In a time when cars are becoming more and more anaesthetic and more insulated, technology and numbers on paper seem to dominate what a buyer looks for a car. Once upon a time it was how it made the driver feel, how nice the gearshift was and how engaging it was to punt around. Oh, how times have changed.
A palate cleanser - if you will - is something that every enthusiast yearns to have in their time alive on earth. A car that speaks to you more on the road than on paper. The Renault Clio 182 Cup has always been regarded as one of the best hot hatches of all time, although the Pug 205 GTI might have something to say about that. I was initially rolling around in a fairly mundane manual BMW 1 Series and I was looking for something more; something with a bit more zest. So when this popped up in the classifieds I had no hesitation in forking out some money to nab myself one of these and see what they're all about.
Initially when I bought it, the left window didn't work, the air con refused to work, and several other electrical foibles arose, yet these somehow added to its charm and character - maybe because it's French?
I have this rule where if I buy a car, I'll take it to get serviced just to give me peace of mind that it wont explode anytime soon. What the previous owner conveniently didn't inform me was that it was due a major service... so $1600 later the Clio 182 was back on the road.
As a bit of a backstory to this Clio, the French have always had a knack for doing things a bit different (see the Renault Clio V6) and sometimes admittedly flawed (also Renault Clio V6), but in a lovable way to a point where it almost adds to its character. It's like a family dog. Anyway, they have had a great history in creating hot hatches, thinking back to the Renault 5 Turbo, Peugeot 205 GTI, and Renault Megane R26.R. It was after I had viewed a Harry Metcalfe (founder of EVO magazine) video on his Renault Clio 182 that I looked in the classifieds to see if it could fill a non-existent spot in the garage. And around three minutes later I was on my way to have a look at this silver bullet. The first RS Clio II was the Phase I 172, which was unleashed on the world in 1999.
Power was derived from the venerable F4R 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder motor, a herculean little donk that pushed out 126kW (172 metric horsepower, hence the name) and 200Nm of torque.
As was the case with the move from Phase I to Phase II, the 182 brought with it minor cosmetic and interior updates, as well as mechanical changes including a new exhaust system featuring centre-mounted twin tailpipes, a new 4-2-1 manifold and a high-performance 200-cell sports cat-converter. All these changes added 8kW, boosting power to 134kW (182hp).
The 182 Cup took things a step further than the standard 182, and featured 10mm lower springs, stiffer dampers, revised steering geometry, a wider front track and bespoke hubs, wheel bearings and offset.
The first time I got in the car I was initially perplexed by the driving position; it was almost bus-like, and my feet were pushing down on the pedals as opposed to in. Refreshingly, radio and air con were all that were present. The interior plastics were not dissimilar to the material Bulla use to make their ice cream boxes. Ergonomic and QC quirks aside, the moment I depressed the clutch it compared to doing a leg press at the gym. Instantly recognisable was the manic engine, and as I grew familiar with the car the dynamic capabilities shone through. Its engine doesn't really come alive before 3000rpm, but when it comes on cam it thrusts forward all the way to its 7000rpm redline. There's always imaginary drag races at a set of lights (to the speed limit of course) with the car next to me, however they never know they're in a race, and the look of bewilderment on their faces when the Clio catapults off the line and ahead of a car ten times its price is always a satisfying sensation.
Where this car really sets itself apart is how it goes around corners. The drive from Balwyn to our beach house down the Mornington Peninsula is a fairly monotonous one, so I decided to spice things up by going the scenic route down the coast and detour up the Arthur's Seat hairpins.
Words cannot describe the sensory overload this car provides going up the Arthur's Seat hairpins, revving from idle to 7000rpm, heel-toeing from fourth to second gear, pressing hard on the brakes, hearing the noise of the exhaust, the squeal of the brakes and making sure the front end doesn't wash out - it makes you feel alive! This is a sensation which is seldom matched by cars nowadays. Most importantly, it puts a big grin on your face and is just tremendous fun - an aspect which seems to have been overlooked nowadays.
The handling is tight and go-kart like, its tremendous chassis paired with its over-engined nature is a sight to behold. I wish the gearbox would be a bit slicker, however this could just be due to incorrect linkages. With no limited slip diff you have to be careful of mashing your right foot mid-corner. Having a lead foot leads to some understeer, however use the proper technique and the speeds you can achieve in a corner is unfathomable. You can even lift-off mid corner just to get the rear to pivot around and get a hint of oversteer. Just brilliant!
To sum up, sometimes a car is worth more than the sum of its parts, or the price you pay in pursuit of how it makes you feel. A refined or comfortable driving experience the Clio is not, far from it. It'll sit on the Eastern Freeway at 100km/h screaming its head off at around 3500rpm, however just like a lovable thing you're willing to forgive its idiotic driving position, its horrendously recyclable interior plastics, and the fact its steering wheel might actually be bigger than the tyre, just because it makes you feel happy. In an automotive industry where car manufacturers and regulations are trying to divorce you more and more from the essence of a car, the unhinged and pure experience from something simple such as a Renault Clio 182 may be all you need in life. It enables you to get in touch with what used to make a car great. No matter how much power car manufacturers can cram into a car or how quickly it can park itself or how good the voice recognition is, sometimes you just can't really put a price on a car that puts big a smile on your face. Simpler times. A palate cleanser.