When Renault launched the original RenaultSport Clio 182 in 2001, it set quite a high benchmark.
Followed by the even perkier Clio 192, it was one of the best hot hatches of the early 2000s, so when its replacement came around in 2006 it had a lot to live up to.
But the good news is that Renault did a great job of making the 197 more comfortable without spoiling the driving thrills that made previous cars such fun. Mature styling, one of the finest chassis on the market and a competitive price tag ensured that the Clio 197 remained one of the best hot hatches on the market and it retained the original’s hugely enthusiastic following.
Under the bonnet, a new 2.0-litre 197PS engine was coupled to a six-speed manual transmission, the first five of which were geared up for optimised acceleration. That meant it could crack the 0-60 sprint in just over seven seconds, making it a fine hot hatch even by today’s standards.
It also got bespoke, wide body panels, shunning the trend towards spoilers and diffusers and relying on underbody aerodynamics to improve performance. Far from being there only for show, the one rear diffuser that was fitted added up to 40kg of downforce without increasing drag. It was a well-engineered car.
Like many small hot hatches, though, good survivors are few and far between, as so many of them were run into the ground by petrolhead owners, ragged on track days and driven hard on a daily basis.
That makes this example a rare survivor and one worthy of preservation, not least because it is one of the first 197s sold in the UK.
The RenaultSport Clio was first registered in June 2006, which was the month the car went on sale in the UK, making it one of the very first examples.
It’s also on a ‘HK06’ number plate, which were the registrations used by Renault’s own press and dealer launch vehicles, suggesting it is a former Renault UK car, though whether it was used as a press or marketing vehicle is unknown and is well worth the next owner outing some further research into to determine its provenance.
It was acquired by the vendor last year as he’s a complete car nut and had always wanted to try one, but having got it out of his system he now wants to try something else.
Included with the car are a UK V5C and an MOT certificate valid until August this year, along with some additional receipts for wheels, tyres and dyno testing. There is no additional service history but the car has clearly been well- maintained.
First up – the colour. The Clio is finished in one of the two launch colours, Illiad Blue (the other was yellow) and it looks amazing, squatting down on its lowered suspension and really showing off the bespoke RenaultSport bodywork, which was essentially the same as a standard Clio but flared outward in all the right places.
It’s all in good order, the only obvious blemish being a small scrape on the offside rear wheel arch which is slightly dented but hasn’t broken the paint. There are also a few kerb marks on the graphite grey alloys, while the rear tyres will soon be in need of replacement. They’re legal, but quite low.
Otherwise, it looks fantastic and has a deep shine, while the only small modifications are the addition of wind deflectors, some carbon fibre trim on the door frames and a permanent towing eye on the front bumper, should you wish to use it for track days.
Inside, the sporty look is purposeful but subtle. The Renaultsport-branded seats offer plenty of support, while the high-quality dashboard gets a classy silver finish. The RenaultSport logo is everywhere to remind you that you’re not in a standard Clio. On the steering wheel, the dash and even the head restraints.
Crucially, the driving position is spot-on, with plenty of reach and rake adjustment on the wheel and perfectly positioned pedals. The sporty feel is accentuated further by a keyless ignition – insert a card and the Clio comes to life via a motorsport-style stop/start button on the dash. There’s also a red band on the top of the steering wheel to indicate straight ahead – another example of the Clio 197’s sporty pretences.
The half suede seats are in great order, as is the dash and the carpets, while the only minor problem we could see is a small burn mark in the driver’s side armrest.
Start up the 2.0-litre engine, and you are greeted with a sporty exhaust note which sets the tone for a thrilling drive. And thrilling it is, as we were able to find out.
Work the new short-throw gear shift hard and 0-60mph takes only 6.7 seconds, but it likes to be revved. Peak power comes in at around 6,750rpm.
It’s a great, rewarding drive though with wonderful handling, the electric power steering giving more feedback than you’d expect. It’s a rewarding and exciting car to drive.
It runs well, too. The vendor tells us it has been remapped with a horsepower increase of around 10 per cent and that’s easy to believe as it absolutely flies off the mark, while at more sedate speeds the engine idles sweetly, holds good oil pressure and a steady temperature.
Of all the hot hatches of the mid-2000s, the RenaultSport Clio is one of the most desirable, often beating the iconic VW Golf GTI in contemporary group tests. It was great value then and is great value now, but the good examples are disappearing fast, which makes this largely original launch-spec example well worth preserving.
It’s also immense fun to drive and pretty cool to look at. So what’s stopping you?
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