Our cars: 2009 Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup

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.

2015-10-07 10.21.27The 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.

NOT a self portrait.

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.

Super Skid Marks

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.

You won’t find a panel gap like this on a VW

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.

The poverty spec Cup interior is enlivened by yellow fabric inserts.
Nice seats. Shame about the face (of the dashboard).

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.

Journey to the Centre of The Floorpan

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.

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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

Oh. How did this get here?

Author: chrisward1978

Professional pixel pugilist and word wrangler. Unprofessional pub snug raconteur.

21 thoughts on “Our cars: 2009 Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup”

  1. Well done surviving your torrid affair with Clio. I look forward to reading about your new car.

  2. Sounds like the Clio is really a track day car rather than a daily driver. I agree about those interiors they can be disappointingly bland. It doesn’t sound like you’re really going to miss it. As a fellow runner , I hope you get back on the road soon. I hate when injury keeps me away from it.

    1. I had considered the track car angle, but who would choose a Clio over an out and out sports car? Especially a particularly flaky one.

  3. “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.”

    “Wottle she do?” versus “Can I live with it?” That’s why I stick with Honda even though the motoring press says that other makers’ cars are better.

    More seriously, allopurinol, if that’s what NHS told you to take, works. Just don’t ever let up. The same is true of colchicine. Am there, do that.

    1. In hindsight the Clio was always going to come up short compared to my previous Civic. Only the concrete dampers and eye watering service costs put me off the latter.

    2. Also, you are indeed correct about the cocktail of drugs I am taking. Hopefully they will restore balance to the farce of my chemistry.

  4. Hi Chris, very sorry to hear about your ailment – I hope the drugs and moderated lifestyle provide the required relief. Your story of experiences with the Renault are very illuminating and highlight the paucity of the Motoring Press’s road and long term testing in these days. The Clio RS always seemed to me like some kind of beacon of hope for French car kind, but it seems that, however well they can make a car drive, the quality of engineering and attention to production detail continues to be inferior to many other makes.

    BeST of luck with the new car, whatever it may be …

    1. I have always liked the American phrase “having skin in the game”. Journalists should be more clear about what they have actually plonked down their own cash on. Nine times out of ten, it’s a Focus.

  5. It’s not as though I was about to write a cheque for a Clio RS myself, but this is an extremely insightful post, nonetheless. Sean’s post regarding the SM and your experiences really do show what life with the respective car is like. Thank you very much!

  6. Another fine piece Chris. The fact that my experience of 205 GTi ownership was considerably less expensive or infuriating, while offering as many, or perhaps more visceral thrills per mile, says volumes – to me at least. We’ll be very interested to ‘unlearn’ more about your new performance hatch round these parts. Best wishes healthwise too.

  7. A salutary tale on several levels, but also an enlightening series which I read through afterwards. DTW’s ‘our cars’, have far more depth and credibility than the print comics’ long term tests. I’d make exceptions for LJKS’s Prelude and Scirocco reports, and his extraordinary Peugeot 305 long-term report.

    Gout at 37 is damn bad luck. I wish I could track down Setright’s thoughts on physical exercise in AOB – they’re somewhere in the archive. He didn’t hold with it, and almost certainly put away more than 15 units a week, simultaneously mortifying his insides with fags.

    If the Clio’s replacement is what I think it is, you should enjoy it. A colleague, who does 20,000+ miles per year, has one and loves it, also reports the ownership experience has been utterly painless.

  8. Chris. Congratulations. You took the plunge, scratched the itch, but didn’t (as I would have done) let some odd stubbornness cause you to hold on to it in the hope it would mysteriously improve. You knew when the time had come to get out, and you did.

    As someone who was outed by a commenter last week as liking ‘french crap’, I should be rushing to the Clio’s defense. However, as Richard pointed out in his very perceptive piece on French (auto industry) Values, their inability to see that it is important that a car should actually last further than the end of the dealer’s forecourt is a frustrating mystery. Having built up an enviable reputation for Renaultsport products, especially Clios, Renault are happy to piss it down the pan to save a few Euros. Although it’s clear that the ‘B Platform’ is more of a generic that a single item, my (Japanese Crap) Nissan shares commonality with your Clio, yet it feels reassuringly solid, save a cheapkate clip on the rear lamp lens. So it can be done.

    Since it is becoming more prevalent in younger people, I can’t even put a positive spin on this being a DTW exclusive – first long term report of an RS product by a gout sufferer. But best wishes anyway for what I know can be a painfully distracting problem.

    1. Renault were particularly tightfisted with the Clio III, the car lacking any of the surprise and delight of the previous model. Clio IV had to be a big leap forward to rectify things.

  9. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing. This was on my list of potential future purchases, but your reports have been eye-opening to say the least.

    I suppose if you treated it as a cherished modern classic, not for daily use, then one of these Clios would be a joy. But I live in a big city, have no off street parking, and any car I own needs to do all the mundane practicalities too.

    I think I can guess what you’ve bought!

    1. Yes, it was using it as a daily commuter/sprog ferry that really wore through the Clio’s charms. That said, it doesn’t have the sparkle of a garage show pony or weekend driver either. Although it has not been so popular with buyers, I would hazard that the Clio RS 200/220 EDC addresses many of the concerns I had about the previous model, i.e. a superior ride/handling compromise, a better interior, improved perceived quality and (hopefully) better reliability. I may even check one out in a few years.

  10. Thanks all for your kind comments. I have been on holiday in Devon this past week and the lack of mobile internet coverage has been both a blessing and a curse.

    I will miss the Clio as on the right road and in the right conditions the drive could be intoxicating. Ultimately though it became difficult to escape the conclusion that Renaultsport had applied their parts and expertise to a car not worthy of their time. Before parting, I went around the Clio looking for points of interest to photograph. There were none. The Clio III is utterly bereft of creative thought; that touch of design or quality that says, oui, we care. Coming from the Civic, in which such touches abound, the Clio felt cynically conceived. A car may be cheap but it needn’t be nasty. The Clio III was both.

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