Renaultsport Clio 197

Does saving fuel come at the expense of B-road fun?

The Clio is arguably one of the most invigorating hot hatches around. It’s small, eager, frenetic and, above all, addictive fun – and that means it’s hard to resist the temptation to make the most of the chassis and rev-hungry engine.

Nevertheless, with commuting taking up the lion’s share of the 15,500 miles my Clio has covered since February, the French hot hatch has achieved a decent 27.2mpg. Leave out the motorway cruising and urban crawl figures, though, and when used exclusively on twisting tarmac that figure drops to 24.3mpg. As we said, it’s difficult not to indulge the Clio’s zest for life.

Unsurprisingly, improving that substantially wasn’t too tough – and we didn’t have to creep round corners to do so. Driving economically is all about conserving momentum, which meant that although I had to lift off well before bends and coast up to them with a bit of engine braking, rather than slamming the anchors on just beforehand, I could still try to carry speed around the bend.

This actually proved quite entertaining, because I could still enjoy the agile Clio’s cornering agility – although I had to miss out on accelerating hard out of curves and taking in the thrills offered by the hardcore engine.

The 197 is ridiculously short geared, pulling 3,600rpm at 70mph (that’s more than twice as many revs as the 535d). And all the power is locked away at the top end of the rev range, which meant I couldn’t get at it when trying to maximise my mpg. In fact, I was restricted to little more than 2,500rpm – and the Renaultsport’s highly strung 2.0-litre unit is rather lumpy at low engine speeds. This meant progress was leisurely, although there was enjoyment to be had from the snappy gearshift and instant throttle response.

But much more noticeable was the hard ride and lack of refinement – put simply, the Clio 197 isn’t very well mannered when asked to drive slowly. Economy did improve, with the cross-country figure rising from 24.3mpg to 37.4mpg – a 35 per cent increase. That means over the course of 20,000 miles, we would save £1,400 filling up with the costly super unleaded the Clio demands. But a word of warning on high-octane fuel – although it can be beneficial, we’ve seen prices nearing £1.20 a litre at some forecourts.

Overall economy didn’t see as dramatic a rise – the short gearing means the 197 was never going to be that efficient on multi-lane roads. Yet a gain of 8mpg isn’t to be sniffed at, and nor is the fact my CO2 emissions have fallen by over 1.7 tonnes per year and I have an extra £813 in my pocket.

So we know it’s possible to save fuel and money in a hot hatch. The thing is, I feel it goes against the grain of owning one. Eco-driving doesn’t suit the Clio at all. Oliver expressed his frustration at not being able to unleash the full potential of his BMW, and for the 197, it’s even worse. I’m happy to sacrifice some economy so I can make the most of cross-country roads. But I may ease off on motorways – the thought of saving more than £800 a year is tempting...

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