The Knowledge: the Clio 172 & 182 are the next 205 GTi, so get 'em while you can
Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.
You might know it as the Renault Clio 172 Renaultsport. Or maybe to you, it’s the Renaultsport Clio 172. Whatever you call it, the chances are we won’t see another car like the one that made Renault’s name as a purveyor of fine hot hatches again.
Why? Well, these days the shopping-trolley-based hot hatch simply has to have a turbocharged engine to work. Such is the nature of the current fad for downsizing. And while we can but hope, of course, the format of a thumping great engine crowbarred into the nose of a featherweight hatchback is one that probably won’t find its way to fruition again.
But don’t worry too much, because there are still plenty of Clio 172s – and indeed, pokier and arguably even more desirable 182s – kicking around for us to buy up and enjoy. And enjoy you will, because these first Renaultsport Clios are undoubtedly some of the most exciting and loveable cars out there.
Is it the fabulously grunty engine? Indeed, because it relies on sheer cubic capacity, rather than forced induction, to generate its power, the Clio’s engine doesn’t just thrive on revs – it delivers instant, grin-inducing torque, too. And then when you climb the rev range it just keeps on giving, its bassy engine note taking on a warbling, hard-edged yowl as you close in on the red line.
Or maybe it’s the chassis. The 172 and 182 fairly dance along a road, darting into apices and shifting around in response to even the most minute of throttle movements in corners. Lift off hard and you’ll get the back end out, but as long as you’re quick, the beautifully weighted and wonderfully communicative steering give you everything you need to stop things going pear-shaped.
These Clios are even quite nice places to be. Oh sure, the interior plastics leave something to be desired, but you got climate control, automatic xenon headlamps and some truly comfortable leather and alcantara seats, while sat-nav was an optional extra.
And if you wanted your Clio more hardcore, you could opt for the lighter, stiffer Cup version, or add the Cup packs, one of which added the Cup’s cosmetic extras, and the other its suspension. The most desirable Renaultsport Clio of this generation, meanwhile, is the Trophy, which was based on the Cup but got motorsport-specification adjustable Sachs suspension, a unique exhaust, and a larger rear spoiler.
Why you should buy one now
Let’s put it simply: these quick little Clios are dirt cheap. A good 172 can be yours for £1500 if you look hard, perhaps even less. That’s an awful lot of fun for the money. The facelifted Phase 2 is the one to have; earlier Phase 1s are rarer, but their interiors are less hardy.
If it’s a 182 you’d like, you’ll have to pay a little more, but not much. A passable example will set you back £2000, while a really tidy Cup shouldn’t cost you more than £3000, or maybe £3500 with a low mileage.
And while these figures might seem so easily attainable as to be insignificant today, don’t get too used to them. One day, the Clio 172 and 182’s values will almost certainly skyrocket, in much the same way as those of the Peugeot 205 GTi have done. There may come a time you rue the day you didn’t but a Renaultsport Clio while you still could.
What to look out for
If you’re in the market for a quick Clio, there are two words you’ll have noticed in almost every advert: cambelt and dephaser. The cambelt is a big, expensive job – don’t expect change from £500 at an independent specialist.
The dephaser, meanwhile, is a pulley that manages the variable valve timing system; it’s a frequent fault on this engine, and if it goes, you’ll need to replace the cambelt in order to change it, so it’s worth doing at the same time, at a cost of an additional £175 or so.
For this reason, it’s sensible to buy a Clio that’s had this work done recently – or if not, to price both jobs into your budget. Oh, and any Renaultsport Clio that makes a rattling, diesel-like noise when running and feels down on power probably has a dodgy dephaser.
These Clios are driven hard, so listen for various knocks and bangs, and be prepared for the fact you might have to replace dampers or springs as well as bushes to keep your Clio’s handling tip-top. These are, fortunately, relatively cheap on all but the Trophy version. Keep in mind, too, that the 172 and 182 are sensitive to tyre choice – a good set of branded tyres suggests the previous owner knows what they’re about.
A sure sign of a car that’s been abused is a knackered synchromesh – listen for crunching when changing between second and third gears. Meanwhile, rust isn’t generally a problem on these Clios, so if you do see any, it could be a sign of poorly repaired accident damage.
There we have it, then. What are you waiting for? Get yourself behind the wheel of a Renaultsport Clio now – don’t wait until it’s too late!