Clio Renaultsport 197
The Clio RenaultSport 197 is the latest generation of fast Renaults which started 40 years ago with the Renault 8 Gordini and I am sure everyone remembers the Clio Williams and the absolutely gorgeous Clio V6.
Powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre 16-valve engine, the latest hot Clio packs a 197bhp punch, making it the most powerful front-wheel drive Clio ever.
The 197ps is channelled to the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox and although there is a stability and traction control programme, it can be switched off. Manage the power just right and make perfect gear changes and the Clio 197 will manage a 6.9sec 0-62mph. It’ll also run right up to 134mph.
The Clio Renaultsport 197 has been a car we have admired from afar since it was first released, we were impressed by its subtle “wolf in sheep’s clothing” styling. For many manufacturers, bolting a big wing on the back and fitting deep back and front bumpers is their idea of special, but not for Renault.
Renault has made some really substantial body changes over the normal car. Most obvious differences to the ordinary Clio are the extended front wings with side air extractors, extended rear wings and sills and the F1 type Rear air diffuser which Renault claim produces 40Kg of downforce, resulting in an aerodynamic suction effect that keeps the rear end planted to the road. It looks the business, too. All this is topped off with very attractive 17” alloys.
The changes make this a fatter Clio, a more purposeful Clio, a more moody Clio, but would anybody notice?
The short answer is not many. I think the Clio 197 is probably best appreciated by people who are seriously into their cars, as at first glance it looks like an ordinary Clio with a set of nice wheels and frankly, over the time we drove it, we felt most everyone else probably thought the same. We were not aware of any admiring glances in traffic and never found any little boys with faces glued to the windows when it was parked.
However on the last day I was using the car in traffic, a Transit van behind me was flashing its lights and sounding its horn and desperately struggling to get alongside me whilst its occupants hung out of the windows and (as if one) shouted “fantastic car mate” “Love your car” and other stuff that I just couldn’t possibly print here.
This immediately brings a problem. OK, for petrol heads and those in the know, the Clio is sex on wheels, but for most casual observers, it’s a Clio, just a Clio and I think if you are spending all that money, you want most people to know its different don’t you? Maybe it’s a bit like fine art; you really need to have an appreciation for it.
I don’t know how it will improve your chances with the ladies, but if its 3 builders in a Transit you’re after, well this car has got it cracked.
So what’s it like inside? Unfortunately, we thought the cars interior was disappointing. The standard sport seats are set high, which makes you feel as if you’re perched on top of them, rather than in them. You can order optional Recaro bucket seats which sit around 15mm lower and I am sure would offer a better driving position, but these are an £850 option.
There are nice little touches inside, it’s got alloy pedals, a stitched red centre band on the steering wheel and the RenaultSport Logo’s stitched into the seats and all in all, the inside of the Clio 197 is “I guess” OK, but its a pretty bland and dull place to be. The Clio Renaultsport 197 interior didn’t inspire us and we didn’t feel as if we were driving something special (compared to say the Focus ST interior).
RenaultSport’s engineering team have played with the 197’s suspension settings compared to the standard Clio and the front and rear track are slightly increased and firmer springs and dampers are fitted all-round. The trick works well, as body roll is at a minimum, whilst bumps in the road are painlessly absorbed.
So how does the car perform? Well even here, we were initially disappointed, because in traffic, driven normally; it is like a normal Clio. There was no big acceleration surge as you touched the throttle and no roaring engine note. The Clio certainly isn’t going to win the traffic light Grand Prix unless you rev the hell out of it.
Getting out of town though, the car takes on a different life; but again, the engine needs to be caned mercilessly before it delivers its peak power which arrives at a huge 7250 rpm. The engine really isn’t paying attention until the rev counter hits at least 5000 rpm. The car cruises well on motorways, although at over 5000 rpm, the exhaust note could become a little tiresome.
The close ratio 6 speed gear-change has a nice, action to it – making it a dream to use. The brakes are superb with huge discs and Brembo four-pot callipers at the front and we didn’t experience any fading or complaining despite abusing them.
The 197 shares the same electrically assisted steering as the rest of the new Clio range, and although it has been tweaked for better feel in the 197 we still felt the system doesn’t deliver the feedback that its predecessor the 182 offered. Driving hard on country roads, we didn’t think we got enough information as to how much grip the front end had left, but this said the car is still impressively agile and changes of direction are sharp and precise. It’s fast and composed through corners – maybe a little too composed. It certainly doesn’t feel as edgy as past hot Clio’s.
We managed between 28mpg to 33mpg over our week long test, which considering the way we tested it isn’t half bad and right up there with Renaults claims of 31.7mpg average.
Our car had the optional Panoramic Sunroof costing £600 and tinted rear glass that costs another £200 and metallic costing £360, bringing our on the road cost up to £17,155 and for that kind of money, the car has lots of competition to compete with.
We felt the Clio Renaultsport 197 had become too civilised and lacked the rawness which made the 182 such a good drivers car. Because this new generation Clio is bigger and heavier than the previous generation model we felt it is perhaps not quite so satisfying to drive.
We thought on a day to day basis that it was impossible to use the cars power as it needs to be pushed so hard to get the best performance. Around town or in slow traffic, (because the power band is so high), the engine is far less rewarding and willing, requiring generous use of the gearbox to make it responsive.
The Renault Clio is a good car and one we really like a lot, but because of the power band of the 197, if you can’t use the performance on a day to day basis, why bother? you may just as well have a Dynamique S 3dr, which although its 1.6 seconds slower to 62mph, still does it in 8.5 seconds and still tops out at 127mph (just 7 mph slower than the 197), delivers a higher fuel consumption, has lower CO2 emissions and costs just short of £3,000 less than the 197.
We still think this is a fabulous looking car and commend Renault on the efforts. But for the casual passer by, it’s a Clio with big wheels and nothing more and we were somewhat off put by the strange fascination the car seems to hold for Transit driving builders.
There is an F1 version of the 197 available now costing £17250. The F1 version has the Recaro seats, tinted rear glass and a “Cup” chassis with lower ride height, stiffer springs and dampers and anthracite alloy wheels, along with F1 Team roof and door decals.
If you love the look of this car as we do, well that’s probably reason enough on its own, to buy it, but buy it for yourself, not for other people to look at (unless of course you buy the F1 Team edition with its decals) or are trying to attract Transit driving builders.