Papa and Nicole were once the darlings of the advertising world, a father and daughter soap opera that ran for an amazing seven years. Ironically, the fictional characters created by Renault to advertise their Clio supermini became more famous than the product itself.
One poll conducted in the Nineties found that the pair were recognised by more people than Prime Minister John Major, or (then DJ du jour) Chris Evans.
The original Clio was launched in 1990 and the chic, urban runabout has ultimately developed into a city car with added joie de vivre.
A sophisticated car that proves the spirit of Papa and Nicole is still alive and well
Vibrant and youthful, the fourth generation model is the best yet, offering a range of super-frugal engines, bold design cues and probably the largest bonnet badge of any little car on the market.
Renault faces some heavyweight competition in the supermini sector, especially from the Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo. However, it does have an ace up its sleeve: the outrageously entertaining Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo.
If the ubiquitous Mini Cooper S and mundane-looking Ford Fiesta ST leave you cold, a little French va va voom is probably what you need.
Too much fun?
Renault is no stranger to building fast cars. The Clio Williams was a limited edition model that was ridiculously good fun for the money. So much fun that when it was launched in 1993, I slid off a racetrack and almost wrapped the car around a crash barrier.
It was preceded by the legendary Gordini Renault 5 and the Alpine; tyre-squealing proof that Renault could build exciting cars.
More crazy fast versions followed the Williams, like the 172 Cup, and culminating in the current 200 Turbo that I’ve been testing. It’s still a lunatic car but considerably more refined than that original, sporty Clio – and without the famous gold wheels that were a trademark of that first Williams model.
If the 1993 Clio Williams was a tearaway, the 200 Turbo has been cleverly tamed to appeal to a much broader cross-section of drivers.
Apart from the bling badge dominating the bonnet, the Turbo looks rather modest for a car costing £19,000, with a 1600cc engine that produces 200bhp.
And although it is only available with a six-speed automatic gearbox and a family-friendly five doors, the Renaultsport Clio is lighter and faster than the model it replaced last year.
Room for grown-ups
It will dispatch 0-60mph in 6.7 seconds of frenzied driving, with razor-sharp front-wheel drive and two substantial exhaust pipes playing out the soundtrack.
Like most sports cars these days, the Turbo is equipped with selectable driving modes, substantial 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless start and Bluetooth.
Unlike many, it has room in the back for two adults, a proper boot with rear seats that fold flat, and, of course, those handy two rear doors.
I imagine most buyers will go one step further and opt for the £1,000 Luxury Pack, which adds sat nav. automatic lights and wipers, electric rear windows and a stereo upgrade.
If you want to sit on leather, that’s an additional £1,000.
Like the rest of us, the Clio has grown up since it first arrived almost 25 years ago. The Turbo 200 is a more sophisticated and practical car that proves the spirit of Papa and Nicole is still alive and well.
The alternative: Volkswagen Scirocco GTS TSI
The GTS is an eye-catching, special edition version of VW’s long-serving coupé. The latest Scirocco was launched also six years ago and sits on the same platform as the last generation Golf.
Don’t be fooled, though, this is one exceptional car, with impressive handling and ride qualities to match.
The 2.0 petrol TSI produces similar performance to the Clio Turbo, with 207bhp and 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds. And while the VW is definitely the bigger car, it provides steering and cornering thrills to rival the Renault.
Volkswagen’s exceptional build quality and residual values do come at a price – the GTS is the most expensive Scirocco ever at £30,190. It’s an awful lot of money for a coupé that can be bought in more basic form for around £19,000.
There’s one other issue: the GTS has been sexed up with a couple of wide stripes running the full length of the car. You might want to feel 21 again but I’m not sure this is the best way to do it. I would be tempted to get out on the driveway with a hairdryer and peel them off!
All small, front-wheel drive VW’s are a great drive and the GTS is no exception. The interior is also beautifully put together, in a functional but appealing way.
The Scirocco is due a facelift but that doesn’t mean the GTS feels any less desirable. It’s only the price and the stripes that might make you gulp.