This F1 inspired hot hatch is the real deal
This F1 inspired hot hatch is the real deal
It’s a mouthful I know, but make no mistake, this F1 inspired hot hatch is the real deal: that’s four-pot Brembos, world’s best Recaro seats and handling that left my high-end mechanic mate, literally speechless.
Just ask the suit in the 997 Carrera 4S who probably never gave the diminutive Renault Clio a second thought, until it positively caned him on a poorly surfaced, tight, and twisty section of road a few weeks back.
This humbled Porsche driver now knows full well what a Renault Clio Sport F1 Team R27 is capable of, when he pulled up beside me and lowered the driver’s window to ask, “what is that?” to which I replied “Renault Clio F1, 2.0-litre, no turbo”.
As I drove away, I could see him staring at the bright red Brembos and no doubt, feeling a little sorry for himself.
But he won’t see many of them around these parts; rare as hen’s teeth you could say. Only 40 Clio Renault Sport F1 Team R27’s were allocated for Australia, and I’d be surprised and disappointed if there is any remaining on the showroom floor.
This thing is so adept through the bends, that I would be remiss if I didn’t say it’s the best handling hot hatch I’ve ever driven, with race car like dynamics and grip levels nothing short of supernatural.
And while the leather bound steering wheel is a nice bit of kit with body coloured stitching and loads of tactility, Renault’s variable electric power assist steering is a masterpiece. The feedback, accuracy and responsiveness of this unit feels every bit as good as that of the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 supercar.
Did I mention that the car comes shod with narrow 215mm width tyres? It’s not always about extra-wide rubber on the rears, more about a holistic approach to handling, and Renault has a PhD in that department.
If you happen to see a Renault Clio in this livery (it will either be Torso Red or Victory Yellow) best you leave it alone and don’t go trying anything silly, like taking it on across anything that remotely resembling a bend in the road – you won’t stand a chance and your ego will take a hammering.
Driving this special edition Clio as your daily ride, may just be the best marketing exercise Renault could ever hope for, that’s provided you give it a little poke now and again.
You would think that a simple “Renault Clio Sport F1” badge would suffice as the proper model identification for this hatch, but for one thing, it wouldn’t do justice to Renault’s brilliant Formula One World Championship wins (Constructors and Drivers) in 2005 and 2006 with the R27 chassis.
More than that though, just a few minutes behind the wheel of this supercar-slaying hot hatch on a twisty stretch of tarmac, and you too will know that some of that Formula One know-how has gone into the development of this car.
Built at the famed Renault Sport factory in the Haute-Normandie town of Dieppe France, this version of the Clio gets some extra special treatment above and beyond that of is close sibling, the already bench-marked Clio Renault Sport 197.
What stands out in the handling department of the F1 Clio is the ‘Cup Chassis’ suspension settings. When I say there is no body roll, I mean zilch, none, not a millimetre. And that’s at nine-tenths with some extremely fast turn-ins.
Put that down to a substantial stiffening of the springs, 27 per cent up front and 30 per cent at the rear, as well as stiffer dampers all round, for a totally flat cornering experience.
I’m almost certain that this particular Clio could out-gun some purpose built race cars without the need to change a single nut or bolt.
And then there are the Recaros. There are some high-end super cars costing five times the price of this car, which don’t have sports seats as good as those fitted to the F1 Clio.
The design of these pews means they will support a variety of body shapes, but at the same time, offer levels of bolster that I would liken to wearing a Velcro bodysuit. They also shed six kilograms per seat.
They are both supremely supportive and yet entirely comfortable at speed, and over some of the worst maintained roads in NSW (that’s an awful load of road).
That’s got plenty to do with the car’s suspension set-up, even though this Clio variant is lowered by 7mm over the stock Clio RS 197, bumps and potholes are completely ironed out.
It simply doesn’t matter how quick you peddle through the twisty stuff, the Clio F1 somehow remains rock solid stable and entirely composed, regardless of how tight the turn in is, or how bad the road surface is. In fact, the harder you push it, the better the car performs. It almost begs for more throttle.
And despite the lack of tyre width, the grip from the Continental ContiSportContact3 rubber is outstanding and worthy of a good old-fashioned plug in this review.
You would need to dial up ten-tenths on a race track to have any hope of forcing tyre squeal with this particular 17-inch wheel and tyre set up.
The large and super-stopping bright red Brembos are also part of the A-list kit on board the Clio, along with perfectly weighted brake pedal pressure, which inspires supreme confidence in a variety of driving conditions.
It’s not often you find a braking system of this calibre on a car costing under $40,000 ($39,990 to be precise), but Renault have proven that it’s more than possible with the Clio F1.
But the most telling sign of this car’s motor sport lineage is the serious looking rear diffuser, which channels airflow around the car to increase down-force on the rear end, thereby reducing lift. Judging by how stable this thing is at speed, it works.
You also won’t miss the side extractor vents on the front wings, which while adding to the race car look of the car, is all about reducing turbulence and removing unwanted heat from under the bonnet.
You don’t need a whole lot of power and torque in a car that weighs just 1,221kgs, and the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre powertrain does the job nicely.
But that doesn’t mean that the cup chassis couldn’t handle more than the rather uninspiring 145kW and 215 Nm of torque this vehicle develops. Punch the throttle, and initial acceleration is less than what I expected, but it’ll rev out to over 7,000 rpm and go from standstill to 100km/h in 6.9 seconds.
High performance front-wheel drive cars often suffer from torque steer, but not the Clio, the chassis is too well balanced for any of that to interfere with the fun that can be had behind the wheel of this hatch.
For those of you obsessed about fuel economy in a light hatch (its always going to be frugal when compared with larger cars and SUVs) I ended up with a combined average of 11.9 litres/100km but that was driving with complete disregard for economic rationality.
Inside the cabin is where the Clio R27 looses a few points, the exception being the Recaro seats and superb leather steering wheel. It’s pretty basic and grey inside here, despite climate control air conditioning and electric windows (front only).
It’s just not up to the top shelf standard of Volkswagen’s Polo GTI and frankly, there’s no excuse for Renault not to lift their game in this area.
That said the moment you see a quiet twisty bit of road and squeeze that right pedal in the Clio, all sins are forgotten, as the countryside becomes a blur, and you shift up and down through the six forward ratios. If at this moment in time you don’t have a great big smile on your face, then you’re probably on medication for depression.
It might be small, but there’s no shortage of space and practicality with this super Clio. Rear seat legroom is sufficient for adult passengers on local trips to restaurants or the beach, and if you lower the split fold rear seats, up 1,038-litres of load space will open up.
And with the rear seats upright, there is still plenty of space for four people and the weekly grocery shop, due to a reasonably generous 288-litres of load space.
But you’re not going to buy a Clio Renault Sport F1 Team R27 for its grocery carrying capacity, you’ll buy it because it handles better than any other hot hatch on the market and because it’s exclusive.
If you’re a bona fide motoring enthusiast and don’t have the kind of funds for an M3 or even a Golf R32, then do yourself a favour and test drive a Clio F1. You won’t be disappointed.
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