Why the comparison?
In case you hadn't noticed, hot hatches are back in a big way and the heart of this class is pocket rockets that don't cost a packet. With both the Clio Renaultsport 200 and Vauxhall Corsa VXR coming in well under £20,000, and offering the sort of hard-hitting performance many more expensive machines can only dream of, they are prime examples of the hot hatch art.
How are they similar?
Both are superminis, unlike many hot hatches that are based on small family cars, and both pack the kind of power more normally associated with much larger machinery. The Clio pumps out 197bhp while the Corsa is not far behind with its 189 ponies, though the Vauxhall counters this by having a bigger and broader spread of mid-rev oomph. This helps the Corsa VXR see off 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds, just shading the Renaultsport's 6.9-second time, though the Clio takes top speed honours with 141mph to the Corsa's 140mph. So, pretty even in the power and pace stakes.
They also have a lot in common in the way they deliver the hot hatch experience. Each is a much rawer machine than its mainstream supermini siblings. This comes from dedicated engineers working at Renaultsport and VXR rather than the two cars being the fevered results of a marketing man's power lunch. It shows in the way the suspension is not just firmer but more controlled, and how the steering is quicker and more touchy-feely in each without the two cars becoming nervous at higher speeds. There are also plenty of clues inside and out thanks to subtly more aggressive styling, sports seats and other sporty touches such as alloy pedals.
As for running costs, this pair is likely to relieve your wallet at much the same rate. However, with average fuel economy of 34.4mpg for the Renault and 38.7mpg for the Corsa, neither is too juicy. Only the Clio's 195g/km carbon dioxide emissions leave a gap where the Corsa opens a lead thanks to CO2 of 174g/km. Otherwise, insurance ratings are very close (group 30 for the Clio and group 32 for Corsa), while servicing will be much the same - though the Clio has 12,000-mile service halts to the Corsa's 20,000-mile intervals. However, they match one another with three-year, 60,000-mile warranties.
How do they differ?
The key difference between this pair is under their bonnets. The Renault takes the classic route of housing a big engine in a small car thanks to a 2.0-litre motor lurking under the Clio's bonnet, while the Vauxhall Corsa has a turbocharged 1.6-litre unit that is more in line with modern thinking. The results are very similar straight-line performance but, surprisingly, it's the Corsa with its smaller engine that feels the more instant and insistent when the driver leans hard on the accelerator pedal. For the high street Grand Prix, this gives the Corsa the edge.
However, the tables are turned when it comes to corners. This isn't to say the Corsa is unwieldy - far from it - but the Renault is the master of bends. The agility of the Clio Renaultsport sets a benchmark by which all hot hatches can be measured, regardless of their price or power. It has such superbly balanced manners, steering and poise that it make every twist an opportunity to show its prowess and it has plenty in reserve if the driver needs to make a change of direction in the blink of an eye. The Vauxhall is very close and there's only a fraction in it, but the Corsa is less entertaining.
On motorways and in town the Corsa is the more relaxed and comfortable. It's also quieter than the Clio to make the Vauxhall the easier car to live with day in, day out. Neither has the softest-set suspension, but the Corsa VXR is a tad better at soaking up the worst of the UK's pothole spillage. If you want a car to use for every occasion, the Corsa fits the bill perfectly, whereas the Renault requires a little more dedication from its owner. Clio customers can choose the standard model (which is close to the Corsa for comfort and equipment - both feature air conditioning, CD stereos and other expected luxuries) or there's the option of the Clio Cup. This is £1,000 cheaper and foregoes the air conditioning in favour of firmer suspension and an even more focused driving experience.
So which one would we have?
There is no loser in this twin test as we'd happily spend many miles and smiles behind the steering wheels of either of these magnificent pocket frolickers. However, there is always a winner and, by the slimmest of possible margins, we'd take the Clio Renaultsport 200 in its Cup iteration. Yes, it's more basic, but it offers such a pure and uncluttered driving experience it's easy to forgive its motorway road noise and slightly thirstier engine. After all, we're talking about hot hatches here and the Clio is the most cooking of the current crop.