SOTW: Renault Clio Renaultsport 172


Remember summer hols as a nipper, when you’d dangle a line over the jetty in hopes of hooking something fishy for tea?

As often as not, the catch of the day would be a couple of dirty brown crabs the size of 10p bits – or something more unmentionable. But every so often you’d hit pay dirt, with either a monster 2-inch minnow or a partially-poisoned whelk to carry proudly home to your mum in a jam jar. Eeh, happy days.

An iconic hot hatch - for shed money
An iconic hot hatch - for shed money
Shed has recaptured that glorious boyhood feeling this week after dipping its virtual rod in the murky rockpool of £1000-or-less motoring and coming up with a sweet fish indeed: a Clio Renaultsport 172.

RS Renaults of any hue are rare visitors to our humble three-figure lobster pot. There’s a simple reason for that, which is to do with the laws of supply and demand: they’re great little cars, and people want them.

To cover B-road ground fast for under a grand, there’s little to beat a 172. There’s just no arguing with the rightness of the car’s dynamics. Bunging a pokey motor into a lightweight car – in this case a 172hp 2.0-litre in the bubbleback Clio II 3-door supermini – will always give you decent straight-line performance, but without a decent chassis you’ll need more than decent brakes to make it round the first decent corner.

No paid-up PHer needs Shed to tell them that the 172 (and every subsequent RS Clio to date) has the full package of stop, go and turn. Besides 0-60 performance knocking on the door of six seconds, you’ll enjoy average mpg in the high 30s, with low to mid 40s on cruise. And as a driving proposition, many rate this Phase 1 model above all others, and they’re not just saying that because they can’t afford a Phase 2 either.

Blue dash is a bit naff, but you won't care
Blue dash is a bit naff, but you won't care
The driving position doesn’t suit everybody, and the clutch will feel heavy if you’re coming out of a newer car. The two-tone interior on this ’01 car dates it, but at least the individual tones are not embarrassing. That steering wheel cover is though. It’ll almost certainly be there to hide tattiness beneath, as even the far from mighty British sun will reduce the covering of an early RS Clio tiller to mush.

Mechanically, 172s are tough enough to take both mileage and lead-footed abuse, but they’re not perfect. Repeated hard acceleration (which you’ll be doing plenty of) will weaken and eventually break engine mounts, signalled by a knocking in first gear. Powerflex dogbone replacements will sort it. If you want to keep your inlet cam in one piece, you’ll need to keep on top of the belt changes (auxiliary as well as cam – that’s on a 36k schedule, but even Renault dealerships don't always catch it). Cambelts are every 72k or 5 years.

When they’re warm, engines can rattle, as can exhausts – usually heat shields or centre sections, though back boxes are prone to rot and detachment too. Gearboxes get used a lot on RS Clios, so will blow regularly, along with driveshafts. Again, because of the nature of the car, you must budget for consumables like brakes and suspension. OE front discs and pads should be around £130 up front, and getting on for £200 at the back, where the design incorporates pressed-in wheel bearings. As a compensation, rear shock replacement is a five-minute, two-bolt job; allow £50-£60 a corner. Because the wheels are only 15in, tyres are pleasingly cheap.

Be wary if any of these don't go out...
Be wary if any of these don't go out...
Coil packs, injector wiring, and seat belt/airbag warning lights can all fail. TDC (top dead centre) sensors have a bit of a rep too, causing poor or non-existent starting. A new sensor and its associated loom isn’t that expensive, around £50-£70. Fast running is probably a sticky throttle cable, not rocket science to mend.  

Outside, if you need any reminder that this is a 12-year-old French car with attendant build quality issues, check out the rust scab on the sill. The owner is up front about its flaws and seems to have kept up with the work required. He mentions a non-functioning passenger window, but this is very likely to be nothing more that a regulator, available from somewhere like GSF for about £50.

A catalogue of nightmares? No. Look at it instead as a testament to the comprehensive knowledge bank that’s been built up on these gutsy and willing little cars, by those who have joyfully thrashed and enjoyed them for more than a decade. Buy and enjoy.


Here’s the original ad.

RENAULT CLIO SPORT 172 - Good Example  (£975)

My well loved Clio Sport 172 (phase 1) is now for sale as we really don't need four cars! I'm only the second owner of this car and have had it for just under one year.  

In that time I've put on four new tyres, a new exhaust, had a service done, new Lambda sensor and CV Boot gaiter clips, years MOT, replaced a suspension leg and generally loved and cared for her (including only feeding her Shell V-Power). The previous owner had a new alternator fitted just over a year ago. 

There are a couple of minor bad points - some surface rust on the top side of the sill near the driver's door, gaffa tape on the driver's door mirror and the passenger window doesn't wind down or up. Clio previously had a different registration number but this is going onto one of our other cars. 

Mileage today 94449, will go up as car is in daily use. The car is taxed until the end of December 2012 and MOT expires November 2013.

I've done 7,000 miles in her in the last year and had great fun but it's time to go as we have three other cars nows... 

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (167) Join the discussion on the forum

  • LordHaveMurci 21 Dec 2013

    cjb1 said:
    We've just bought one, drove it around45 miles yesterday, mental! It's got an aftermarket exhaust and it's rumoured that the car has been chipped though being a normally aspirated car it won't have gained much BHP if it has been mapped. My summer time drive is a 3.2 Carrera 911 but this little Frenchie cheapie put a huge smile on my face too!
    I swap between my 996 & my 172 all the time, the 172 is probably more fun to be honest smile

  • Mr2Mike 20 Dec 2013

    172ff said:
    Last year it needed £1700 to get it through its mot. Belts, dephaser and waterpump needed doing
    None of which would cause an MOT failure.

  • cjb1 20 Dec 2013

    We've just bought one, drove it around45 miles yesterday, mental! It's got an aftermarket exhaust and it's rumoured that the car has been chipped though being a normally aspirated car it won't have gained much BHP if it has been mapped. My summer time drive is a 3.2 Carrera 911 but this little Frenchie cheapie put a huge smile on my face too!

  • hondansx 24 Feb 2013

    Great value. I'd spend a little more for a PH2 172 though; better looking and a much nicer interior. Being based on the original car still, you'd like to think they worked out a few of the niggles.

    If you find one with a rorty exhaust (thereby dealing with the issue of OEM ones falling off) and the Clio Cup Speedline Turinis, you're on to a winner! I still think they look great.

  • 1974foggy 14 Feb 2013

    Did they mention they had 3 other cars enough in the ad?

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