The glare I received from the 997 GT3 RS driver was classical mix of shock and anger. His confused facial expression was not the result of me cutting him off, blocking his driving line, or any other error of vehicular piloting. I simply rocketed past him upon the exit of Aremberg on the Nurburgring due to two factors: I knew the track better, and I was behind the wheel of the second most impressive offering from Renaultsport, the Clio 200 Cup.
Having introduced you to the Renaultsport Megane 250 Cup previously, I felt compelled to educate our American populace on the other French clutter offering that in some ways bests the more powerful and larger hatchback. While the Megane boasts a turbo, 250 more horses, and a limited slip differential, the Clio adds lightness and a bit more nimbleness to the mixture. Think of the Clio as the Jimmy MacElroy to the Chaz Michael Michaels of the Megane (Blades of Glory anyone?). Both are incredibly capable cars in their own right, but just different enough to offer a different driving feel for different driving skills. Favor power and high levels of grip in order to go around the corner fast, get the Megane. Do you want delicate controls, nimbleness, and a feeling of extracting 100% from the car all the time, get the Clio.
Just like the Megane, Renaultsport takes a Clio chassis to their fabrication facility in Dieppe, France. There, they put on the finest suspension to come from a large scale manufacturer, bespoke fender flares (compared to the tacked on plastic ones of the Megane), dual exhaust, a diffuser, and awesome Recaro racing seats (regular Recaro sport buckets are available, but only recommended for those who might be a bit wide in the hips). The Clio comes out looking like Nicole fresh from the gym, cute, perfectly proportioned, and ready for business; an approachable beauty that’s not quite as evocative, or as controversial as the larger Megane.
The interior however never lets you forget you are driving a mainstream hatchback designed to get Papa from market to Marseilles with a minimum of fuss and wear. Soft touch VAG style plastics abound in a well screwed together minimalist symphony of petroleum byproducts. Controls are well laid out with air-con, radio, and all that other stuff that detracts from the driving experience and makes for a boring car review. Look upon the large dials, and the gigantic yellow tachometer reminds you of the Clio’s true purpose, unbridled, but economic fun.
Punch the gas, let the 2.0L four cylinder sing, snick the long lever with the short throws, and embrace your inner Gallic-ness. Carve the corner and corrections to your line are met with instant response with prodigious levels of feedback. Power comes on smoothly as the chassis unloads itself upon the corner exit, and boom goes the dynamite. The Clio never surrenders. It burns the white flag of civility like an angry Maquis. There are more powerful and exotic cars out there, but behind the wheel of a Clio, you dismiss them as toys of those who feel they need to compensate for perceived deficiencies.
The driving feel of the Clio alone justifies purchasing one, however, it comes with a secret bonus. It’s astonishingly cheap. Costing on the British market a mere £17,500, it undercuts the Volkswagen GTI by nearly £7500, while offering a better driving experience. The next VAG product down, the Polo GTI costs about the same, yet delivers less horsepower, and feels stilted and sedate by comparison.
The benefits continue with fuel economy averaging at 35mpg in the combined cycle and 18mpg on the Nurburgring itself. Insurance levels remain in the sane zone, and parts are no more expensive than if you were driving Papa’s 1.4 Diesel. For example, brake pads on my 911 Carrera S were over £500 for a set capable for the stresses of the ‘Ring. The Clio’s however cost just £50 or so from Pagid.
Quick, fun, inexpensive, reliable, economic, and stylish, the Clio seems to have all the things a petrolhead could ever want. Yet to our American readers, it will never reach the shores of the land of the free. Pity really… yet, you do have a chance to fly your flag of Lorraine, and experience one of the finest Euro rockets on the market. Several companies in my little village of Nurburg rent these finely tuned beasts for a paltry sum of €500 a day or so, with insurance, and the opportunity to experience the true intention of Renaultsport.
You do not need an M3 or a GT3, you only need Nicole, some bravery, and a credit card. And for our British, French, German, and other Euro readers… buy one already!
(To avoid unnecessary rehash of VAT, purchase power and Big Mac rates, I left the currencies alone. Frankly, I’m flummoxed why an American jet-jockey would even think in pounds other than the ones that denote bombs. ED)