French Fried : Renault Clio RenaultSport 172 (MkI)

Car Specifications
Engine: 
1998cc, 16-valves, variable valve timing
Cylinder Layout: 
In-line 4-cylinder
Top Speed: 
220km/h
Transmission: 
5-speed Manual
0-100km/h: 
7.3 seconds
Power: 
172bhp at 6250rpm
Torque: 
200Nm at 5400rpm
Features: 
  • Nimble and agile
  • Peppy engine
  • Entertaining chassis

Innocuous looks with only a few subtle clues as to its true character to the cognoscenti
Cult Car Central revisits the Renault Clio 172 Mk 1

Vital Statistics
Car: Renault Clio RenaultSport 172 (Mk 1)
Year of Manufacture: 2000
Owners: 2
Original Registration: 18th April 2001
Mileage: NA
Revisited: 21st March 2010

Mention the term, 'Hot Hatch', and enthusiasts in Singapore are more inclined to think of Japanese models like the Daihatsu Charade GTti, Suzuki Swift GTI and the ubiquitous Honda Civic VTI/SiR hatchbacks.

As much as VW is commonly credited with shoe-horning a sporty engine into the first Golf (to create the GTI variant), the first 'hot-hatch' can actually be attributed to the French, namely Renault, when the naturally-aspirated Renault 5 Gordini was first introduced (not to be confused with the Renault 5 GT Turbo of the 1980s; the 5 Gordini Turbo was the turbocharged variant of the 5 Gordini) just 1 year before the arrival of the production Golf GTI in 1977.

However, even if it might not have been the first, the Golf GTI (also known as the Rabbit in the USA lol) can be credited with kick-starting this (then) new segment for generations to come; right up til today, there's just something perversely entertaining and deliciously incongruous in sticking disproportionately powerful engines into compact body-shapes.

Driving position close to perfect for drivers under 6-feet; taller folks may find the seats don't go low enough

Understandably, the Clio RenaultSport 172 (or Clio RS, for short) comes from a rich racing pedigree (The names 'Gordini' and 'Alpine' should ring some bells). Before this was the seminal Clio Williams, a hot-hatch that certainly re-defined the handling envelopes of front-drive performance cars. 

all cleaned up!

The 150+bhp  output from the Williams' 2L engine was nothing to sing about, but a fixation on mere straight-line performance would have been to miss the point of the Williams, especially since the adjustable nature of the chassis and chuckability of the little car were nothing short of phenomenal.

Shift action positive

The Clio RS Mk 1 carries on the tradition of the Williams, but this time, there's a little more grunt to play with... The F4R 2L engine has been tuned to produce 172bhp (ps or bhp, the difference is marginal; conversion is 0.987), but considering the Clio RS weights in at 1035kg, the power-to-weight ratio is pretty impressive, allowing the French tyke to punch above its class. This car loses a little ground in terms of steering feel versus the Williams, but holds its own (and in some cases, surpasses) in most other fields.

Mk 2 172s came with electronic climate control; we prefer the simplicity of the Mk1

Visually speaking, the Clio RS' styling is rather innocuous, but those in 'the know' will appreciate the nondescript details. Original rims were snazzy OZ Racing alloys in 15-inch, but these have been upgraded to aftermarket 16-inch Prodrive wheels.
sports seats a tasty mix of leather and alcantara... in funky Blue no less

Little badges on the door-trim quietly proclaim the engine's status: '2.0 16v' and there's a 'Renault Sport' emblem on the rump. The discreet roof spoiler works well with the car's lowered stance and at higher speeds, one can really feel the downforce working to keep the little car planted.


Those expecting a similar cabin to the Williams will be in for a pleasant surprise. The Clio RS' cockpit is a pleasant place to be in. In standard guise, the feature level is already reasonably high, even considering this car's 10 year vintage.

