The Renaultsport Clio has proven to be one of the most popular hot hatches of recent times and since its first appearance in the ’90s the little French hatchback has developed into one of the best handling and most rewarding cars on the market.
British drivers represent the biggest market for Renaultsport’s offerings and buy 50% of the cars they produce. What you might not realise is just how many versions there have been of the Renaultsport Clio, so let’s take a look into its history.
It all began in 1990
The Renault Clio was introduced in 1990 as a replacement to the ageing Renault 5, although it didn’t come to the UK until 1991. It proved to be extremely popular and sold very well but at the start the Clio was little more than another Euro hatchback but with a touch of Gallic charm.
The Clio range needed a performance flagship to spice things up a bit and take on the XR2s and GTEs and initially that role was filled by the 1.8-litre Clio 16V. While it was a reasonably rapid little thing the 1.8 was just a standard Clio with a bigger engine. What we needed was a more focussed machine, something to tear apart the competition and redefine the hot hatch. That was what we got with the …
Renault Clio Williams (1993)
The Renault Clio Williams was born from a desire to go rallying. The Williams was designed to meet the homologation requirements for Groups A and N for the WRC and this meant it could use a 2.0-litre 16-valve engine. The result, in road trim, was 149bhp and a top speed of 134mph. While the 2.0-litre F7R engine was not much more powerful than the 1.8-litre it had much more torque at lower revs.
The Williams name was used to celebrate the success of the Renault-powered F1 team but they had nothing to do with the car itself. Only available in dark blue to match the F1 cars, the Williams came with striking gold alloys and gold badging. At launch the Williams was produced in limited numbers with only 400 coming to the UK. However, much to the anger of buyers of the original, Renault decided to produce two more batches and named them Williams 2 and Williams 3.
Widely acknowledged to be one of the best handling hot hatches ever made, the Clio Williams is now very much a collector’s item. Even with the extra numbers of the Williams 2 and 3, prices remain high and it can be difficult to find a good one for sensible money.
Renaultsport Clio 172 (1999) & 172 Cup
When the phase 2 Clio was launched the Clio Williams was the blueprint for the hot version that would be launched under a new sub-brand … Renaultsport. As before a 2.0-litre engine was squeezed under the short bonnet and this time power was up to 169bhp. With a kerb weight of just over 1000kg this meant that performance was lively for such a small car. 60mph appeared in just 7.0 seconds although the 172’s top speed of 138mph was slightly slower than the Williams.
In 2001 the Clio 172 received the same facelift treatment as the rest of the Clio range. That gave it sharper looking lights and a new set of alloys, as well as a few minor mechanical changes. The result actually made the 172 slightly slower than before so Renault adjusted the gear ratios to compensate.
In 2002 Renault unveiled the 172 Cup. The optional Cup chassis promised even sharper responses at the expense of ride comfort and by stripping out the luxuries, fitting less sound-proofing and installing lighter 16-inch wheels the 172 Cup also weighed less. The result was quicker acceleration and a more extreme driving experience. Some complained about the stiff ride and noise but others revelled in the sharper handling.
Renaultsport Clio V6 (1999)
What do you get when you take a Clio and swap the rear seats for a 3.0-litre V6 that drives the rear wheels? A barking mad hot hatch that most manufacturers would have aborted at the design stage. With 226bhp and no room to put your shopping, the Clio V6 was as far as you could get from the practical little supermini on which it was based.
Despite the bigger engine the Clio V6 wasn’t much quicker than the lighter 2.0-litre Clio but wide body kit and sonorous V6 made it an instant hit. It did earn a reputation for being tricky to handle on the limit and a few owners found themselves exiting roundabouts in the wrong direction but the surviving Clio V6s continue to have huge appeal for keen drivers.
Renaultsport Clio 182 & 182 Cup (2004)
It wasn’t long after the phase 2 Clio’s mid-life revamp that we got to enjoy a more powerful Renaultsport model. There was a Cup chassis available as an option but this time the more extreme chassis settings were accompanied by a few creature comforts, making the 182 Cup a little more civilised than its predecessor.
Renaultsport Clio V6 255 (2003)
With the phase 2 Clio Renaultsport took the opportunity to sort out some of the problems of the original V6. The handling was a little more benign, although it could still catch out the unwary, while the V6 engine’s output was increased to 252bhp. Apart from that the Clio V6 was the same gloriously impractical hatchback as before. The extra power meant that the V6 255 was comfortably quicker than the 2.0-litre Clios and it remains the fastest model to this day.
Renaultsport Clio 182 Trophy (2005)
The Trophy has reached almost legendary status among hot hatch enthusiasts. With bespoke Sachs remote-reservoir dampers and Eibach springs on the front it is widely regarded as one of the best handling front-wheel drive cars of all time.
Production was limited to 500 and it was available in any colour you wanted, as long as that was metallic Capsicum Red. Lighter anthracite wheels (saving 1.3kg per corner), a larger rear wing and a few Trophy badges are the other clues, while on the inside you got super-supportive Recaro seats and a numbered plaque. Rumour has it that the competition-spec Sachs dampers cost Renault almost ten times as much as the standard items!
