A little bit of what you like won’t hurt you. Except when it really, really does. Recently I have had a couple of reasons to consider the meaning of the idiom you can have too much of a good thing.
The first came, perhaps inevitably, with a trip to the hospital. A few weeks prior, my knees had swollen and become painful to the point I could hardly walk. A week at home sat on my backside bombed out on powerful prescription painkillers (the only circumstance by which daytime television becomes tolerable) saw off the worst, but nearly a month later I was still knock-kneed like an old beggar under a sack.
X-rays and blood tests confirmed the initial diagnosis: the inflammation was caused by uric acid crystallising in my joints. Yes, I have Gout.
Although I grew from a spring chicken into a fully fledged cock many years ago, 37 seems a bit too young to contract an old man’s disease. I am wrong. Not only that, its onset is (mostly) my fault.
Like any man in this land, I occasionally ameliorate the circumstances of work and home with a tipple upon an evening; nothing excessive, honest m’lud, but a semi-regular 15 units per week. I also partake in a spot of cardio exercise every now and then to dissipate my ever expanding midriff. Turns out, in my case neither activity is a good idea. By a combination of exercise, booze and the misfortune of my genetic inheritance, I have conspired to turn my own blood into piss.
At the hospital, the specialist recommended that I immediately started a course of drugs to bring my uric acid under control.
How long will I be on these pills?” I asked.
“You will take them until the day you die,” replied the specialist, her choice of phrase a touch ominous. “Stop all alcohol and exercise until your uric acid drops to a normal range. Stay on the pills and you will be able to eat and drink what you want,” she added.
“God bless the NHS,” I replied.
A few weeks later I again had occasion to consider the compound ramifications of my decisions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this came whilst behind the wheel of my Renaultsport Clio. Thanks to the short term imposition of boozelessness by Dr Killjoy, I now had the time and sobriety to enjoy the Clio more. And boy, did I.
With its light weight, a wide track and fat Pirelli P-Zero tyres, the Clio can summon unfathomable adhesion on a winding B-road. The car carries huge speed into a bend, before getting back on the power far earlier than should be possible in a front wheel driver. Piloting it is a seat-of-the-pants experience – literally, as the chassis feeds information about what is happening at the wheels through your backside, even if the electrically assisted steering remains mute.
The Clio’s ability to grip and go is simply frightening. Everything has a limit, of course, and when the car does get out of shape, it does so without warning. Such a circumstance played out early one morning on a familiar winding lane. The sun hung low in the sky and although the weather was dry, dew sat in patches on the road surface. Turning into a right hander, I encountered snap understeer so pronounced that the passenger side front wheel immediately slid on to the outer verge. Fortunately the incident passed without witness or consequence, the only damage being skid marks of various kinds, a few feet of grass scythed by a front splitter, a dented ego and my heart, which I had to push back down my throat.
Nevertheless, I learned a valuable lesson that morning: speed and traction are two good things I could definitely have too much of. There is little point in indulging yourself if the consequences are beyond your abilities to process, as my knackered uric acid crystal-encrusted joints will attest.
As fun as my forays into the countryside are, the bulk of my mileage is an eight mile daily round trip into and out of a city centre. Being a small hatchback, you would think that the Renaultsport Clio would be in its element parping around town. In reality, it feels soporific.
With peak power produced near the 8000rpm red zone, a lack of low down grunt is palpable in stop-start traffic. In attempting to assert the Clio’s dominance at the traffic light Grand Prix, it is difficult not to sound like an over-revving try-hard. Adding to the embarrassment, letting out the clutch at slow speeds occasionally provokes a bout of pogo-ing akin to severe driveline shunt, only cured by hurriedly dipping the clutch. (Forums suggest the culprit is ham-fisted fuel management. And yes, they all do that.) Fortunately the gearbox has a nice clean action and the peddles are well weighted, making rowing up and down the gearbox less of a chore.
Pottering around town also gives ample time to assess the interior. For a small car the Clio III has plenty of space up front, although the short wheel base makes things tight in the back. The seats are grippy without being too deeply bolstered, bright yellow inserts and seat belts (in the front at least) adding a sporty touch. A low belt line gifts clear sight lines and creates an airy feel, a rarity these days. Taken in the round, the Clio is not a hard place to get comfortable.
To save weight, the Cup is based upon the most basic trim level, so allowances are duly made for material quality. The dashboard design is common to all Clio IIIs, however, and the paucity of ideas displayed by Renault’s interior designers is unforgivable. An imaginative touch here and there would go a long way to lifting the ambience; instead evidence of cost cutting serves to drive down perceptions still further.
A good-enough engineering attitude permeates the whole car: the doors and boot shut with a hollow clang, the electric window motors perform their function with the vigour of a child doing chores, and no matter how carefully I push it closed, the glove box lid remains tragically misaligned. The handbrake lacks a rubber gaiter, the resulting hole exposing not only the dust-flecked oily inner workings, but also sandwiched layers of trim, unfinished carpet and insulation. This is penny pinching of a literal kind: I once accidentally dropped a 20p piece into the gap. It will never come out again.
More so than anything else, the Clio III feels unfinished. The flaws I have listed plus the mechanical failures I have encountered are sadly indicative of a slapdash approach to development and build. Pundits chalk up lacklustre sales of the newer Clio V 200 EDC to a perceived loss of focus. I would suggest that the experiences of Renaultsport Clio III owners might have been enough to put them off Renault for good. In a world stuffed to the gunwales with better, more rounded options, the Clio is too truculent and flaky to tolerate every day.
When I first bought the Clio, I did so with the endorsements of motoring journalists ringing in my ears. Having lived with the car for six months, I can tell you with absolute certainty the hack consensus is simultaneously right and utterly wrong. Drive the car like you stole it (or borrowed it from the Renault press fleet) for a couple of days and I defy you not to be beguiled by its performance. Spend longer together however and things fall apart. This confirms one thing that I have long thought about automotive journalism: unless the writer risks their own money, their reviews will only ever be a snapshot of impressions, better read as entertainment rather than solid buying advice.
If this article sounds elegiac, you would be right. As I write this, the Clio has already gone. While I enjoyed my fling with Clio (sometimes too much), I never truly loved her. Our parting feels like a reprieve: in the long term, my attempts to exploit its prodigious performance could only have resulted in more mechanical failures, prosecution or a trip to the mortuary.
Its replacement has less power and less grip, but a lot more of everything else that makes a car fun to drive and easy to live with. Those of you who have read my previous articles (and I thank you for doing so) will likely know what I have bought. If you have not guessed, I will try to ovoid spoiling the surprise until my next update.
2009 Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup – End of Term
Time owned: Six months
Miles since purchase: 3650
Average MPG: 24
Failures and replacements: Gearbox, Lambda sensor, offside front tyre, headlight bulb (twice)
Highs: Handling, performance, seats, size
Lows: Build, comfort, interior ambience, running costs, living with it