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Click to view picture gallery“Forget the three ‘R’s’.
  Renault’s latest Clio
  Renaultsport 197 has
  all three ‘F’s’ — Fast,
  Furious and Fun.
  Wanna know how she

WE MAY HAVE THE MOST congested roads in Europe, but that doesn't stop UK motorists buying fast, furious and fun cars.

Cars like the new 15,995 Clio Renaultsport 197, designed to serve as a flagship for the Clio range while putting the accent firmly on performance, passion and driving pleasure. The UK market has accounted for 35 per cent of the total Western European sales of this three-door hot-hatch throughout its many generations. The latest model, which entered UK showrooms in July, will be no exception.

As you would expect, this Clio Renaultsport 'baby' benefits from aero-dynamics developed from Renault's Formula 1 experience. The new car features a first in its segment in the shape of a rear underbody air diffuser which works in conjunction with the vents in the front wings to speed airflow under the car and to create aerodynamic downforce of 40kg at the rear.

The new model certainly looks the part, with smooth styling lines and body surfaces encompassing extended muscular front and rear wheel arches to allow the wheels to be positioned further apart for increased stability at high speeds. Twin exhausts complete the picture.

This 'hot' Clio has all the other go-faster exterior styling equipment you would expect, including 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, tinted windows and electrically-operated and heated door mirrors. Inside the cabin there is more of the sporting theme with a height-and-reach adjustable leather-bound steering wheel, Renaultsport seats, soft-touch carbon dashboard with satin chrome instrument dial surrounds, electric front windows, manual air conditioning, a multi-function com-puter, drilled aluminium pedals, cruise control, front and curtain airbags, a superb sound system and so on — the list seems endless and very good value for money.

If you have a more practical requirement from your three-door hot-hatch, you'll be pleased to know that the rear seats will fold down, increasing load space from 288 to 1,038 litres. For the record, there is no spare wheel for this Clio — instead you get a puncture repair aerosol. The rear seats are just about big enough for two adult passengers but perfect for children of go-faster parents.

So, that's the sporty styling and visual equipment out of the way. Under the skin the Clio Renaultsport makes use of large ventilated front and rear disc brakes, with Brembo four-pot callipers to the front for effective, durable stopping power. ABS complete with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) is standard, and the brakes feel strong and fade-resistant giving excellent confidence even after continuous high-speed use.

Recognising that the Renaultsport 197 will be driven enthusiastically — possibly on circuit track days — Brake Assist has been removed.
And while the 197 employs an electronic stability programme with understeer control for optimised performance on the road, this has been reprogrammed to higher limits and can be switched off for maximum fun when driving on a track — but don't forget to make sure your insurance covers track use.

Under the Clio's bonnet is a 2.0-litre, 4-in-line 16-valve naturally-aspirated engine that produces 195bhp at a high 7,250rpm, along with 159lb ft of torque at 5,550rpm. If you wondered about the '197' it refers to hp (DIN) as opposed to bhp. Drive to the front wheels is through a new six-speed close-ratio gearbox which is very slick to operate — as it has to be, because you need to use it a lot to get the best performance out of the Renaultsport. Top speed is 134mph and the 0-62mph dash is covered in 6.9 seconds.

However, because this latest generation Clio is both bigger and heavier than the previous model, it is perhaps not quite so rewarding to drive. It needs to be pushed hard to get the best performance. It will do
it, but not so readily. Around town or in slow traffic the engine is less rewarding and willing because the power band is so high, calling for maximum use of the gearbox to make it responsive.

On the motorway the engine is noisy at cruising speeds but where this car truly comes into its own is on twisting and winding B-roads where the handling is pretty faultless — thanks to minimal body roll and plenty of predictable front-end grip. The specially designed Renaultsport seats ensure effective lateral support. Also handy for the perfectionist press-on driver is a gear-change indicator light incorporated into the rev-counter.

Should you be interested, the average fuel consumption during my test drive week, over all types of roads and conditions, was an impressive 34.8mpg — notably better than the official 31.7mpg quoted by Renault (City and Touring figures are 23.1 and 39.8mpg respectively). With
CO2 emissions of 209g/km, the Clio Renaultsport is rated as one of the lowest cars in the hot-hatch segment. Against the most obvious com-petition — the Ford Fiesta ST, VW Polo GTi and MINI Cooper — the Clio Renaultsport is the most powerful. And it is also usefully larger.

At the price, and for the performance it delivers, the Clio Renaultsport is generally a very rewarding buy. Not least because it's entertaining and fun to drive most of the time. Other major plus points include pre-dictable handling, good looks inside and out and a top NCAP safety rating. For the enthusiast who buys one, the fact that it can be noisy at high speeds won't matter one jot, and the need for constant gear changing — down to a lack of low speed engine flexibility — will be seen as all part of the fun. — David Miles

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Renault Clio Renaultsport 197
| 15,995
Maximum speed: 134mph | 0-62mph: 6.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 34.8mpg | Power: 195bhp | Torque: 159lb ft

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