The seats are clad in a yummy Blue leather/Alcantara, with the front seats featuring a 'Renault Sports' embroidery. Not only do the front sports seats look funky, they hang on to your body pretty snugly too. Although the steering wheel is adjustable for only rake, those under 6-foot will find it a cinch to get into a comfortable driving position.

In 2000, it wasn't common to see many cars of this size with a 2L engine

The air-conditioning is basic - the Mk II Clio 172s came with electronic climate control, automatic light/wipers and Xenon headlights - but the Mk I features a comprehensive trip computer as standard, which provided driving range (based on remaining fuel) as well as instant and average fuel consumption. The instruments are highly legible (orange on an off-white background) and the steering wheel mounted hi-fi controls add a nice touch.


Even though French cars aren't particularly renowned for their build quality, this particular example has stood the test of time surprisingly well (10 years on and 120k km on the clock). Unlike the newer Mk II Clio RS', this cheeky Mk I doesn't suffer from (too) badly peeling interior trim. Apart from some usage creases in the seats, the upholstery remains tip-top with nary a split seam or loose thread in sight.

Engine revs eagerly; with BMC intake and Supersprint backbox, it sounds a treat too!

On the move, the ride feels reassuringly firmly planted and the exhaust/engine note never gets unduly intrusive... that is unless you prefer it to. Give it some stick and this little tyke shows us its cheeky side.

The rising growl from the BMC induction kit is accompanied by the sonorous tone of the Supersprint street-legal exhaust as the rev-needle blazes a trail to the far end of the rev-band. Past 5000rpm, the note takes on a harder, more aggressive edge as the variable valves work their trickery. There is also ample enough low-down grunt to make light work of squeezing in and out of gaps that appear in peak hour traffic.

engine out for some serious scrubbing and cleaning!

Traditionally, these cars have never been about the straight-line acceleration, so at the traffic lights, the odds of a heavy-footed Hyundai Sonata taxi out-gunning the Clio RS is highly likely. However, the chance to show these straight-line heroes comes the moment you hit a series of corners like the infamous '99 bends'.
result! spanking new engine bay

All thoughts of bit of the trim falling off and dodgy plastics take a back-seat to the RS' sparkling chassis. There's ample communication from tarmac to steering, which really allows a dedicated driver to precisely carve up each corner, yet string them together in a harmonious sweep through this 'mountain pass', to the sound of the rev-happy 4-cylinder reverberating off the sides of Marina Hill.

'sport' emblem is a veritable thieft-magnet

The confidence-inspiring chassis eggs you on to take more and more liberties with the nippy car and one is constantly aware of the limits to adhesion. The brakes too, offer strong feel and stopping power even if there seems to be too much freeplay in the brake pedal.
With less than 2 of these on the roads, it certainly makes an understated alternative to the usual suspects

Summary
To us, the recipe for creating a compelling hot-hatch includes a broad power-band for quick switches and manoeuvres (point-and-squirt), an agile and nimble chassis, as well as a chuckable nature (even more so if inner-wheel lift antics and a whiff of lift-off oversteer can be enjoyed). Too bad then, that most of the newer 'hot-hatches' place a priority on outright power and dumbed-down dynamics in the interests of 'safety'. Even today (and with less than 2 on the roads in Singapore), the Mk I Clio RS manages to press all our buttons to leave us smiling, especially down the right type of roads. - dk
Photos: 
Innocuous looks with only a few subtle clues as to its true character to the cognoscenti
Driving position close to perfect for drivers under 6-feet; taller folks may find the seats don't go low enough
all cleaned up!
Shift action positive
Mk 2 172s came with electronic climate control; we prefer the simplicity of the Mk1
sports seats a tasty mix of leather and alcantara... in funky Blue no less
In 2000, it wasn't common to see many cars of this size with a 2L engine
Engine revs eagerly; with BMC intake and Supersprint backbox, it sounds a treat too!
engine out for some serious scrubbing and cleaning!
result! spanking new engine bay
'sport' emblem is a veritable thieft-magnet
With less than 2 of these on the roads, it certainly makes an understated alternative to the usual suspects
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