CAST your mind back to June of this year and you may remember the slightly lukewarm reception I gave to the Clio Renaultsport 197 when I drove it in Portugal.
My main criticism of the hot Clio was the engine which, while more powerful than ever before, didn’t seem that lively.
Well, I’m about to change my tune. Either I was having a bad day back then, or the Clio I was driving on the international launch was a rogue example, because driving the car in the UK has been a revelation.
The engine in the UK-spec car is full of vim, eager to rev and perfectly matches the excellent chassis, creating a hot hatch which can proudly continue Renault’s tradition in the sector.
And with a pricetag of under £16,000 this is a car which will fall into company car bandings which will open it up to plenty of user-choosers.
Renault’s recipe seems fairly simple – take a high output petrol engine, make it handle well and sell it for a bargain price. But in practice, this is not as simple as it sounds and the level of engineering expertise required to get a car to handle as well as this is monumental.
I just wish Renault had made the 197 look more sporty than it does. True, there are extra-wide wings with air vents carved out of them, and the rear bumper incorporates a diffuser to suck the car to the ground, but at first glance the hottest Clio doesn’t look too far removed from a cooking model.
But more importantly, the driving experience is. With nearly 200bhp delivered at a high 7,250rpm, this Clio certainly shifts – 0-62mph takes just 6.9 seconds and top speed is 134mph.
Which is all well and good, but these figures are fairly irrelevant. What’s more relevant is the way the Clio 197’s engine races up to the red line, giving strong acceleration through the gears and imparting some of the fizz of the old-generation model – although the extra size and weight of the 197 over the previous 182 means it’s not quite as lightfooted.
However, the chassis is just fantastic, offering huge amounts of grip and a surefooted stance which makes back road driving an absolute joy.
The trade-off for this is a car not suited to high mileage driving. Because the Clio is geared for surging acceleration, it revs highly in sixth gear when you’re on the motorway. The drone from the engine makes long distance work a chore.
But this is to miss the point of the Clio 197. This is a car which provides a massive amount of driving enjoyment for a relatively little amount of money.
And it stands in a niche all of its own – the hot versions of rival superminis can’t match it for power, while similarly powerful cars from the class above cost a lot more money.
P11D value: £15,767
CO2 emissions (g/km): 209
BIK % of P11D in 2006: 28%
Graduated VED rate: £190
Insurance group: 15
Combined mpg: 31.7
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £5,700/36%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £360
We don’t like
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
HOW hot do you want your hot hatch? The Fiesta is the least powerful, offering 150bhp, while the MINI produces 170bhp and the SEAT 180bhp. However, the Clio is well ahead of all three, offering nearly 200bhp and justifying its higher front-end price.
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
DESPITE their performance focus, benefit-in-kind tax bills for all four cars are reasonable. The Fiesta is the cheapest, costing a 22% taxpayer £54 a month, with the Ibiza on £65. The higher front-end price of the MINI and Renault push their bills up – costing £78 and £81 respectively.
TYRES are the main culprit for the Clio’s poor performance here with a replacement bill of £1,200 over 60,000 miles – a fair portion of the Renault’s total SMR bill. The SEAT will get through £1,000-worth of rubber, while the Fiesta and MINI are much cheaper.
MINI: 2.95 (ppm) £1,770 (60,000 mile total)
Fiesta: 3.84 £2,304
Ibiza: 4.50 £2,700
Clio: 4.80 £2,880
USING the manufacturers’ claimed combined economy figures as a guide, the Fiesta will be the most frugal – returning 38.2mpg for a fuel bill of £7,000 over 60,000 miles.
The Clio’s extra performance sees it return 31.7mpg which translates to £8,500 in fuel.
Fiesta: 11.74 (ppm) £7,044 (60,000 mile total)
Ibiza: 12.71 £7,626
MINI: 13.68 £8,208
Clio: 14.15 £8,490
THE MINI reigns supreme on residual values, with CAP estimating it will retain 48% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles, equating to a depreciation cost of nearly £8,000. No-one else gets close – the Fiesta retains 39%, the SEAT 37% and the Clio 197 a disappointing 36%.
MINI: 13.23 (ppm) £7,938 (60,000 mile total)
Fiesta: 13.59 £8,154
Ibiza: 14.82 £8,892
Clio: 16.77 £10,062
THE Clio comes a distant fourth, with a likely wholelife cost of £21,400 over three years/60,000 miles. This is because it’s a performance car, and has the costs of one. Its RV prediction is relatively poor in this company, too. The Fiesta scores well, just ahead of the MINI.
Fiesta: 29.17 (ppm) £17,502 (60,000 mile total)
MINI: 29.86 £17,916
Ibiza: 32.03 £19,380
Clio: 35.72 £21,432
THE Clio 197 wins, despite the fact that it’s well adrift of its rivals in wholelife costs.
Let me explain... The Fiesta may be cheap to buy and run but it can’t compete on power, is a much older car and offers less room inside. The MINI looks good value, but is about to be replaced and standard kit levels aren’t great. The Ibiza is closest to the Clio on power, but it feels numb to drive in comparison. For drivers wanting a pin-sharp hot hatch there is nothing to touch the Renault – you can’t argue with 200bhp for £16,000.