David and Goliath? This question springs to mind in this report of life with a RenaultSport Clio 200 Cup.
I once shared a university house with a man who studied Physics. He was tremendously good at it. As a lazy English student, I envied the clarity of his thought processes, of his ability to harness complex mathematics to make sense of the forces that shape our world. Meanwhile, I struggled to marshal the energy to make a toasted cheese sandwich. (And this despite me keeping a Breville sandwich toaster on my bedside table. And my bedside table being a mini fridge liberated from a caravan, filled with cheese and booze.)
I digress. In his pocket this house mate invariably kept a Swiss Army Knife. He loved to pull out that Swiss Army Knife and brandish it at life’s myriad small problems. The bottle opener was tremendously overused, of course, as was the knife, for cutting cheese. Sundry other tools were employed at various junctures, although we did struggle with the tool for de-stoning horse’s hooves (although in those days I often required de-stoning, usually after making a tool of myself).
As much as my house mate loved his Swiss Army Knife, my hatred for that device was as hot as the greasy plates of a student’s bedside sandwich toaster. Like any undergraduate whose opinions go unsullied by experience, my antipathy was shaped by my naive conception of compromise. The Swiss Army Knife did a lot of things but none of them, so I thought, particularly well.
The bottle opener, for example, had to be carefully hooked under the ribbed flute of a bottle cap, otherwise it didn’t work: hard when you were semi-permanently inebriated. The stubby little knife struggled to cut the cheese. The driver was never commensurate to the screw, not that there was a lot of that going on either. The hoof de-stoner… was a hoof de-stoner.
To my mid-to-post-pubescent mind, the Swiss Army Knife was never as good at any one job than a single purpose-designed tool. For something so useful, the Swiss Army Knife was quite useless.
I was put in mind of the Swiss Army Knife the other day when I spied a BMW X5 parked outside a local preschool, the natural habitat of the SUV. Now here, surely, is a car that can be all things to all people. It has five doors and a hatch so it may carry many children and their interminable things with ease. It has four-wheel drive and increased ground clearance, so it can ford deep streams and leap tall buildings in a single bound. It has BMW sporting pedigree, a 3 litre diesel and the biggest wheels and tyres in Christendom, so surely to God it can go quickly and around corners. Right?
Parked alongside the Teutonic leviathan, my Clio looked tiny; so small in fact that it looked as if the mighty X5 would crush my car without noticing as it reversed out. But no, thankfully the Beemer had been specced with parking sensors front and rear. Unmoored from its birth, and with a cloud of particulates worthy of a startled cuttlefish or a late-model Volkswagen, the X5 made haste its exit.
My son duly dropped off for another morning of acquiring diseases at playgroup, I also hit the road. Between preschool and the main artery to work is a gem of a country road I always look forward to driving. Lightly trafficked and with two lanes throughout, it begins with a series of flat and well-sighted medium to fast sweepers perfect for putting a car through its paces. Here I caught up with the dawdling X5.
Another inky blast from the cuttlefish indicated that the BMW had upped its pace. By virtue of our shared departure point I guessed that both of us knew the road. Soon enough we were travelling at a reasonable lick, me a few car lengths behind, both of us well within the respective capacities of our vehicles — “six-tenths” as a journalist might have it.
As the road progresses, it threads between an active quarry and a flooded former pit, now a nature reserve. Buckled, twisted and tortured as the earth to each side, the road becomes narrower and throws up a complex series of technical dips, crests and turns hemmed between verges and stone walls. This section of the road shows RenaultSport’s fettling at its best, the Clio’s light weight allowing it to dart into bends, its tiny footprint letting you place the car just where you want it.
And yet, as the road’s width diminished and the corners grew tighter, the X5 began to lose its composure. The pilot was visibly having trouble marshalling his Bavarian barge through the rapids, clipping verges and jouncing out to straddle both lanes, with nary a long enough straight in which to tame the maelstrom of forces being enacted upon it. Play time over, the Clio followed behind at an idle lope.
It transpires that, despite their undoubted talents, BMW’s engineers are no magicians. The X5 is as prey to the laws of Physics, of gravity and inertia, as any other weighty object in this world. No doubt my Physics studying house mate would have expressed this state of affairs with an elegant equation. With my fuzzy simian cranium, I simply think back to his Swiss Army Knife. The X5 wants to be a sports car and a utility vehicle, yet its size and weight prevents it from being the former, whilst its firm suspension and road tyres preclude the latter. By trying to be all things to all people, the X5 ends up being a tool inappropriate to both jobs.
In turn, following the X5 solidified my thoughts about the Clio. By any yardstick it is a poor car: cramped, truculent and bereft of comforts. The X5 should crush it, and not just in a botched preschool car park manoeuvre. And yet, RenaultSport set out to create a single purpose tool: a car for going around corners as quickly as possible. For that one task, the 200 Cup is a remarkably capable device.
I hoped to report on a month where something had not dropped off or gone pop on the Clio. Sadly as I write this, the passenger side headlight bulb, already replaced under warranty, has again failed. As the dealer’s warranty has elapsed, I will have the matter investigated by my trusted local garage. No doubt a new cluster will be on order before the month is out.
Miles since purchase: 1650
Miles since last report: 300
Expenditure since last report: £300 (insurance)