 14th)
Pricing - $29,290 (4th)

Engine: 1618cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 147kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 240Nm @ 1750rpm
Weight: 1218kg
Gearbox: 6-speed dual-clutch
Suspension: struts, A-arms, anti-roll bar (f); torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
Brakes: 320mm ventilated discs, 2-piston calipers (f); 260mm solid discs, single-piston calipers (r)
Wheels:  17 x 7.5-inch (f/r)
Tyres: 205/45 R17 Goodyear Eagle F1 (f/r)

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