In this guest post, Joe Johnson shares his thoughts after spending a year with his Renaultsport Clio 200.
Super Car Performance On A Shoestring Budget
Renault have always had a looming presence in the performance hatchback market, look back to the 1980s and their Five Turbo arguably gave rise to this cult class of vehicle. Since then, alongside producing their run-of-the mill family cars, the French manufacturer has flirted with the hardcore, motorsport influenced underbelly of the automotive world with classic, critically acclaimed hot hatches such as the Clio 182 and Megane R26R under their ‘Renaultsport’ sub-brand moniker.
While other manufacturers have attempted to emulate the Renaultsport spirit, none have ever come truly close to replicating the unique feel of one of these lovingly hand-built race-inspired vehicles. Of course cars like the Golf GTi have something special to offer, but as yet nothing as proved a challenge for infectious combination of performance, looks, value and fun that the Renaultsport range is famed for.
One of the most recent additions to this stable of thoroughbreds is the 200, replacing to the 197, it improves upon its predecessor in almost every way. A small boost in horsepower is complimented by uprated suspension and a quicker steering rack for the Cup iteration. Having owned and driven the 200 Cup for over a year and with many other hot hatches under my belt, I’m well placed to comment on how the feisty Clio stacks up against the competition.
It’s fair to say that Renaultsport models have never been the prettiest cars, the 200 Cup continues this trend, very much favouring function over form. The rear is relatively unchanged from the 197 but the front-end is dominated by a gaping gloss-black diffuser.
Driving purists will have no problems with however this since it is purported to smooth air flow and aid down-force, which more than makes up for it’s slightly awkward appearance. Elsewhere the body evokes a kind of brutal charm, every line and angle is motivated by aerodynamic performance, this means the car looks like it’s doing 200mph even when parked on your nan’s driveway.
Performance & Handling
It’s odd to think that a mere Clio can match the performance of the Supercars of yesteryear, and while it won’t keep up with a 458 Italia, it certainly gives much more expensive cars a run for their money. Alas we’re not talking money yet, so how does it drive?
The 2.0 power plant propels the 200 to 60 in a respectable 6.9 seconds and sees it to a top speed of 140. It is the way the engine performs however that really enthralls, the lump is rev happy and always urgent, gear ratios are short and most of the power becomes available in the higher rev ranges. This means that you really have to make it scream to squeeze the best out of it, and it’s incredibly rewarding when you do.
The only complaint I’d raise about the otherwise excellent engine is the slight lack of torque, because of this, lazy driving can mean a sluggish response at low revs, but keeping the needle lively and the power-plant on-song will mean there is always adequate grunt available at all times.
Handling is without a doubt the Clio’s trump card, it really does shine in this department. The feel of the steering is tight and responsive. Turn-in is crisp and the car exhibits hardly any body roll during the corner which makes keeping a tight line with your foot on the floor an absolute synch. The firm springs do of course mean you’ll be rattled around in the cabin like a pinball should you be forced to use one of the UK’s many pot-hole ridden residential roads; this is a small price to pay for the unbridled joy of being able harry big-time Charlies in their quick but barge-like BMWs on twisty country roads.
This lively, eager poise is a perfect compliment to the behavior of the engine and makes driving piloting the Clio an event, not just on meandering side roads but also on motorways and A-roads. The Clio is a more than competent cruiser and if you can put up with the cabin noise you will roar happily down the outside lane in convoy with the exec-mobiles.
I got an excellent deal on my Cup. Having snapped up a special offer from Renault in 2010, I managed secure my car for a one-thousand pound deposit with weekly payments of £200, this was on a two year contract hire deal with an APR of 4.5%. Since the final payment was around seven and half thousand pounds, this meant that the effective list price of the car on this plan was around thirteen thousand pounds. An absolute steal.
I ended up opting for a few extras, namely Recaro sports seats, Satin black alloys and a rear wing (all the essentials) and paying slightly more on top of the original deposit, but the insanely low price accommodated my penchant for go-faster accessories nicely. If only I could be as complimentary about the fuel economy.
Thanks to the handy digital readout on the dashboard I know I’ve averaged around 27mpg over the past year in the Clio. Despite being confronted with this disconcerting figure everyday when I turn the car on, I’ve been unable to tame my leaden foot. The Clio is simply too much fun not push on the daily commute to work.
Even without my over zealous use of the lower gears, the Clio would still exhibit a health thirst for petrol due to the nature of the engine and the way the gear ratios are set. In the car’s defense, anyone who buys this car is unlikely to be overly concerned by fuel consumption figures.
And so to what is the inevitable Achilles heel of the Clio. You would expect that in today’s technically advanced automotive landscape, you could buy a brand new car and expect it to run straight out the box without any mechanical hitches for at least, say, 3 years. I’ve had the Clio for eleven months and have already experienced one fleeting and one fairly major fault.
The first was a fuel gauge error, although it caused me some inconvenience, it was certainly forgivable. Today however the Clio showed it’s true colours, documenting signs of intrinsic fallibility. On the way to work the dash presented me with an ominous ‘engine overheating’ warning message accompanied by various red flashing lights; being aware of the electrical gremlins that often plague Renaults, I was in two minds about whether or not to continue my journey.
Better judgment won over and I stopped to inspect the problem, at the time more worried about being late for work than what could be wrong with the car. To cut a long story short, a once over from the AA and some apologetic phone calls from the service center revealed that the radiator was leaking and the water pump faulty meaning I am to incur costs of over one thousand pounds, since both problems are allegedly not covered under the warranty.
Far be it from me to comprehend the intricacies of warranty agreements but according to Renault, neither their gap insurance or warranty cover ‘things that go wrong’ which is odd seeing that’s what warranties are generally for.
Undeniably, today’s events have left a sour taste in my mouth not just about the 200, but towards Renault as a whole. Whether I’m unlucky enough to be lumbered with a shoddily-made example of the 200 is unclear, but given my past bad experiences with Renault (albeit mainly electronics issues) I can’t say I’m overly shocked (non pun intended)
Having been subject to the aforementioned petrol gauge malfunction just a few months ago, failing to make the trip to work yet again today felt routine, certainly not something I should be saying about an 11 month old vehicle.
Disregarding these problems for a moment, the 200 is an accomplished motor car. There are no bells or whistles, but there doesn’t need to be, it’s a raw, stripped out machine designed for those who love driving. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not; it has one talent, which it exhibits exquisitely. When it’s working.