REVIEW DATE: 25 Apr 2007
Strange how the most cumbersome car title around is attached to one of the nimblest cars sensible money can buy. Andy Enright checks out this hot Clio's other curiosities.
Talk about hot Clios and there will still be a generation of drivers who go all dewy eyed at recollections of the old Renaultsport 172 and 182 models. Anyone who's been to a track day in the UK will probably have their own stories of being thoroughly embarrassed by one of these pocket rockets, marrying as they did brilliant handling balance with light weight and seemingly unburstable engines. Then we got the Clio Renaultsport 197, a car that suddenly became more mature. While still capable, some of the excitement had definitely gone.
Even at the press launch for that car, senior Renault suits already seemed to be getting their retaliation in first, promising the demanding hacks who had just punted it round Portugal's Braga circuit something with a bit more focus and it's now here in the pert shape of the awkwardly named Clio Renaultsport 197 F1 Team R27.
There will be a contingent of potential buyers who instantly spot that this F1 Team R27 edition isn't making any more power than the standard car and will write it off as a marketing gimmick. Understandable in a way, with Renault keen to cash in on their Formula One successes of recent years, but wrong. Yes, the power figure is the same and set against the stopwatch, this special edition model is no quicker in a straight line, hitting 60mph in 6.9 seconds and running onto a top speed of 134mph but as any hot hatch driver knows, any fool can drive fast in a straight line. It's the corners that matter and Renault has put a dent in its overtime budget here.
The ride height has been dropped by 7mm to lower the centre of gravity and reduce load transfer for more effective cornering. The springs have also been beefed up by 27 per cent at the front and 30 per cent at the rear to improve body control when cornering. The suspension bump stops have been changed and the bending stiffness of the double-axis strut suspension has been increased by 10 per cent.
"Stage one of hotting up the Clio 197 is a qualified 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.
Renault charges £17,250 for one of the 500 197 F1 Team R27 models that will make landfall in the UK which is a hefty premium over the standard 197. So apart from the trick suspension, what do you get? Quite a fair whack actually. The 17-inch anthracite coloured alloy wheels make the 197 F1 Team R27 look as if it's just emerged from a track shakedown session and there's also tinted windows, red painted brake callipers and Renault F1 Team decals to add to the effect. You can choose to keep or delete the decals over the doors and roof. A special Liquid Yellow paint finish is offered as well as five other hues.
The interior benefits from a stereo upgrade to a 60W radio and MP3 compatible CD player with four speakers, two tweeters and controls mounted adjacent to the steering wheel while there's also a numbered plaque on the dash. My favourite additions are the Recaro sports seats that are normally an £850 option. These offer incredible support and also feature harness cut-outs and save six kilos of all-up weight. Should you want to further personalise your Clio, Renault offer a range of options including a Clio Cup racer rear spoiler, twin exhaust pipes and a racier front bumper design.
The one aspect that irked some enthusiasts about the Clio 197 was the fact that for much of the time it didn't feel particularly thrilling. Much of that has to do with a power delivery that really only gets juicy at the top of the rev range. Others will see this as a good thing and it's entirely possible to drive the Clio much like any other shopping hatch and return a very decent 31.7mpg. The other good thing about this sort of engine characteristic is that you aren't egged on to drive it like a banshee all the time which could well save a few quid in speeding fines.
Insurance is also surprisingly good for a vehicle with this sort of capability, the group 15 rating being two full groups lower than its key rival, the Honda Civic Type-R. The Renault also looks set to do well in terms of residual value, the exclusivity of this special edition model helping to prop up used prices.
Few cars target quite such a tiny sub-niche as the Clio Renaultsport 197 F1 Team R27. It'll be bought by people who want a car that has been engineered by a company that knows hot hatches but which doesn't make frantic demands 100 per cent of the time. All too often, capability comes packaged with the sort of puppyish enthusiasm that gets a little wearing after a while. This vehicle offers a dual personality. It can be driven sedately when the mood strikes you and then up its game dramatically when the chevron signs appear and the road twists, dips and throws a few curve balls at you.
It's still not perfect though. Like all 197s, the steering could use a bit more feel, high speed cruising is seriously loud and unless you're really quick with the stick, it's easy to drop out of the engine's power band on hilly routes. Stage one of hotting up the Clio 197 is a qualified success. Serious trackday fiends will wait for this chassis in the Clio 197 Cup which will be a whole lot cheaper.
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