Such is the Renaultsport model’s reputation for providing a massive amount of smiles-per-pound that it has consistently been the model of choice in the small hot hatch sector.
From the Clio 16v of the early ’90s, through the Williams, 172, 182 and the more hardcore Cup versions, one thing has always remained true – they’re all absolutely brilliant to drive.
So the latest model has a lot to live up to. The Clio Renaultsport 197, to give it its full title, goes on sale next month at the bargain price of £15,995.
With 197bhp, it is miles ahead of similarly-sized rivals such as the Ford Fiesta ST and new Volks-wagen Polo GTI which both muster ‘just’ 150bhp.
But there’s more to the Clio 197 than a big power output. Renault has carried out a massive amount of work on this new generation model, including designing special bodywork and developing a bespoke chassis.
On the chassis front the front and rear track are widened by 50mm over the standard Clio III to accommodate the new suspension and the wider 17-inch wheels and tyres. The chassis is also 10mm longer than the standard Clio to improve stability at speed.
The bodywork is also revised, with wider front and rear wings which lend the Clio 197 an air of muscularity.
At the front the wings and bumper work in unison to channel airflow through the car and out the new side wing exit grilles, reducing drag at the front and improving engine cooling at the same time.
At the back, the bumper unit incorporates a diffuser – technology developed in Formula One racing. This system forces air out from under the back of the car through narrow tunnels, creating an area of low pressure which sucks the car to the ground.
Cynics may suggest that this is simply a marketing ploy to link the Clio 197 to the firm’s all-conquering Grand Prix team, but according to Renault the diffuser provides the equivalent of an extra 40kg of weight over the back of the car and does away with the need to introduce a spoiler.
Naturally the interior has also come in for the sports treatment, with deep, figure-hugging seats (a pair of even more hugging Recaro front seats will be available as an option later this year), a red stitched insert on the steering wheel which shows where the front wheels are pointing and new instruments, including a rev counter whose numbers get bigger the further up the rev range you go.
There’s also a gear shift light which signals the optimum point to change up.
Other than that, the 197 builds on the major attributes of the Clio III, namely more room inside, more equipment, five-star crash safety and better build quality.
And while standard Clios will be big sellers in the fleet arena, the 197 will be a more specialist choice. Obviously user-choosers will be the key market in the corporate sector for Renault, especially when the low price is factored in, but the majority of sales will be to retail buyers.
Sally Whitcombe, Clio product manager at Renault UK, said: ‘We had a few user-choosers with the Clio 182 but the 197 will be recognised more as a fleet vehicle. It’s a bigger car than before so we may see more people downsizing.’
Whitcombe says Renault will be happy for annual sales around the 3,000-unit mark – the same as the 182’s best year in 2004.
However, this figure may rise when a more hardcore Cup version becomes available next year featuring lighter weight and a different chassis.
But there won’t be a mad mid-engined V6 model. Instead, Renault is planning a sports car, either a coupe or convertible, to be the Renaultsport flagship.
Behind the wheel
WHILE the increase in power is welcome, there is something more important which debuts on the new Clio 197 – a height-adjustable driver’s seat.
This makes a massive difference. On previous Clios the seat had a fixed height which made you feel like you were sitting on the car, rather than in it.
On the move the 197 feels similar to the old generation 182 model, with incredibly direct steering, bags of grip and a chassis which gives you the confidence to push the front end into corners.
But unlike the Clio 182, the new model strikes a good balance between sportiness and comfort. The 197 feels slightly softer, which means driving long distances isn’t the bouncy affair of old.
Unfortunately, the noise of the engine means you won’t want to cover many miles in one go.
Because the 197 is so short-geared, the engine revs highly at motorway speeds. The accompanying drone gets very wearing after more than an hour at the wheel.
And although the 197 is more powerful than before, it doesn’t feel as lively. Blame this on the extra weight (up 130kg over the 182) and the gearing and you’re left with a car which never feels willing to rev around to the red line.
THE driving experience isn’t as exciting as before, but the 197 will still be more than enough for most people, most of the time. With more room inside, extra equipment and great looks the Clio will remain the small hot hatch of choice. But our money’s on the more focused 197 Cup model due next year.
Model: 2.0 197
Max power (bhp/rpm): 197/7,250
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 159/5,550
Max speed (mph): 134
0-62mph (secs): 6.9
Fuel consumption (mpg): 31.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 209
On sale: July Price (OTR): £15,995
These next pictures are of a F1 liveried Clio taken at Renault's press event at the British Grand Prix last weekend.