By Andy Enright
We always knew Renault could build a good hot hatch but few of us foresaw quite how the French company would come to dominate the market with its Clio Renaultsport 200, Twingo Renaultsport 133 and Megane Renaultsport RS250 models. So good were these cars that, for a while, it made no sense to buy anything other than this trio, mopping up sales of sporting hatches right across the board. Here we take the biggest seller of the three, the Clio, and take a look at what's involved in finding a good used example. Don't worry, it's easier than you'd think.
3dr supermini (2.0 petrol [Renaultsport 200, 200 Cup, Gordini 200])
The old Clio II in Renaultsport guise was a cracker, whether you opted for the 172 or the 182. It didn't matter that the interior plastics exuded the greasy sheen of an oiled seabird or that the steering position was better suited to a colobus monkey than a human being: they were just great fun to drive. Therefore we were particularly excited about driving the first sporty model of the Clio IIIs, the 197. What a disappointment. Back in 2006, we wrote that there was the kernel of a great car in there but that the 197 wasn't it. It would take fully four years for that model to arrive. Signs that the 197 was on the right track came in 2007 with the R27 model, a more focused model with better suspension and steering, but the real revelation came in 2009 when the Clio Renaultsport 200 was launched at the Geneva Show. Not everybody thought the frontal styling was an improvement on the admittedly pretty 197, but the car was improved in many other respects. Power had crept up by a mere 3PS but the 200 was available in standard and cheaper (but more hardcore) Cup guises, both of which were very accomplished handlers. Priced at around £1,400 less than a Vauxhall Corsa VXR, the Clio 200 was not only the best hot hatch on the market but also the best value. A Gordini model subsequently appeared in summer 2010 but was a mere cosmetic job with an optimistic price, so failed to cut it with the Clio's hardcore clientele. The Clio 200 was finally replaced in 2012 when the Clio IV appeared, its Renaultsport offering raising eyebrows by being powered by a 1.6-litre turbo engine with no manual gearbox option. That car may well come good, but for a while at least, the Clio 200 was recognised as the high water mark as far as small Renault hot hatches were concerned.
What You Get
Identifiable by its aerodynamic blade built into the front bumper, front wing air-extractors and a rear diffuser, the Clio 200 featured Renaultsport's styling cues in the form of the Renault i.d. Design Pack: a two-tone colour scheme based on a choice of Gloss Black or Anthracite finish for these trim parts. Buyers chose between the pared back Cup model and the standard car. The Cup chassis was a good deal stiffer which doesn't suit everyone and the standard car also got niceties such as climate control, a Renault hands free keycard, cruise control, a 60/40 split/fold rear seat, front fog lights, curtain airbags, one-touch electric windows, automatic lights and wipers and a reach adjustable steering column. As a pure road car, the non-Cup model is a good deal easier to live with. The Cup offered options such as manual air conditioning (£550), a choice of different wheel designs (Raider, white or black Speedline, all at £175), Recaro seats (£850). You'll find many of these features fitted on used examples you come across. Confusingly, many original Clio 200 customers chose the standard version, but then specified the 'Cup' variant's stiffer chassis as an option. One of the advantages of doing this was that a wider range of options was then available. Things like Carminat TomTom sat nav, the first integrated GPS navigation system priced at just £450. There was also the option of the Renault i.d. exterior pack in anthracite (£150), Renault i.d. interior packs (carbon or yellow, £100) or Renault i.d. leather upholstery (£900). As for cabin space, though none of this revised model's extra length is on offer to passengers, this still remains one of the more spacious cabins in the class and the 288-litre boot is a good size, slightly smaller than, say a Fiesta's with all seats in place, but larger than the rival Ford if you fold them forward to reveal a 1038-litre load bay.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
This second phase Clio III sports a cabin that's a good deal better screwed together and made of more durable materials than its rather reedy predecessor. It also runs on largely tried and tested mechanicals, so Renault has lessened the risk of problems cropping up quite cleverly. The racy 200 model thrives on being driven within an inch of its life, so be a little more careful here. Check tyres, exhausts and front suspension alignment carefully and try to establish if the previous keeper was diligent in the car's upkeep.
(approx based on a 2010 Clio 200) Day to day consumables for the Clio are in line with what you'd expect. An air filter is around £7, spark plugs are £9, whilst an oil filter is around £7 and a fuel filter £18. Nothing too terrifying here. Even tyres and bumpers won't cost the earth which is why the Clio 200 makes such a popular track weapon.
On the Road
Although the changes that turned the very good Clio 197 into the excellent Clio 200 look incredibly subtle, they were surprisingly wide-ranging. They were just tweaks here and there but the cumulative effect was to markedly improve the car's driveability. The Clio 200 is powered by a normally-aspirated 2.0 16V engine with a specific power output of more than 100hp/litre, delivering its peak power at 7,100rpm. Renault improved low-end torque by 20 per cent compared to the 197 thanks to a redesigned cylinder head and fine-tuning of the engine mapping. The first, second and third gear ratios were all shortened for punchier acceleration and to facilitate motoring in built-up areas. This engine drives through a manual six-speed gearbox and the car will accelerate from standstill to 62mph in just 6.9 seconds and on to a top speed, where permissible, of 141mph. Despite the power increase, an illustration of the development work that has gone into this powertrain was the fact that its fuel consumption and CO2 emissions improved to 34.4mpg in the combined cycle and 195g/km. The Cup chassis features uprated dampers which are 15 per cent stiffer when compared with the Cup setting on the Clio Renaultsport 197. There's also stiffer springs compared with the standard chassis (uprated 27 per cent at the front and 30 per cent at the rear) for even better handling. The ride height is 7mm lower than that of the standard chassis and the resulting lower centre of gravity ensures improved cornering performance thanks to reduced weight transfer. The Cup chassis also comes with a higher ratio steering rack (7.5% quicker than the standard chassis) which, combined with other specific development work, favours feedback to the driver in conditions of varying grip. The Clio Renaultsport 200 Cup weighs 1204kg and boasted the best power-to-weight ratio in its class at 166hp per tonne at the time of launch.
The Clio Renaultsport 200 is a perfect example of vehicular evolution. Even Renaultsport will acknowledge that they didn't quite hit the mark with the early 197s but each successive iteration of that car got better and better and the big leap forward came in 2009 with the launch of the 200. This was, quite simply, a sublime hot hatch and one that despite strong sales, probably has yet to receive the recognition it deserves. It could well be remembered as a modern classic. There's a decent amount of used stock out there so most will try to pin down a car that's been soft-pedalled for most of its life. Super-sticky track tyres, Nurburgring lap cards in the glove box and evidence of bolt-in roll cages point to a tough life, but these cars are built to be spanked and if you can negotiate a good price, don't automatically rule out a car that's been used as designed.