Coming from a Japanese hot hatch background, in 2010 my friend had a 182 Cup and invited me for a drive around Healesville. Three corners later I was convinced it was better, and three minutes later it felt like I could drive near to its limits.
In 2012, a Clio 182 Cup in FRB came up for sale with 29,000km, and I snapped it up for around $16K. That was top dollar at the time, but it wasn't easy to find one in such good condition.
After 71,000km, I can honestly say this is the most fun I have ever had in any car, and it is amazingly fast, really incredible to drive in any season, and such good handling in a wide range of road types and surfaces. The G-forces I have encountered (on Cup tyres) are unreal – you can’t have anything loose in the car. If I had a dollar for every time I had to find my wallet after a fun drive, I’d be retired.
The big pluses for me: great seats, great lighting package, huge driving range with a 50L tank, cheap to service if you can do minors yourself, and tough.
Minuses: rubber-coated plastics were a great idea in 2005, but they have aged stranger than Steven Segal. The exhaust under the hatch floor will heat any luggage in the back of the car if you're climbing a mountain, for example. Chocolate and mouthwash will not taste the same.
This is the sort of car that needs a day/weekend trip to appreciate and months to understand. It shocked me for many kilometres with just what you can do when the tyres are warm and conditions are about right. Even in adverse conditions and wet or bumpy roads, this car is always looking after you, always responding to your commands.
Breakaway to understeer is very progressive, and being light it washes off speed and picks up grip very quickly. Every previous hot hatch I had, your driving has to compensate for whatever inadequacies were inherent. In this Clio, you find that you don’t have to think, just drive, feel and react to the road – the car follows.
And if you want to drive up around the limit of grip, the pace will blow your mind, and the car will dance with ease. However, you soon realise that it’s an elbows-out driving style, while recalibrating your brain as to how fast a hatch can go.
You find yourself needing to react very quickly in this car, like you are driving something two levels up. It is so much more than the sum of its parts, and you can’t say that about many cars, and even fewer newer vehicles.
It’s not the fastest car everywhere, but it’s quick on so many real-world driving roads, so much of the time. I’m not going to list the cars I’ve shamed, or sports bikes, as I don’t have the space here. It is also my go-to for a boring drive with the missus, because odds on if there is an ounce of fun to be found, this is the car to sniff it out.
Other than a 182 Trophy, there is no better small hot hatch to come this century.