Renault Sport Clio RS 197 at Performance Car Of The Year 2008: Classic MOTOR

YOU might see the Renaultsport Clio 197’s inclusion in PC08 and think “what drugs were they smoking?”

This Performance Car Of The Year article was first published in MOTOR Magazine November 2008.

Against world-crushers like the Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG and BMW M3 – not to mention Porsche’s GT2 in the grand scheme of PC08 – dragging along (to date) the pint-sized French-mobile might seem like bringing a pea-shooter along to World War III. After all, it’s the only hot hatch – by pure and traditional definition – to get the Guernsey for this year’s PC08 stoush.

2008-RenaultSport-Clio-197-drift.jpgAnd you might question why, too, given its meagre 145kW/215Nm four-banger carried over from the old Clio II and, with a hardly formidable 119kW/tonne, it looks set to become this year’s most underpowered competitor. Still, Performance Car 08 does favour a broad church approach.

Yes, outright pace rules, but merit is also awarded on how each competitor performs to its intended purposes. And at BFYB08 earlier this year, judges unanimously voted the Clio first in its category for grin-inducing ability. It’s something of a hot hatch benchmark, it’s about the most fun a mere $36,490 can buy.

Not only does it deserve inclusion, it has the potential to scalp pricier and more-powerful rivals. Give three warm and fuzzy cheers for the underdog! Then cold, hard reality comes crashing down.

RenaultSport-Clio-197-rear.jpgWind the engine up hard (peak torque is at 5500rpm), dump the clutch, bang through the close-ratio six-speed and the Clio screams its guts out down the Coota airstrip for 7.44sec to 100km/h and a pedestrian 15.29sec for the standing quarter. Or three-tenths slower than the ‘sub-15’ PC08 cut-off.

That it dispatched the RX-8 in a straight-line was of little consolation – though it raised plenty of chuckles – given that the Mazda was painfully underachieving on the strip. Nor was it kicking heads or taking numbers against the stopwatch at Wakefield. Its lap time of 1:12.6? Last. Its v-max of 162.33km/h on the straight?

Last. But then you look at its corner speeds and suddenly the picture of the Clio’s outright performance potential takes a vastly different and more promising slant. In terms of apex pace, it’s sixth in turn one, fourth in turns four and seven, fifth in turn eight… On average, the cheapest/slowest straight-line car here is quicker than half the field in the corners.

2008-RenaultSport-Clio-197-side.jpgIt’s a fantastic chassis, but there’s more to it than the poise and grip that proves mid-corner pace. It manages the tricky task of blending compliant ride comfort with taut body control superbly, so it’s lively, eager to change direction, and both sharp and light on its feet.

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With the added (186kg) heft over its much loved predecessor comes a more complete performance package with deeper reserves of ability, without turning into a soft, bloated mess. And while the electric-assisted steering lacks the connection of the Lotus, and the Brembos aren’t a patch on Merc’s eye-watering stoppers, both are exceptional by hot hatch standards.

RenaultSport-Clio-197-steering.jpgAnd that’s typical of how the judges viewed the Clio: as a revvy little barrel of laughs that begged to be chucked around and excelled in every area where a hot hatch should. And it was ranked accordingly. A lack of outright pace means the Clio was never going to scale the sharp end of the rankings, but it scored a highly credible seventh place.

It’s not a win, but by dispatching the HSV GTS, FPV GT-P, VW R36 and RX-8, this year’s PC08’s underdog scored a well-deserved victory, of sorts. 

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