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Renault offers sex and sizzle

Drivers' delight: Renault's 2.0-litre Clio Sport is a pocket rocket that revels in being hustled across twisty roads.

Renault's launch lineup will include a couple of models aimed at niche buyers

12 Apr 2001

By BRUCE NEWTON in FRANCE

RENAULT will include some sizzle and sex appeal in its range when it relaunches here in May. The sizzle will come from the Clio Sport "hot hatch" and the sex appeal from the Megane Cabriolet.

These two form the launch model lineup alongside the Scenic compact people mover and its four-wheel drive derivative, the RX4.

The bad news for performance hatch enthusiasts is just 85 Clio Sports have been claimed in the initial batch, and they're already sold.

The good news is that supply should free up when the facelifted Clio range goes on sale in September.

The $30,990 three-door Clio is powered by a 16-valve 2.0-litre engine with variable valve timing which produces 124kW and is mated to a five-speed close-ratio gearbox.

Compared to standard Clios, its MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension has been tuned for a more sporting performance and mated to low-profile 195/50 radial tyres mated to 15-inch alloy wheels.

Stopping performance has been boosted by disc brakes all round, electronic brake force proportioning and ABS anti-lock braking.

The Clio Sport backs up the performance specification with drilled metal pedals, fog lamps, leather steering wheel and leather trimmed seats, remote central locking, trip computer, an in-dash CD player and front and side airbags.

The 1.6-litre Megane Cabriolet is the most expensive car in the Renault Australia launch range, retailing for $39,985, with a four-speed Proactive (Renault-speak for adaptive shift) automatic an extra $2000.

The Cabriolet is one of five models in the Megane range, but the only one we will see until early 2003, when the new generation car is scheduled for sale in Australia.

Standard features include four airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, a power operated folding roof, an audio system with a single in-dash CD player, alloy wheels, air-conditioning and remote central locking.

Its canvas roof is power operated.

The Megane Cabriolet's 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine develops 79kW and a maximum torque output of 148Nm at 3750rpm.

Renault Australia describes the Cabriolet as its image model, yet its sales ambitions are modest, just 230 cars in a full year.

PRICING Renault Clio Sport $30,990 Megane Cabriolet 1.6 $39,985 Megane Cabriolet 1.6 (A) $41,985 DRIVE IMPRESSIONS THE Clio Sport and Megane Cabriolet may both target niche buying groups, but from there they diverge dramatically. One is all about "show", the other "go".

No prizes for guessing which is which. The Clio Sport is a pocket-rocket, its super little engine mating beautifully with the gearbox to fire from one corner to the next, where the taut front-wheel drive chassis takes over to provide communicative, grippy, flat and fast cornering characteristics.

The ride is lumpy and sometimes jarring, the noise level can be intrusive - but buyers of this car will probably enjoy it - and space in the rear and access to it is laughable. But this is a true driver's car.

And the Megane? French car companies don't have a great reputation for mating small capacity engines to autos, and the Megane does nothing to disprove the rule.

Low to mid-rev performance is strangled, the Cabrio only breaking the shackles in sustained high-speed cruising - hardly the sort of situation this car will find itself in often. Definitely try the manual version before you buy.

The Megane's exterior styling is ageing well and it looks good with the roof down or up - an easy process too. But the interior is plain and one-dimensional - definitely due for a thorough overhaul.

By contrast, the Clio Sport's combination of leather and burnished aluminium look around the dash, centre console and body-hugging sports seats is attractive and in sync with the intention of the car.

Sex versus sizzle? Show versus go? No argument here. The Clio Sport is far and away the driver's highlight in the Renault range.

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