Just because the Renault Clio Sport 2,0's

go-faster addenda stop demurely short of in-your-face outrageous doesn't mean

that it lacks serious intent. If you think that a skirt here and slightly wider

rubber there add up to just another poser with a French accent...well,

we did warn you.

Due to Renault's extended absence from the South African scene, locals have

been unable to sample the French manufacturer's performance models. Until recently,

Formula One was as hot as it got for Renault fans, with the likes of the limited

production Clio Williams appreciated only by reputation. Further back, of course,

there was the fearsome R5 turbo, which never did make it here. You'd have to

go back virtually to the era of the hot rear-engined 8s locally to find the

kind of genuine high performance that the Sport 2,0 promises.

Somehow managing to remain an upright citizen while hinting at the potential

of being an outright hooligan, this Clio follows the well-worn hot hatch path.

That is to say, it starts off as essentially a little city car transformed by

an engine upgrade that goes beyond the bounds of reasonableness, as least as

far as rivals are concerned.

In standard form, the Clio's impeccable manners seemed well capable of standing

up to oodles more power than the cooking regular-engined models were endowed

with. So, as if it wasn't daring enough hijacking the two-litre powertrain from

a car two steps up the Renault pecking order - the Laguna - the engineers decided

to go for broke. Squeezing out nearly 20 per cent more power, they have created

a unit that, seemingly docile at low and mid engine speeds, positively takes

off from about 4 000 r/min to scream to its red line well past 7 000. With peak

power of 124 kW at 6 250 r/min and peak torque of 200 N.m at 5 400, wrapped

in a compact body, the Sport 2,0 doesn't lack for motive force. For the terminally

adrenalin-hungry, of course, there is always the completely daft Sport V6, not

yet available on this market, which chucks out the rear accommodation and replaces

it with the three-litre V6 from the Safrane...

But back to relative sanity and the Sport 2,0. Naturally, its running gear

has had to be uprated, with stiffer springs and wider rubber, and bigger 280

mm brake discs. However, it's not just mechanically that the Sport 2,0 has been given the treatment.

Admittedly, the most visible evidence hardly screams boy racer - a front

airdam housing auxiliary driving lights, and substantial but comparatively (by

modern hot-car standards) modest rubber. Even if, as delivered in bright yellow,

it draws the kind of attention normally enjoyed by emergency vehicles...

Look closer and you'll see more evidence, like those projector-beam headlights

clearly intended for lighting up more than supermarket parking areas.

Interior trim and fittings are more in keeping with the Sport 2,0's exalted

price level than with the runabout it is based on. The striking sports seats

are snug and grippy, and are clad in a blend of leather and Alcantara that looks

and feels quite special. That suedelike finish is echoed in the soft-grip steering

wheel, apart from one small section at the six o'clock position that, by the

way, can lead to a momentary loss of grip. Even the aluminium surrounds to the

doorhandles, electric windows and central hangdown section of the facia have

a velvety sheen rather than a brash metallic look.

While you're drinking all this in, drop your eyes from the thoroughly boy racerish

instruments to floor level, where, omigosh, there IS some brightwork: polished,

drilled alloy pedals that unambiguously announce sporting intent. Note the way

the brake and the shaped accelerator pedal are cunningly positioned so you can

show off your cultured blipping on heel-and-toe downshifts. You might take a

little time getting to feel completely at home - driving position in this

Clio is, for some, not an instant feel-at-home thing, but a process that takes

a little time. But like initially unyielding hard leather, over time the whole

gradually eases into a glovelike fit.

In one or two areas the Clio does betray its humbler origins, though. The plastics

on the facia don't quite match what you would expect at this price level, and

the velvet-finish alloy gearknob doesn't have the classy tactile or aesthetic

appeal of, say, the polished equivalent in Honda's R range. We are, after all,

talking about a R159 316 price tag, which puts the Sport 2,0 in among some formidable

minor exec-class rivals.

What we can say is that, like the exterior, the inside is not overdone, and

is sporty in a restrained way. There are the usual creature comforts, such as

sound system, air-conditioning and power windows. Rear accommodation isn't the

greatest, although it is acceptable in this class. But these considerations

are incidental to the Sport 2,0's main purpose. With a power to weight ratio

considerably better than 100, there is ample potential for the driver to start

sprouting horns.

Rev it up too much and you'll get burnouts on demand, though, as massive wheelspin

inhibits forward motion. You'll also notice a distinct tugging at the steering

wheel as a hint of torque steer intrudes. But, keeping the rev counter needle

hovering around 4 500 before dumping the clutch, we were able to slingshot off

the line to a hugely impressive 0-100 km/h time of 7,78 seconds. The kilometre

sprint benchmark of 30 seconds is also comprehensively demolished, though with

aerodynamics now beginning to intrude the urge drops off, and top speed is just

above the 200 mark. It's all accompanied by a terrific ensemble of race-car

snarls and crackles.

With the engine seemingly gaining pace from about 4 000 r/min on, the rev limit

seems to arrive with alarming rapidity, and to remind you to change up Renault

has incorporated another boy racerish touch, a gearchange indicator that flashes

green near the 7 000 r/min. It's a pity that, having gone to the trouble of

putting in an indicator, they almost hide it away.

For the record, the Sport is economical, too. Our fuel index of 8,45 litres/100

km predicts a range of nearly 600 km on a 50-litre tankful.

The Clio range has impressed us as the blend of ride and handling in its class.

Cossetting and absorbent in the French manner, it nevertheless talks back to

the driver through the steering wheel and chassis in the kind of unadulterated

communication that enthusiasts love. Often this kind of thing is the first to

go with the usual hot hatch scenario of turning up the wick on everything from

performance to grip, obliterating much of the base model's charm and responsiveness

at non-loony speeds. So we were, to put it mildly, pleasantly surprised by the


Of course the ride is firmer, courtesy of the tyres and suspension settings.

But it's not so harsh that it will jar your fillings loose, and on smooth tar

it's sublime. We noted some jinking around - we wouldn't exactly call it tramlining

- on bumpy surfaces.

The steering provides ample feedback without excessive kickback; turn-in, although

not sharp, is precise and crisp. Grip is stupendous, yet the cornering line

can be easily and predictably adapted by powering on or moderate lifting off.

As one of our team commented in his test notes, "If ever there was a car

to justify track days, this is it." As mentioned earlier, braking has been

upgraded, and it shows in the combination of superb stopping ability and general

pedal feel and modulation in normal and all-out use.

One area of the dynamics that could trouble some is the Sport 2,0's buzzy character.

Blasting through the gears when tackling the twisties, it's all too easy to

revel in the sizzling engine note and imagine it as a pukka racer. After a couple

of hours on the long haul it might just pall, though. You have to be a little

masochistic - or young and carefree! - to make this your daily driver.

Original article from Car