Sunday, April 3, 2011
I love hot hatches 2
It's never easy to predict what the classics of tomorrow will be, but the Renaultsport Clio 172 would certainly be on our list of hot hatches to remember. With a sublime chassis, punchy performance and muscular styling, the flagship supermini is a true driver's delight, yet it has often been overlooked by hot hatch buyers.
Now, Renault's performance division has rejuvenated its Mini Cooper S rival by adding 10bhp, creating a fresh look and promising even more polished handling. Auto Express got hold of one of the first right-hand-drive Clio 182s in Britain to see how much the feisty French hatchback has improved.
Optional stripes aside, most people would find it hard to tell the 182's front apart from its predecessor. At the rear, the styling and mechanical changes are more obvious, with the addition of Clio V6-style twin exhaust tailpipes.
But it's the tarmac performance that will determine sales success or failure - and the 182 doesn't disappoint. Renaultsport has widened the track and revised the suspension. Seen here is the optional £200 Cup package, which includes specialist tyres, a 3mm drop in ride height, and adds even more rigidity to the springs and dampers. The result is fantastic. Attack a series of bends and the eager nose dives for the apex of every corner, providing massive grip and fantastic feedback.
Despite the firm suspension, the Clio soaks up B-road bumps relatively well, allowing you to concentrate on enjoying the drive, safe in the knowledge that ABS and ESP are fitted as standard. However, on the motorway the ride becomes more fidgety, which detracts from the car's appeal.
But what better way to take advantage of such an accomplished chassis than with the Clio's fettled 182bhp 2.0-litre engine? Although the extra 10bhp, gained mainly from the new exhaust system, might not sound like much, the modifications have given the four-cylinder unit more usable performance.
Peak torque of 200Nm comes at 5,250rpm - 150rpm earlier than the 172's - and the 182 feels quicker in everyday conditions. It covers the sprint from 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds, and can go on to a 139mph maximum speed.
Renault has also spent some time on the 182's interior. Dark grey Alcantara gives a high-quality feel, but the lighter-coloured seatbelts seem rather tacky in comparison. However, touches of metal trim add life to the otherwise familiar supermini cabin.
With the basic machine priced at £14,600 - which includes climate and cruise control, as well as a Thatcham Category One alarm - the Renaultsport Clio 182 represents seriously good value for money. A dead-cert future hot hatch classic? This could be it.