by Brad Leach - 05/02/10
When it comes to hot European hatchbacks, the Clio Renaultsport F1 Team R27 takes some beating. But if the garish Formula One logos and stripes aren’t your thing, Renault has the perfect substitute in the Clio Renaultsport 197.
In fact ‘substitute’ is doing the 197 a disservice – this pocket rocket isn’t just sitting ‘on the pine’ while the R27 takes the glory - you still get the wonderful 2.0-litre powerplant and race-car-sharp chassis dynamics, but the package is slightly more subtle.
Renault brings to Australia only two hot hatch Clio models – F1 and 197. The Clio is a small car, Toyota Yaris/Volkswagen Polo size.
Like the F1, the 197 comes from the Renaultsport operation and features the same racy body kit, 18-inch alloy wheels, modified suspension and sporty interior.
Drive is to the front wheels via a close-ratio six-speed gearbox.
This is a car enthusiast drivers will love but it’s subtle enough that you can park it in the company car garage.
In racing terms, the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine provides almost 100 horsepower per litre – that’s serious performance. The stats are 145kW at 7,250 rpm (the redline is 8,000rpm) and peak torque is 215Nm at 5,500rpm.
The engine’s architecture has been fettled by Renaultsport with volumetric efficiency over 100 per cent thanks to extensive inlet and exhaust port length and profiling. In addition, a modified camshaft is fitted and the compression ratio increased to 11.5:1.
It loves to rev and the 3Y-type exhaust delivers a raucous note at speed.
Zero to 100km/h takes 6.9 seconds (8.2 seconds for the Polo GTi) and fuel consumption is rated at 8.4l/100km.
All the go-fast goodies are here but executed with subtlety – nice sports seats, alloy pedals, thick leather-wrapped steering wheel and stylish Renaultsport logos on the instruments and door sills.
Instrumentation is a conventional two-dial arrangement with a gear change indicator light which increases in size as you approach the 8,000rpm cut-out.
The audio system is a basic in-dash single CD setup although a six CD stacker is an option.
On those rare occasions when Clio Renaultsport 197 drivers need everyday convenience, the rear seat splits 60;40 for increased luggage space, and there is standard cruise control with a speed limiter.
Creature comforts are not bypassed as there is climate control air-conditioning and power windows.
Sadly, the steering wheel adjusts only for rake, not reach.
The sports exhaust system occupies the space normally used for the spare tyre so a puncture repair kit is stored in the passenger’s door pocket.
From any angle, the 197 looks purposeful, racy and clearly more advanced that the standard Clio. It sits lower, the front and rear fenders are wider to accommodate the 17-inch alloy wheels, there are extractor vents in the front and a solid rear underbody diffuser.
In fact the diffuser is a highly developed piece of aerodynamic kit, not just a visual add-on. It reduces lift by a factor of three, delivering the equivalent of 40kgs of rear downforce at speed. It’s so good a rear wing is not needed.
Where the 197 differs significantly from the F1 R27 is the lack of bold, colourful Formula One logos on the sides and roof.
Like the F1 R27, the 197 is a very sharp tool – without doubt Renault has the star of the front-wheel-drive hot hatch class for driving dynamics. To put it bluntly, we had a blast tackling our high speed mountain test road in the 197 – the most enjoyable drive since we tested its F1 R27 sibling.
The chassis has enormous grip (aided by soft Continental tyres), it turns in like a go-kart and that sporty 2.0-litre engine matched to the close-ratio six-speed transmission delivers real punch when accelerating from both slow and medium-speed corners.
Renault does not use a MacPherson strut front suspension, instead its double-axis strut arrangement is separate from the steering axis to reduce the usual front-wheel-drive torque steer. A torsion beam system is fitted at the rear and both front and rear springs, dampers and bushes are significantly stiffer than other Clio models (the rear is 25 per cent stiffer).
No less impressive were the massive Brembo brakes which delivered handy stopping power with not the slightest hint of fade when worked hard.
We were pleasantly surprised by the 197’s poise when we got back to town and tackled the working week traffic. Sure, the firm suspension was a little harsh over Melbourne’s tram/train track crossings, but the engine, clutch and transmission were extremely tractable.
Combine that easy operation and the 197’s compact size when parking and this is a road rocket that is very easy to live with every day.
The 197 comes with a sports-tuned Electronic Stability Program which can be switched off. However we did find the system a tad abrupt when it cuts in.
Another minor point is access to the rear seat, which is tight.
197 or F1 R27, Renault has a winner in the hot hatch segment. These are the HSVs and FPVs of hot hatches.
Really in terms of raw performance and race car driving dynamics, the duo from Renault stand head and shoulders above competitive European hot hatches.
However, sizing makes comparisons complicated.Volkswagen’s Polo GTi is a similar size and considerably less expensive, but doesn’t come close to the 197 for dynamics.
Peugeot’s 207GTi and the MINI S are worth a look but don’t match the 197 for aggressive performance.
Likes: European hot hatch style; brilliant to drive
Dislikes:Difficult rear seat access; some suspension harshness over bumps
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