February 22, 2024

Wade Through Films

The Ultimate Driving Machines

Renaultsport Clio 172 Cup | PH Fleet

Despite having lived in Kent for almost a decade, I’ve struggled to find decent, quiet driving roads that last longer than a few miles. I moved down for a dream job at Caterham from sleepy Shropshire, with barely any traffic other than tractors and mile after mile of exceptional, flowing country roads. And that’s even before considering how close Wales was.

The garden of England Kent may be, but the roads are busy and rough. My B-road commute to Caterham’s Crawley site was great fun but spoilt by the road surface generally being pretty horrendous. So, when I stumbled upon a dream drive route last year, it was an instant hit. My Megane has seen it many a time since, and now it was the Clio’s turn.

There are many reasons why I bought my fourth second-generation Renaultsport Clio, but the biggest must be how much fun they are at sensible speeds. Which is also why I sold my Clio 200 after a matter of months. Sure, the 200 is faster, more planted and more capable. It’s an exceptional feat of engineering and certainly progress from the previous generation, but it’s also more serious and just not as fun at a slower pace.

Even on Bilstein B14 coilovers, VU53 SVO leans into the corners and will happily wag its tail when provoked. The conclusion I’ve reached in recent years is that one of the things I enjoy most about driving is feeling weight transfer, which cars of this era hand out in spades. It slows you down, which is no bad thing sometimes, and gives a greater sensation of going faster at slower speeds. I love it, all part of modern classic charm of a near 20-year-old Clio.

I’ve driven the route from Paddock Wood to Camber and onward to Bodiam for brekkie with groups of PHers a couple of times now, and it’s perfect to put something narrow and nimble to the test. The first half is narrow and tight, and then opens to wider faster flowing roads with increased visibility the further south you travel.

Being naturally aspirated, the Clio loves to rev, with a VTEC-style just-kicked-in moment at 5,000rpm. Which is exactly when the K-Tec induction kit really starts to roar like throttle bodies right up to the 7,200rpm limiter, only for a fraction of the cost. It’s addictive, and exactly where you want to keep the revs to maximise momentum and air-sucking noise. It’s just a shame the gearshift isn’t anywhere near as good as what you get in a VTEC package.

With no ABS or traction control, you’ve got to have your wits about you but there’s always plenty of feedback to keep you in the loop, even if it is through a bus-size steering wheel. These little cars really do put such a big grin on your face for something so affordable – it’s easy to see why so many people return to them after replacing them with something more powerful.

It doesn’t feel out of place in the company of more powerful machinery, and you can thrash it to your heart’s content, knowing that it won’t cost the earth if something goes wrong. They’re not the steal they once were and they’re not getting any cheaper, so go out and buy one now, and thank me later. You could even bring it out on our next run down to the coast…


Car: 2003 Renaultsport Clio 172 Cup
Run by: Ben Lowden
On fleet since: April 2022
Mileage: 58,346