Prices: £17,120 - £21,820
DO you remember the Clio Williams? I do, and so do plenty of other enthusiasts if the price is any indicator. A quick trawl of eBay last week revealed nothing with a “Buy it now” price of less than £2,500. That’s for an 18-year-old French supermini remember, a bog standard Clio of the same vintage can be yours for less than the price of a moderately good night out.
My interest was piqued last week when a man from Renault kindly dropped off a Renaultsport Clio 200 for testing.
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After squeezing into the leather sports seats, firing up the 2.0-litre engine and pointing the car down a favourite B-road the Clio Williams was the car that came to mind. The Renaultsport has the same kind of unflappable manners, the same power delivery and the same tearaway spirit. It’s a hot hatchback of the old school and all the better for it.
If you want a closer look, check out our video.
Renault fettled the old 197 2.0-litre engine awhile back, rounding up a couple of extra horses and boosting torque at low revs, to make it easier to drive. It still needs a bootful of revs to get a real move on, and there’s distinct step in the powerband beyond 3,500rpm, but it no longer feels as though one of the plugs has oiled up when you just want to take it easy. Renault’s claims of significantly more pulling power below 3,000 rpm are entirely believable. Shorter first, second and third gears help launch the Clio off the line even faster than before.
The suspension is a shade more compliant than the Clio’s hardcore Cup cousin. Away from the racetrack I reckon that’s a good thing. When you just want to tootle down to the library it’s as docile as a pampered French poodle but when you’re in the mood it still clings to the road like a limpet mine to a German U-boat. You can just pitch it into a bend, let the tyres dig in and it’ll haul you out the other side.
Despite the power going to the fronts there’s no torque steer and the steering never feels nervous. It’s confidence-inspiring in a way I remember the old Clio Williams was. That car always felt as though it was working with the driver, unlike my other favourite pocket rocket of the Nineties, the 205 GTi, which could easily pitch the unwary into a hedge - backside first. As a point and squirt tool, the Clio RS it has few (if any) peers below £20,000.
The mild restyling job has divided fans’ opinion. Some love it, others have ripped off the ‘blade’ bumper and bolted the old one on instead. I thought the test car looked sensational, its metallic gold paintwork contrasting beautifully with the piano black blade. Someone told me the colour attracts wasps in summer but I’ll take my chances, thanks. The rear diffuser creates a low pressure area behind the car which sucks the chassis onto the road the faster it goes (it’s the equivalent of 40kg at 70mph).
If there’s an area that’s disappointing it’s that the interior just doesn’t feel special enough. The tester had leather sports seats, which are nice, there’s a yellow rev counter and a leather wrapped steering wheel but that’s your lot. You’ll search in vain for satellite navigation, a colour screen or Bluetooth wireless for a mobile phone.
But that’s a small price to pay if it means keeping the price down because the sublime chassis and engine provide all the entertainment an enthusiast could wish for.
This season a Williams- Renault will line-up on the grid for the first time since 1997 (or 1999 if you include the Mechachrome deal for revamped Renaults). Although it hasn’t won a race since Brazil in 2004, Williams believes the Renault deal will help it to rebuild with a view to regaining some of its old competitiveness.
If the partnership is successful who would bet against another Clio Williams sport special at some point in the future.
I, for one, can’t wait.
Max power: 197bhp @ 7,100rpm
Max torque: 158 lb/ft @ 5,400rpm
Top speed: 141 mph
0-62mph: 6.9 seconds
Combined mpg: 34.5mpg
Co2 emissions: 190 g/km
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MINI John Cooper Works: Looks great, more power, nicer interior but higher price and less practical. Handling not as good as the Renault.
Citroen DS3 Racing: Same specifications as the Clio. Leery paintwork and colourful wheels not to all tastes. Lacks the scalpel-like qualities of the Clio.
Clio Williams (via ebay): Cheaper to buy and looks great but likely to have been thrashed to within an inch of its life. Safety, ride quality and refinement all well off the pace.