WHAT IS IT ?
It's a 2 litre, 2003 Reanultsport Clio 172 bought as a spare car.
HOW MUCH WAS IT ?
Just £2500. It's a bit leggy at over 100k miles but it's been looked after and had the belts done on time.
IS IT ANY GOOD ?
Yes, its amazing fun. Like riding on the back of a wasp or a rollerskate. It weighs just over a ton, has 170bhp or so, is french, very very nimble and agile, much more grown up and modern than a 205 GTi but still has an urgency and a slightly frenetic nature. Phil Bennet who knows a thing or two about driving pronounced it the 'best hot hatch ever created'.
WHAT ABOUT ON THE MOTORWAY ?
At high speed on the motorway its an absolute blast, edgy but precise and secure and a wild ride especially on lowering springs.
WHAT ABOUT THE TERRIBLE DRIVING POSITION AND FLABBY GEARBOX ?
I find the driving position superb. In fact I don't understand what all the fuss is about. I don't feel that high or on top of the car (nothing like a Ford Focus for example), all the controls are right where they should be, I can heel and toe nicely and its actually all quite intimate. Yes the shift is a bit baggy but no worse than any other regular car and the throw is quite short so overall I find it quite pleasurable for what it is.
IS IT GOOD LIKE A PORSCHE OR A FERRARI OR LOTUS ?
No, don't be silly. It's amazing fun, but its all very throwaway. It's a french hot hatch that feels like it completely made out of plastic. It is front wheel drive, it torque steers, it often does things in a pretty ham fisted fashion compared to a proper sports car and there is no real sense of quality or longevity to anything, especially the drivetrain. You can't even compare it to a Porsche. It feels like it's just been thrown together to last just for a handful of journeys or so. The porsche is a 5 course meal at Nobu, the Clio is a Donner Kebab from Balham high street with extra chilli sauce... just as tasty but enjoyable flavour achieved in an entirely different manner.
WHY DO YOU LIKE IT SO MUCH ?
Because it feels like it was built purely for fun. The way it drives, it's as if a load of mad french guys all got together and said, let's make something that's just a bit nuts to drive and that's all that matters. It makes you smile and it's always doing it's dammed hardest to try and entertain you, whether you're pottering along in the village, going flat out on the motorway or gunning it down some twisty lane in sussex. In my opinion it's the true successor to the 205 GTi. I owned a 306 GTi-6 last year but this is a lot better, a lot more agile, faster and lighter and generally just more of a blast. I've owned a Seat leon Turbo and that was far heavier, VAG like and just dull and tedious in comparison. I have also driven the mkVI Golf GTi which is an incredibly accomplished package and just an amazing car full stop, but it's not light, chuckable, neurotic and old school like the 172.
IS IT FAST ?
Yes ! If you drive it to its limits (and the wonderful thing is you can and will do on public roads) then it's a very quick car. I was behind a F430 the other day for 40 miles or so and off of roundabouts it was fairly easy to stay close or well in touch with him. The gearing seems short so 5th gear for overtaking is genuinely punchy at 4500rpm. As the magazines would say, on a mixture of give or take roads, well driven, it would keep up with almost everything out there.
HAS IT BEEN MODIFIED ?
Yes. It has been put on lowering springs which makes the body control very taught and it feels great at low speed but it can all get a bit bouncy and choppy at speed. The springs still bounce quite slowly so some bumps are sharply felt but not so quickly controlled. It actually makes the car even more of a riot if not slightly more of a handful.
The ecu has been changed to a group N version with an uprated fuel pressure regulator. I can't say what effect this has as I havent had enough time in a standard car but I would imagine that aside the slightly increased rev limit, the fueling has been sharpened up a bit. The throttle seems quite jumpy and I wouldn't imagine that renault would make it like this as standard as its not mainstream enough. For me, it adds to the character and makes the car a bit more reactive and frenzied.
The aftermarket sports exhaust I have fitted is pretty loud. It's very boy racer-ish but I don't care because its in keeping with the spirit of the car, it cracks me up to hear how anti-social it sounds in built up areas and its great when you heel and toe.
She is also on smaller 15" rims (16" was standard for the phase 2 172's) which decrease the grip and make it all feela wee bit less precise but you get a bit more compliance.
THE BAD BITS ?
Yep, well there's no sunroof. It feels like it's all made out of gorgonzola. It rattles and exudes cheapness in a way a Golf GTi or a Leon Cupra will never do. The engine is great for power and that cammy thump past 5k but it feels coarse and thrashy high up (at least with a loud sports exhaust) as if its about to explode into a thousand tiny pieces (much like the old K series VHPD). There is torque steer aplenty, it sometimes understeers for Engalnd and you have to disengage the stability control every time you get in or it will just annoy you and start trying to control wheelspin and control the car when it starts sliding.
DID YOU DRIVE ANYTHING ELSE WHEN CHOOSING ?
Yes, I drove a 1.6 205 GTi which was so old and felt so rotten that it shocked me (despite the fact that I love them and have owned 2 before). I also drove a 106 GTi which was a lot of fun but again way too old and flimsy and it wouldnt be nearly as capable as the Clio as a real world useable car. I also drove a Fiat Sicentio which was funky and a lot of fun too but again, too small to be that useable and obviously pretty much redundant on the motorway or over any sort of distance.
SHOULD YOU GET ONE ?
Yes absolutely. It's more modern and way more useable than many of the past FWD masters but its not heavy, old and blunted like so many of the modern day hatches. It's a car that is still trying to be pure fun rather than a competent all round car. At the pricepoint as well you're not going to get a Civic type r, you're not going to be able to afford an Integra type R, you're not going to be able to get a Leon Cupra or a mkV golf Gti and you're nowhere near Focus RS mk1 territory. So really at 2.5k its out on its own.
In fact, it's such fun that I am tempted to upgrade it soon for the later special Trophy 182 edition which is even better with its trick Sachs dampers and upgraded engine but suddenely at 6k it becomes a totally different buying decision, not least because you can start to afford many of the cars i've discounted above. The trophy looks wonderful in its red paintwork, one of the prettiest hatches ever IMO but 90-95% of the same experience for what is just a spare runaround car for just 2.5k makes a lot more sense.