Clio delivers adrenalin rush
It’s taken a fight, but now there’s something special in the Renault range, writes KEVIN HEPWORTH
ATWO-YEAR battle with France has finally put something special into the Renault range for Australia. It’s the Clio RenaultSport 197, which takes up from one of the company’s most-loved models to deliver a genuine adrenalin surge. It’s not cheap, but it is quick and trendy. The spanking Clio 182 was lost from Australia in 2006 as the victim of a plunging exchange rate, but now it has been replaced by the 197 with a similar upmarket approach. ‘‘This was not an entry-level car: it was a true performance hot hatch. And with the dramatic fall in the exchange rate and the strengthening of the Euro, we simply could not get it at a price that made any sense,’’ Renault Australia boss Rudi Koenig says. ‘‘We have been discussing . . . arguing . . . this new car (the Phase III Clio) with France for the past two years. We simply could not get it at a price that made sense in our market,’’ Koenig says. But the arguing has finally delivered the RenaultSport Clio at $36,490 and it’s time to say ‘‘Welcome back, Sport’’. The Sport-led attack has already worked with the Megane and now, with the compact Clio putting some real punch into the action, Renault Australia has high hopes. But the car is $36,490, which makes it almost 10 per cent dearer than its predecessor. And you can have it in any colour you like, so long as it’s red. Unless you have another $800 for a metallic upgrade. To be fair, the paint is on a small list of options that includes bi-xenon headlights at $1750, a sunroof at $1890 and upgraded sound system at $800. What comes standard is far more impressive, including the adrenalin rush. Like the best skunkwork cars, the 197 is not just a fancy version of a Clio running down the production line next to more-mundane models. The cars come from the special RenaultSport factory in Dieppe, France and are stretched, widened, lowered and tweaked by the same engineering crew that puts Renault’s F1 cars at the pointy end of the grid. In the case of the 197, the donor Clio III platform has been stretched with 10mm extra on the wheelbase, 48mm extra track width in the front and 50mm in the rear. Ride height has been dropped 15mm. Extensive use of aluminium in the innovative double axis strut front suspension gives a saving of 7.5kg over a comparative MacPherson system. But, more importantly, it isolates the steering axis from the damping system, effectively eliminating torque steer. The Clio 197 shares its stiffened subframe with the Megane Sport 225, with the rear anti-roll bar 200 per cent larger at 30mm. Work on the normally aspirated 16-valve 2.0-litre engine— the same basic unit from the previous 182 model — has been extensive, lifting peak power to 145kW (the 197 horsepower for which the car is named) at an eager 7250 revs. Torque peaks at 215Nm at 5550 revs. Much of the engine work has centred around intake and exhaust port flow and an increase in compression to 11.5:1, lifting performance and lowering emissions. The 197’s aero kit is subtle, but as hi-tech as it comes. No huge spoilers for this little one, though one is available if you must for $429. SET of side-mounted extractor vents carry heat away from the engine, while a huge front spoiler air intake feeds cool air to the powerplant. The RenaultSport theme flows through the interior with aluminium pedals, super-supportive and bolstered seats, easy-to-read, white-on-black dash graphics and sport steering wheel with red stitched centre-point which, disappointingly, is adjustable for rake only. The 197 has Renault’s expected five-star safety rating with eight airbags, active headrests, anti-skid brakes and electronic brakeforce distribution as well as a switchable electronic stability program tuned to allow a greater degree of sports application. Other standard equipment includes 17-inch sports alloys, multi-function trip computer and cruise control.