PH HEROES: CLIO TROPHY
Lightweight French hatchback that showed less really is more, writes Tom Phillips
According to just about every doom-mongering 24-hour news service, the UK is in the throes of an obesity crisis. The nationís waistlines are ballooning, weíll all soon need to whir around on mobility scooters and will need a small crane to get us out of bed.
A far-fetched tabloid vision of a rotund dystopia this may be, but there is some substance to this overweight vision that we should really wake-up and take notice of.
The problem is one of high expectations: if we expect every consumer product to be exquisite, on-demand and economical, compromises have to be made. If you want your clothes to be stylish and affordable, exploitative sweatshops are required; if you want your dinner to be tasty and instantaneous, then large quantities of salt and saturated fat will be served up too.
This trend has extended to our cars, with most new metal pandering to demands for more toys, safety gear and superfluous trimmings. Our lifestyles make convenience the king, and everything from our bellies to our hot hatches will put on more than a few pounds.
But when did it all go wrong? When did we accept compromise for the sake of convenience?If the Clio Trophy is anything to go by, itís not that long ago at all.
Limited to just 500 UK-only specials (plus a special consignment of 25 left-hookers for Switzerland, bizarrely enough), the £15,500 Trophy was the zenith of contemporary hot hatches and, refreshingly, compromise was not on the menu.
Only available in a delicious shade of Capsicum Red, the Trophyís exterior gained the larger spoiler from the mid-engined, slightly nutty Clio V6. The look was completed with some tasty anthracite Speedline Turini wheels which shave 1.3 kilos per corner off the 182 Cup, on which the Trophy is based.
Under the bonnet, Renault wisely shied away from fiddling with the already-gutsy 2.0-litre 182 bhp engine. Instead, the focus was on making the car grip and corner like no other contemporary rival.
For this reason, the car sports a 10mm lower ride height, SACHS remote-reservoir dampers re-rated by +20% and +10%, and springs stiffened by 20% and 15% front and rear respectively. Renault also revised the geometry of the steering, and replaced the elastometric bump stops with hydraulic ones to dial out almost all traces of understeer and sharpen turn in response. Uprated front hub carriers were also included to deal with the higher cornering forces.
The sum of all of these rather cerebral upgrades saw no real gains over the headline performance figures of the standard 182 Cup. However, on a twisty B-road the extra compliance transmitted through the body-hugging Recaros and revised steering wheel are enough to show a clean pair of heels to pretty much everything, when in the right hands.
We sampled number 341, a two-owner car which has benefited from a couple of upgrades thanks to regular exercise on the track. An ITG Panel Air filter helps the motor breathe a little more freely, while Brembo High Carbon Discs, Ferodo DS2500 Pads and Goodridge Braided Brake Lines inspire more confidence after repeated hard stops. The rims are now shod with Yokohama Parada Spec-2s instead of the bespoke Michelin Exaltos, and provide a little extra friction in the dry, in exchange for a few involuntary clenching moments in the wet.
On the move at low speeds, the car is as benign as the student-friendly Clio Campus, with the only nod to performance being the very firm ride: if you are sporting anything approaching love handles, be prepared to have your jowls jangled.
What would be transmitted though the cabin as belligerent lumps and bumps at a dawdle are flattened once the car and dampers are fully up to speed - the fact that the car was honed on the Great British B-road really shining through. When attacking even the most scarred patchwork of tarmac, the dampers keep wheels in touch with the road so that nothing but pure acceleration or braking affects the Trophyís progress.
For a car that was launched to great acclaim just two years ago, I canít help but feel that modern producers of seminal hot hatches - Renault, Peugeot, VW et al - have made grave mistakes by allowing consumers to get away with their demands for excessive additions. When lifestyles are geared towards convenience, the bloated bodies of the population are a by-product of the fact that the customer doesnít always know best.
Instead of worrying about sat nav, whether you can plug your iPod into the stereo or redundant diffusers, take a look at the Trophy: itíll take you to the shops to buy all your heart desires; itíll squeeze in four adults for a short journey; itíll do everything that any other car can do. But best of all, you can point the bonnet at a blinding B-road and itíll remind you of what really matters.
PH Hero Rating: 8/10