The Clio 182 Trophy is still sought after on the second-hand market. Find yourself a cared-for example and you could be looking at an almost depreciation-proof and hugely entertaining car.
Renaultsport Clio 197 & 197 Cup (2006)
Based on the phase 3 Clio, the Clio 197 featured a new 2.0-litre powerplant with 194 bhp but had sadly gained 150kg during its development. Initial reviews weren’t great, with complaints that the lack of torque and extra mass dulled the performance and handling. That doesn’t mean the 197 was a bad car as its chassis was still a match for the competition but the peaky nature of the engine meant that it often felt slower than its turbocharged rivals.
Renaultsport Clio 197 F1 Team R27
Renault have had a long and successful history in F1 and after back-to-back wins in the constructors’ championship a special road-going Clio was released to to celebrate. Only 500 F1 Team R27s were built and could be ordered in a very distinctive combination of Liquid Yellow paint with special stickers, although calmer shades were available. The R27 wore 17-inch anthracite alloys around the Brembo brake system and the special Recaro seats were lighter to lower the Clio’s centre of gravity. The final touch was a lower and stiffer suspension setup to make the Clio’s handling even more incisive.
Renaultsport Clio 200 & 200 Cup (2009)
The Clio returned to full strength with the revised Clio 3. The new nose was accompanied by a measly 3bhp power boost but to answer some of the criticism aimed at the 197 there was more torque available from lower revs. The changes might not have seemed that significant but the competition was blown away as the Clio 200 stormed to victory in almost every road test it entered.
Clio 200 Gordini (2010)
The rebirth of the Gordini name was a short-lived chapter in the Clio’s history. Essentially a highly specced Clio 200 with blue paint and white stripes, the Gordini had the same power and chassis options as the standard Clio 200, leading to disappointment for those who wanted to see the Gordini name used on a series of more focused Renaultsport models. Slow sales meant the Gordini badge was shelved again after little more than a year.
Clio 20th Anniversary (2010)
As the name suggests the 20th Anniversary was built to celebrate the 20th birthday of the Clio. It was mechanically identical to the Clio 200 but came with Pearlescent Givre paint (white to you and me), black alloys and a black roof. It was a recipe that would prove popular in future limited edition models.
Clio 200 Silverstone (2011)
The Silverstone was another ‘special’ edition of the Clio 200 that received only cosmetic changes. It was a very limited run of just 50 models and was available in silver paint with black wheels and mirrors. It also received new Recaro seats, Bluetooth and an MP3-compatible stereo.
Clio 200 Raider (2012)
The Raider name may be familiar if you know your hot hatches from the 90s, as it was originally used on the 5 Turbo. The Raider is probably the ultimate Mk3 Clio, thanks mainly to its larger 18-inch wheels with sticky Bridgestone RE 050A tyres, the same as used on the Megane 265 Trophy when it set its Nurburgring record. The Raider is easy to spot as it’s the only Clio to have been sold with matt paint, either Stealth Grey or Diavolo Red, and came with contrasting black wheels and roof.
Clio 200 Turbo (2013)
As the Clio enters its fourth generation the Renaultsport version receives its most radical overhaul ever. The 2.0-litre engine is gone, replaced by a cleaner 1.6 turbo. Power stays the same but torque is up. The six-speed manual is gone, replaced by a dual-clutch semi-automatic with flappy paddles. And it’s become the first Renaultsport Clio to be sold as a five-door … and only a five-door.
Does such a drastic change signal the end in the Renaultsport Clio’s popularity? Only time – and the reviews from the motoring press – will decide that but let’s hope the hot Clio has got a long and healthy future ahead of it.
Renaultsport Clio Performance Figures
|Model||Displacement||Power||Torque||0–60 mph||Top speed||Kerb Weight||Power/Weight|
|Williams||1,998cc||145 bhp||175 Nm||7.5 sec||143 mph||1,010 kg||143 bhp/tonne|
|172||1,998cc||169 bhp||200Nm||7.0 sec||138 mph||1,059 kg||159 bhp/tonne|
|172 Cup||1,998cc||169 bhp||200Nm||6.7 sec||138 mph||1,021 kg||165 bhp/tonne|
|182, Cup & Trophy||1,998 cc||177 bhp||200 Nm||6.9 sec||139 mph||1,090 kg||162 bhp/tonne|
|197||1,998 cc||194 bhp||215 Nm||6.7 sec||139 mph||1,240 kg||156 bhp/tonne|
|197 Cup||1,998 cc||194 bhp||215 Nm||6.7 sec||141 mph||1,240 kg||156 bhp/tonne|
|200||1,998 cc||197 bhp||215 Nm||6.7 sec||141 mph||1,204 kg||163 bhp/tonne|
|200 Turbo||1,598 cc||200 bhp||240 Nm||6.5 sec||143 mph||1,204 kg||166 bhp/tonne|
|V6||2,946 cc||226 bhp||300 Nm||6.6 sec||145 mph||1,410 kg||160 bhp/tonne|
|V6 255||2,946 cc||252 bhp||300 Nm||5.8 sec||153 mph||1,475 kg||170 bhp/tonne|