Renaultsport Clio 197

Frantic, free-revving motor sets the hot Clio apart

  • Super handling, safest car of group, thrilling drive
  • Intrerior uninspired, steering over-assisted

If you think the 207 looks bland and the VXR too extreme, then maybe the Clio strikes the right styling balance. It may not shout from the roof tops, yet the clues are there. The flared arches, deep front bumper and rear diffuser give it a purposeful, if understated, appearance.

The interior won’t set pulses racing, but this car is all about the engine. At a time when most hot hatches are fitted with turbos, the Clio has stuck to a normally aspirated 2.0-litre. The result is a frantic driving experience, as you have to work the Clio’s powerplant hard to get the best from it.

The six-speed gearbox is slick, and it needs to be – you will find yourself using it a lot as you push the motor past 5,000rpm. Once there, the engine truly comes alive, with its howling note and buzzy nature. It spins freely all the way up to 7,500rpm and the short ratios mean it’s easy to keep the revs high.

Luckily, the Renault has a chassis to match its engine. Thanks to its wheel-at-each-corner design, there is virtually no body roll, and the taut set-up means it deals with changes of direction easily. It can catch you out, though, especially in the wet, and the Clio isn’t as forgiving as the VXR or MINI.

However, this just adds to the feeling of driver involvement you get with the 197. If you treat it with a bit of respect, it’s fantastically enjoyable. True, the light, over-assisted steering is too artificial, especially if you’ve just stepped out of the MINI, but it firms up with speed.

With eight airbags, the Clio is the safest car here, and, unlike the MINI, comes with stability control as standard. The £15,995 price tag is high compared to the 207, but it does offer the most powerful engine and a truly thrilling driving experience.

Details

Price: £15,995Model tested: Renaultsport Clio 197Chart position: 3WHY: It’s the only normally aspirated model here, but the Clio 197 has the most power on tap.

Economy

You have to work the Clio’s normally aspirated engine hard to extract real performance, so economy takes a hit. An average of 26.3mpg is nearly 10mpg worse than the MINI’s.

Residuals

AS with the Corsa, the 197 is the best Clio and Renaultsport model for resale values. A figure of 44.7 per cent is respectable – but it trails well behind the MINI.

Servicing

Not only is the Clio the costliest car to maintain, at £660 for the first three visits, but it also has the shortest service intervals. It needs attention every 12,000 miles.

Tax

With the largest capacity and most power, the Clio has the dirtiest engine. That puts it in the 26 per cent bracket, and lower-band owners will face a tax bill of £915.

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