EVERY time someone asks me ‘What’s the best way to go fast for less than $10 grand?’, my answer is always the same – A Renault Sport Clio II.
It’s not just because I have a serious penchant for Gallic hot hatches (I’ve owned four Renault Sports now).
No, when I give that answer I believe I am stating fact; the sun will rise in the morning, and the Renault Sport Clio II is the fastest car for under $10K.
Why am I so certain of this?
Well, it’s a rather tragic story that involves me buying yet another Clio RS.
But first, a quick history lesson about the Renault Sport Clio II.
The first RS Clio II was the Phase I 172, which was unleashed on the world in 1999.
Power was derived from the venerable F4R 2.0lt inline four-cylinder motor, a herculean little donk that pushed out 126kW (172 metric horsepower, hence the name) and 200Nm of torque.
As with most French hot hatchbacks, the oomph from the punchy little engine was sent to the Clio’s front wheels via the rather lovely JC5 fivespeed manual transmission.
No automatic transmission was offered… Because it’s a drivers car, duh!
The rambunctious little hatch tipped the scales at a smidge over 1000 kilograms, making it a proper featherweight.
As a result, the RS Clio 172 came out swinging, and it wasn’t long before hacks like me were heaping praise on the little French hatchback.
Anyway, as is the case with most things in Australia, we had to wait a bit longer for the RS, but eventually we got the Phase I 172 in 2001, albeit in a limited edition run (just 85 individually numbered cars made it Down Under).
That same year also saw the debut of the Phase II RS Clio 172, a face-lifted version of the Phase I with a new front and rear bumper design, interior updates and mechanical changes like a shorter final drive and a redesigned airbox.
Best of all, the Phase II wasn’t a limited-run model, so any punter could walk down to their local Renault dealer, throw $33 grand on the table and drive away in one of the best drivers’ cars ever made.
A few years passed with
nothing changing in the Clio RS lineup, and then in 2004, Renault Sport served up the final iterations of the Clio II – the 182, 182 Cup and 182 Trophy.
As was the case with the move from Phase I to Phase II, the 182 brought with it minor cosmetic and interior updates, as well as mechanical changes including a new exhaust system featuring centremounted twin tailpipes, a new 4-2-1 manifold and a high-performance 200-cell sports cat-converter. All these changes added 8kW, boosting power to 134kW (182hp).
The 182 Cup took things a step further than the standard 182, and featured 10mm lower springs, stiffer dampers, revised steering geometry, a wider front track and bespoke hubs, wheel bearings and offset. The 182 Cup’s 16-inch, eight-spoke wheels were also painted a unique anthracite grey.
The 182 Trophy was the swansong of the RS Clio II range, with an awesome array of exclusive componentry like gorgeous Speedline Turini wheels and Sachs dampers, but I don’t really want to talk about the Trophy anymore, as we didn’t get it in Australia.
Returning to the story, I own a Pearl Black Phase I Renault Sport Clio 172, mine is number 62 out of 85 and I absolutely adore it.
Trouble is, it’s my track car, and as a result it’s nigh on impossible to enjoy it on anything other than a track.
As I hadn’t been on a track for a while, the Clio itch kept growing; I needed to experience one of these agents of fun on the road again.
This urge led to a peruse of the classifieds, which in turn led to finding a rather nice
looking 2005 RS Clio 182 Cup in Titanium Silver.
I gave the owner a buzz, had a chat, which led to a negotiation, and before I knew it I was putting down a deposit on what I now call, The Silver Bullet.
Want to know the best part about the purchase? The Clio, complete with a good service history and moderate mileage (151,000 kilometres), cost me less than $5000!
Less than $5k for one of the best hot hatches ever made!
The car was located in Sydney, so I booked a oneway ticket from Melbourne, landed in our nation’s most populous city, Uber’d out to the seller, gave him some cash, jumped in the Clio and headed straight for the Hume.
Eight-and-a-bit hours later I was back in Melbourne, the car had not skipped a beat and I’d averaged 7.4L/100km and travelled over 600 kilometres on one tank of 98ron. How good is that?!
A week later and it was time for a shakedown of The Silver Bullet on some of my favourite driving roads in Victoria’s Alpine region.
I gave Al, one of our staff photographers, a call to see if he wanted to join in on the action, as he also owns a RS Clio 182 Cup.
He did, so we headed up the side of a mountain on a glorious piece of asphalt spaghetti.
Now, here’s why I reckon the RS Clio II is the fastest car you can buy for under $10,000.
Another mate of ours from the office, Trent, also tagged along in a Mercedes-Benz that, on paper at least, should have been much, much quicker.
And yet, such is the giant killing nature of the humble RS Clio, within a few twists and turns of mountainous mountain road, the Merc’ had disappeared from my rear vision mirror, and I wouldn’t see it again until I pulled over a good 20 clicks up the road.
Around the bends The RS Clio II is almost peerless, and for less than $10,000 it is absolutely in a class of its own.
It is a stroke of pure genius and genuinely quick.
The way you can just throw the car into a corner at almost any speed and come out the other side simply beggars belief.
Everything about the car just eggs you on to go faster and faster.
The steering is gorgeous and, being hydraulically assisted, it gives you real feedback through the steering wheel.
The ride is perfectly judged, firm and taut yet compliant and, dare I say it, even a touch cosseting. It makes covering ground on pretty much any road surface a joy.
And when you want to come to a halt, the brakes are mighty and impeccably
judged, with minimal interference from ABS even when braking hard into a corner.
Getting out of the corners isn’t a problem either, as long as you’re in the right gear, as the pugnacious F4R four-pot pulls hard all the way to its 7200rpm redline.
It is a brilliantly talented little car to drive, however, there are some things that you need to be aware of.
For a start, you’ve got to be comfortable with driving a front-wheel drive car, and what I mean by that is, if you are driving quickly and take your foot off the accelerator mid-corner, you will almost certainly get some pretty heroic levels of over-steer.
Unfortunately the Clio has got an open diff, meaning that it has no qualms spinning up an inside wheel if you’re a bit to gung-ho when trying to power out of a corner.
And it does, like most front-wheel drive cars, have an appetite for understeer.
Although, this can be abated somewhat by braking late into a corner and in doing so, throwing the weight of the car over the front axle.
You can’t rush gearchanges; which is very difficult as the whole experience of driving the car quickly is frenetic, but if you rush, it’s pretty easy to miss the gate and wreak havoc on the synchros.
Other things to note about the Clio are the odd driving position, bus-size steering wheel and perfect heel-andtoe pedal layout.
Another thing to get used to is the shocked expression on other drivers faces when you burn them off at the lights in your tiny French hatchback.
The term ‘Bang for Buck’ gets bandied about far too often, but when it comes to the Renault Sport Clio II, it couldn’t be more accurate.