Car reviews - Renault - Clio - Cup 3-dr hatch
Engine, transmission, handling, equipment
Room for improvement
Fuel consumption, cramped confines
24 Jul 2001
By TERRY MARTIN
IN ITS eagerness to get an iconic car into its new Australian line-up, Renault bundled up 85 soon-to-be-outdated Clio Renault Sport hatches and passed them off as a limited edition known as the Clio Cup.
There was no hiding the fact that an upgrade was due three months after its debut. No worries about unsold cars or disgruntled owners.
And we now know why.
Where other dressed-up hatches have no more explosion than a bon-bon at Christmas - and the same sense of disappointment - the Renault Sport is a furious little firecracker that pleases time and again.
The 2.0-litre 16-valve engine is a ripper, loves a rev and returns the favour with quick and clean acceleration from point to point.
Of course, it was always going to be quick. Stuff a 124kW engine into a compact hatch that tips the scales at a touch over a tonne and, hey presto, a quick bit of gear was bound to appear. But more than just a sprinter, the Renault Sport has muscle, too, with strong pulling power around the mid-range.
The five-speed manual gearbox is the engine's alter ego. Its close set of ratios are a perfect match to the power source, the shift is crisp and the rev limiter allows a further 250rpm past the 7000rpm maximum in first and second gear. Er, 7000? It does seem a bit excessive - that is, until the driver realises just how big a thirst this engine has for revs.
It likes a drink of top-shelf unleaded, too, and returns unflattering consumption figures. But there is nothing here for its rivals, particularly Peugeot, to take comfort in. Great driving position, well-spaced pedals, well-sorted shift action - these are areas where the Renault Sport inflicts real pain on the 206 GTi.
In the handling stakes, the Renault is every bit as cocksure as its fellow French revolutionary. Suspension tuning errs on the side of roadholding rather than ride comfort and the car exhibits extremely high levels of control, grip and little evidence of understeer through turns. The rear wheels will actually drift at higher cornering speeds - an uncommon trait in a front-driver - though there is a tendency for the back end to step out of line if the driver lifts off the aluminium-drilled accelerator pedal in the middle of a bend.
There's no sign of electronic handling devices such as stability control in this little car - they're not needed - but the driver will come to rely on the superb quartet of disc brakes that are backed up by an effective ABS system.
Zestful driving also brings the nicely weighted, responsive and communicative steering characteristics to the fore. There is some unwanted kickback sent up to the hands, though it is never severe enough to detract from the experience.
Ditto for ride quality and general refinement the former is firm and jaw-rattling at times, the latter has failed to stamp out high noise levels from the road. All is forgiven.
The cockpit is an attractive area that features a glorious rubber-like suede-wrapped three-spoke tiller and a driver's seat that is as supportive under the thigh and ribcage as it is comfortable over a tour of duty. Driver's seat height and lumbar adjustment, anti-whiplash front headrests and "Renault Sport"-embossed seatbacks are cream on the cake.
Mock suede is used to good effect on the door panels and blue plastic takes precedence over grey across the dash. Alas, metallic-look plastic inserts and white-faced instruments dials - the sad stain of a modern image car - are also used, the vital gauges use an irritating dot-dash combination and the warning lights are visible when not in use. Our test car also featured a dash rattle.
The lack of a centre console reduces oddment storage and the rear seat compartment is cramped, despite the best of intentions with a trio of three-point seatbelts and headrests across the rear bench.
The rear seatback and cushion split-fold, too, liberating room in the tight luggage area but leaving a lip in the floor that will necessitate most loads being lifted and placed rather than slid. At least a full-size spare wheel is located under the cargo floor.
Not as beautiful as the sublime 206 GTi - not by a long shot - the Renault Sport is a rough lump of gold backed up by a wonderful mechanical package and an equipment list that starts with air-conditioning, alloy wheels, remote locking, power windows and four airbags.
And now is the time to start saving. Not for the limited edition tested here - the first batch has sold out - but the upgraded version on sale from September 2001.
Accept no imitations.
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