It's a question that has been asked many times over the years - is the 182 Trophy a good base for a track car? Or is better suited to spirited drives over your favourite ribbons of tarmac? It would seem that the camp is very much divided.
First things first, let's discount those who perhaps see the Trophy as an investment or as an addition to their cherished car collection. Whilst nothing more than a humble Clio at its heart the Trophy has attracted more than a fair share of collectors. Such examples tend to be low-mileage and mint condition cars that spend most of their time garaged, far away from the worst of what Mother Nature might throw its way. Arguably, for such a fun car, it's a shame to see them unused. Yet the fact remains that they are viewed as collectable, exclusive, and they are currently appreciating in value. Recently this author has seen mint (and unmolested) Trophys on sale for not far off the £10,000 mark, with the odd car popping up for sale into the teens of thousands. Whether or not the asking prices were met I don't know, but there's a noticeable increase in the perceived value of these fantastic little cars and collectors are willing to part with significant amounts of cash to pick up the right car.
When discussing how well-suited the Trophy is to track work one of the main topics raised for discussion is the Sachs Race Engineering dampers. With such high-spec items equipped as standard it's inevitable that they will be a hot topic for debate. Interestingly, despite their pedigree and proven performance, they are not to everyone's taste. One of the frustrating things is that, as standard items, they are 'pinned' to a somewhat neutral setting. I'm sure that RenaultSport technicians had their reasons for choosing, and locking, the level of damping... but why? Why not simply give the owner the opportunity to experiment and play with the damper settings themselves? For this reason, it is quite common to have the dampers 'unpinned' when rebuild time comes around. For additional cost the dampers can have their full potential unlocked thus allowing the owner to 'click' their way to driving nirvana. Or, more likely, randomly twiddle the knobs until they find a level of comfort and handling they are happy with!
There are some great examples of track-based Trophys already in existence but many have removed the Sachs dampers and opted to use high-performance coilovers in their place. Given the fact that the dampers are locked as standard and come with burdensome rebuild / maintenance costs it is not, perhaps, surprising to see Trophy owners storing the Sachs away and looking for alternative track-focused suspension instead.
Still on the subject of replacing 'Trophy items' with alternatives, the Recaro Trendlines often end up being removed and either stored or sold on. Being brutally honest the Trendlines are great seats and really help bring a bit of quality to the cabin space, but they are also rather heavy and not the most supportive when throwing the car around a circuit. Suitable bucket seats are usually installed as would be the preference of anyone really looking to take their trackdays seriously.
As a focused track car, we've already touched upon two areas whereby the Trophy is perhaps not the ideal track car out of the box. For a handful of trackdays each year there is no issue, simply add some good brake pads and fluid and away you go, but the more committed trackday-goer would expect more. And this raises the question, why use the Trophy as a base in the first place? Would it not be wiser to choose a different RenaultSport Clio model as the base and then modify that accordingly? It would probably make sense financially given the additional purchase costs that Trophys demand. On top of this, the more the Trophy is modified the less desirable and exclusive it becomes. Compare a good condition stock Trophy against a modified Trophy and the stock car will be the more desirable nine times out of ten. Let's not even get into the addition of rollcages and harness bars as I can imagine the Trophy purists throwing up their hands in disgust already! Are there better options out there? This author believes so.
For a solid track car base you need look no further than the Trophy's slightly older sibling, the 172 Cup. Like the Trophy these tend to cost a little more to buy than the average sporty Clio but the 172 Cup is, in my opinion, better suited to the track (assuming stock vs. stock). It's light, no frills, and doesn't even come with ABS. With a few minor addition the Cup can be a potent track weapon capable of embarrassing far more expensive cars. Whilst I certainly have no issue with track Trophys (or modified Trophys in general) it is my opinion that a cheaper Clio is a better place to start from, ideally the 172 Cup if budget and availability are favourable.
In part, for the reasons given above, I do think that the Trophy is more "King of the Road" than it is "Trackday Warrior". It's balance and prowess on A- and B-roads is at a level that far exceeds its monetary value. Ok, so the Sachs can be a little crashy at lower speeds, but I've not experienced any better damping on any car when out for a spirited drive on my own or with friends. As a driver's car it inspires confidence and maintains an eagerness and urgency throughout the rev range, more so as the revs rise to 4.5k and above. Providing a good level of feedback, and controllable on the throttle and brake pedal, it never fails to raise a smile or two when threading it through your favourite sequence of bends or enjoying the dips and troughs of your favourite countryside route. It might not tick all the boxes when it comes to aiming high for a podium finish, but it is hard to beat when shown a challenging road.
All in my opinion of course. I'm not biased.