Renault Clio 2008 Review
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The spanking Clio RenaultSport 182 left Australia in 2006, the victim of a plunging exchange rate. “This was not an entry-level car — it was a true performance hot hatch and with the dramatic fall in the exchange rate and the strengthening of the Euro we simply could not get it at a price that made any sense,” Renault Australia boss Rudi Koenig explained this week on the eve of the car's return.
“We have been discussing ... arguing ... this new car [the Phase III Clio] with France for the past two years. We simply could not get it at a price that made sense in our market.”
The end game from those discussions is the introduction of the high-end, small volume RenaultSport 197. Welcome back Sport.
At $36,490 it is almost 10 per cent more than its predecessor but you can have any colour you like as long as it's red. Other colours are available but they are metallic and will cost you an extra $800. The paint is one of a small list of options which also include bi-Xenon headlights ($1750), sunroof ($1890) and upgraded sound system ($800).
What comes standard is far more impressive — including the adrenalin rush.
Renault has taken the opportunity to stretch its Sports garage a little further by also launching the Megane RenaultSport dCi 175 — a diesel sibling to the 2.0-litre Turbo 225. The Sport 175 is priced at $39,990 with metallic paint the only option.
As with the best skunkwork cars, the 197 is not just a fancy version of a Clio running down the production line next to more mundane models.
The cars come off the RenaultSport factory line in Dieppe, France, stretched, widened, lowered and tweaked by the same engineering crew that puts Renault's F1 cars on the grid.
In the case of the 197 the donor Clio IIIplatform has been stretched with 10mm extra on the wheelbase, 48mm extra track width in the front and 50mm in the rearm, while the ride height has been dropped 15mm.
Extensive use of aluminium in the innovative double axis strut front suspension gives a saving of 7.5kg over a comparative MacPherson system but, more importantly, it isolates the steering axis from the damping system, effectively eliminating torque steer.
The Clio 197 shares its stiffend subframe with the Megane Sport 225 with the rear anti-roll bar 200 per cent larger at 30mm.
Work on the normally aspirated 16-valve 2.0-litre engine — the same basic unit from the previous 182 model — has been extensive, lifting peak power to 145kW (the 197hp for which the car is named) at an enthusiastic 7250rpm while torque peaks at 215Nm at 5550rpm.
On raw figures the 197 is no firecracker witha 0-100km/h sprint of 6.9 seconds, yet it drives and excites above its numbers.
Much of the work on the engine has centred around optimised intake and exhaust port flow and an increase in compression to 11.5:1, lifting performance and lowering emissions.
Attention has been paid to the aural sensations in the 197. From a discreet but noticeable tone at lower speeds the exhaust rises with the revs to produce a signature bark at redline.
The 197's aero kit is subtle but as high-tech as it comes. No huge spoilers for this little one — although one is available if you must for $429 — instead just F1 know-how. The key to the car's road-holding is a rear diffuser, something rarely seen on cars in this class, which is effective for negative lift of 40kg at track speeds of 120km/h and over without any other aerodynamic penalty.
A set of side-mounted extractor vents carry heat away from the engine while a huge front spoiler air intake feeds cool air to the powerplant.
The RenaultSport theme flows through the interior of the car with aluminium pedals, super-supportive and bolstered seats, easy-to-read white-on-black dash graphics and sport steering wheel with red-stitched centre-point which, disappointingly, is adjustable for rake only.
The 197 has Renault's expected 5-star safety rating with eight airbags, active headrests, ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution as well as a switchable electronic stability program tuned to allow a greater degree of sports application.
Other standard equipment includes 17-inch sports alloys, a multi-function trip computer, cruise control, single CD AM/FM and split folding rear seats.
On the road the 197 behaves as you would expect from a highly-tuned athlete that has discarded comfort in favour of performance.
The ride is harsh — but never unsettled — while the steering is well-connected and is weighted heavily enough to give no impression of nervousness. Power delivery is linear enough and you are going to get through the gears at a fair clip — aided in no small part by the aggressive ratio selection for the slick new six-speed shifter.
So sports-oriented are the gears that when cruising along in the top there is an almost overwhelming need to check that there is not just one more cog available.
All of that equates to a car that is every bit — if not a little more — as at home on the track.
The smoother surface, more aggressive direction changes and dancing up and down through the gears gives the 197 its sense of being. It belongs to those happy to work for their fun.
The diesel Sport is a slightly different animal. While power may be down a little for a sports model, at 127kW, the car's character is defined by 360Nm of urge on tap from just 2000rpm.
Sitting on the same cup chassis as its petrol stablemate, with only the front dampers and springs recalibrated for the engine's extra weight, the 175 behaves with impressive enthusiasm.
Handling is surprisingly nimble with none of the `lead tip' characteristics of some diesels.
And it all comes with a combined consumption of just 6.3 litres per 100km.
RENAULTSPORT CLIO 197
Engine: 2.0L/4cyl, 145kW/215Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Economy: 8.4L/100km claimed
RENAULTSPORT MEGANE cDi 175
Engine: 2L/4cyl turbo diesel, 127kW/360Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Economy: 6.3L/100km claimed
Range and Specs
|Campus||1.4L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$2,600 – 4,510||2008 Renault Clio 2008 Campus Pricing and Specs|
|Sport 197||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$6,100 – 9,460||2008 Renault Clio 2008 Sport 197 Pricing and Specs|