REVIEW DATE: 23 May 2007
Replacing A Legend Is Never Easy, But Renault Are Talking a Good Fight With The Latest Clio Renaultsport 197. Andy Enright Reports.
As much as I loved the old Clio Renaultsport 172 and 182 models, it was immediately apparent what was wrong with them. Forget about the so-so interior materials quality or the rather odd driving position. The big problem was that not enough dentist's daughters drove them. Think about it. The hot Clios sold pretty well to testosterone-charged blokes who liked to harass Porsche Boxster drivers at trackdays but that's a market that can rapidly become saturated. For true commercial success, you need a car with wider appeal. Your dentist's daughter or some other young middle-class female might drive a MINI Cooper S or even a Honda Civic Type-R if she's really got some attitude but rarely would she ever drive a hot Clio. Renault is now looking to change that.
The trouble with broadening appeal is that hardcore customers will dig their heels in and proclaim from the rooftops that the car has gone soft, that Renault are selling out in search of filthy lucre. One suspects the Clio Renaultsport 197 isn't going to pan out like that. For a start, Renault have resisted the urge to pointlessly chase big horsepower figures. The old Clio 182 differentiated itself in terms of value for money and moving too far from that market position wouldn't prove hugely profitable for Renault. After all, the company has to accommodate its hot Megane versions in a workable price framework. This means that although the Clio III body is bigger and heavier than the old Clio, the Clio Renaultsport 197 will still campaign against much the same rivals. In other words, expect a ding dong sales battle between this car and Honda's latest Civic Type-R. Models like the Fiesta ST, MINI Cooper S and the SEAT Ibiza Cupra are supermini-based hot-hatches like the Clio but they can't match its power output.
"Quicker than a Golf GTI but £4,000 less, this Clio looks a guaranteed success"
Renault's stylists have done a great job with this car, endowing it with some subtle go-faster cues without turning it into a caricature. The front and rear wings are slightly wider than the standard Clio III and profiled side skirts, a deeper front spoiler and 17-inch alloy wheels all feature as standard. The extractor vents on the trailing edge of the front wheelarches help cool the air under the bonnet. The most notable styling point is the rear diffuser system. These have been used for some years now in Formula One and this system adds 40kg of downforce to the rear axle of the car. In effect, it means that the latest Clio Renaultsport has no need for a rear spoiler. It works by channelling the air flow rapidly, lowering pressure and therefore creating a suction effect underneath.
The interior is light years ahead of the old Clio 182, offering plenty of space and a driving position that feels as if it's been modelled on a normal human being rather than somebody from a medical case study book. Sports seats offer decent lateral support and there are Renaultsport logos on the clocks, the door sills and the front seats. The perforated leather wheel sits nicely in the hands and the spacing of the aluminium pedals seems very good indeed for enthusiastic driving. A very purposeful touch is the way the digits on the rev counter get bigger as they approach the 7,500rpm redline. This is territory customers will be spending a lot of time in.
The engine that powers the Clio isn't a whole lot different to that which saw service in the Clio 182, although Renaultsport have teased the power output up by 15bhp to achieve that hallowed '100bhp per litre' figure - the preserve of the best engine designers. The details of what has been changed are quite technical. The inlet acoustics have been uprated, the camshaft has been modified, and the combustion chamber and pistons have been modified to give a slightly higher compression ratio. Finally, Renaultsport have also improved the variable valve timing system. Below 5,000rpm, the engine has been designed to be benign in its feel, which makes it perfect for day-to-day driving. Get above 5,000rpm, however, and Renault's engineers have worked in some serious attitude, the twin exhausts giving a real sporting bark and the throttle response sharpening quite considerably.
Renault quote a sprint to 60mph in just 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 134mph. The 209g/km probably won't put this Clio at the top of company car wish lists but that was never its agenda. A combined fuel consumption figure of 31.7mpg is fair for a vehicle with this sort of performance. The 1,240kg weight figure means that the Renault has a power to weight ratio of 158.8bhp per tonne, a little bit down on the old 182, but this latest model scores in terms of driveability.
If it's a little less fierce in feel, much of that can be attributed to a more sophisticated suspension design, the double-axis strut front suspension offering many benefits over a conventional MacPherson strut setup, the key one being reduced torque steer. The eradication of this unwanted side-effect of putting plenty of power through the front wheels was a primary concern for the Clio's chassis engineers. Uprated anti-roll bars and a beefier torsion beam for the rear suspension also give this Renaultsport Clio 197 some serious cornering capability. The brakes have come in for some attention too with 312mm discs at the front, 300mm rotors at the rear and big Brembo callipers to get a grip on them.
Renault has made a very smart move in toning the Clio down in terms of visual excess but giving it some serious potential under the skin. Those who want a wilder looking car can always turn to the aftermarket or get the Renaultsport F1 Team edition, while the rest of us can appreciate what is a very good-looking car that doesn't draw too much attention to itself. It's now a model with far wider appeal.
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