Available for less than £1,000
1,998cc 2.0-litre petrol naturally-aspirated engine, five-speed manual gearbox, power from 172hp
Cambelt service intervals are every 5 years or 72K miles. This will cost between £500-800 so bear in mind when buying
Lumpy idling from cold is normal, as is a heavy clutch so don't be put off by this
Watch out for rust - key areas to look are around the fuel cap, sills and rear arches
We recommend: Clio 182 with both Cup packs (Full Fat)
Arriving in June 2000, the Clio 172 Renaultsport instantly made a mockery of the competition with a price from £15,995. It was light, fast, affordable and slapped an indelible grin on its driver's chops. At a time when Volkswagen was still knocking out the lardy Mk4 Golf GTI and Peugeot had lost its way, the Clio 172 showed the world what a hot hatch should be and introduced a wider audience to the genius of Renaultsport.
Updates and upgrades followed, with the stripped out, harder core 172 Cup pitching up in August 2002 with a bargain £12,995 price tag. The 182 succeeded the first generation Clio Renaultsport in January 2004 and continued the value offer with a price of £14,600. This model spawned its own Cup model and then the ultimate Clio Renaultsport version in the 182 Trophy.
With so much hot hatch fun on offer from such little outlay, everyone should try a Clio 172/182 Renaultsport. Here's what to expect and what to look out for.
|SPECIFICATION - RENAULT CLIO 182
||1,998cc, 4cyl 16v
||5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
|Torque (lb ft)
||£1,000 - £10,000
All Clio 172 and 182 models use the F4R730 1,998cc 2.0-litre petrol engine that comes with variable timing 16-valve head and is attached to a five-speed manual gearbox. Power for the 172 is, unsurprisingly, 172hp delivered at 5,500rpm. The later 182hp version of this engine achieved full power at 6,500rpm which is why many regard the earlier 172 unit as feeling stronger even if the 182 offered 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds to the 172's 7.2 second time.
The engine gives no real cause for concern if it's been regularly maintained. This is a key consideration when buying a Clio Renaultsport as many are now in the hands of owners who either don't care or cannot afford to look after them. While it's a cheap car to buy, keeping up an immaculate service record does cost more than you might expect of a small French hatch.
By far the most crucial job to consider is the cam belt and associated auxiliary belt and tensioners. This needs to be carried out every 72,000 miles or five years, whichever is sooner, so even a low mileage, late 182 Trophy should have had this work completed at three times by now. The belts and other parts are cheap, but budget between £500-800 to get this done depending on whether you choose an independent or main dealer. It's important to ensure the dephaser pulley in changed at the same time as otherwise this can come lose and rattle. Changing the cam belt on cars without air conditioning fitted is an easier job thanks to better access.
The engine should not use any oil, even when used on a track day. The car automatically checks the oil level on start-up, but it's still worth using the hard to get at dipstick regularly to be sure. More of a concern is the exhaust as the original mild steel one fitted by Renault rots and will rattle as the silencers disintegrate. There are no pattern replacements available and an original from Renault is expensive, which is why most owners opt for an aftermarket exhaust in stainless steel.
Another common exhaust problem is the back box coming adrift from its mounting due to its weight. This is another reason many owners swap for a lighter aftermarket system, so don't be put off by a non-Renault set of pipes. Used aftermarket exhausts can be picked up for as little as £100. Bear in mind the 182 uses a different exhaust system to the 172 as the later car's runs through where the spare wheel would once have resided but can still suffer from rust and rattling.
As with the engine, the gearbox is generally long-lived and tough, but has its specific problems. Most notably, the gearbox mounts fail as they have a hard time coping with this feisty engine's power and this is usually first spotted as a knocking noise in first and second gears. Replacement mounts are cheap and take two hours to fit or you can upgrade to race spec ones to cure the problem for much longer. Crunching isn't overly common but does happen but gearbox rebuilds can be done for as little as £350.
The Clio 172 Phase 2 introduced in July 2001 came with shorter gear ratios to maintain acceleration even though it was a little heavier through the addition of ESP and other changes. It's not unknown for gearboxes to fail, but more likely to need replacing is the clutch that will last only 30,000 miles of hard use. Driven more considerately, the clutch should last 60,000 miles.
The final powertrain elements to survey are the driveshafts. They split and fail, so replacements are needed immediately and they are not easy to swap, so budget for the labour costs involved if you suspect any potential purchase will need this work soon.
Service intervals for all Clio Renaultsport models are 12,000 miles or two years, but it's worth servicing the car more routinely to prolong its life, especially if you use the car on track as many Clio owners do.
MacPherson strut front suspension comes with anti-roll bars and at the rear there's a torsion beam with trailing arms and anti-roll bar. It's all very easy to service or replace components, though you must be sure what version of car you have as there are small differences between each for spring and damper rates.
If you want to go down the route of aftermarket springs and dampers, you also need to bear in mind the kit for a 182 will not fit the 182 Cup or Trophy models. The way to be sure of this is to measure the bolt spacing on the hub. The standard Renaultsport models have 54mm spacing from the centre of one bolt to the next, while Cup and Trophy versions have 60mm spacing. A cheaper alternative is a Whiteline rear anti-roll bar that can help reduce lift-off oversteer.
The Trophy version of the 182 has Sachs dampers fitted to suspension that was lowered by 10mm compared to the RS and Cup models. Trophy suspension parts are more expensive to replace, so bear this in mind when buying this last of the line limited edition variant. There's no service interval on the Sachs dampers so they made need rebuilding anything between 20-60K miles and will cost around £600-800.
Renault changed the castor angle of the suspension on the 172 Cup from the standard RS's 1.5-degrees to 3.0-degrees, which sharpens handling response. The Cup also benefited from a front track widened by 25mm, with the rear broadened by 18mm.
As for brakes, the standard 280mm ventilated front discs and 238mm solid rears are more than up to the job of stopping the lightweight Clio in most circumstances. Remember 172 Cups don't have ABS fitted to save weight and some MoT testers mistakenly fail the car for not having a rear brake actuator fitted. There's a VOSA PDF available for download that should sort out this problem. If you intend to use the car on track a lot, an upgrade to Brembo front discs and Ferodo pads will improve braking power and feel.
Rear wheel bearings tend to wear at 40,000 miles but are a cheap and easy fix as they're part of the rear discs but only use genuine OEM parts as pattern parts tend to fail quickly. More of a concern are the tyres fitted and their condition as the Clio Renaultsport is very sensitive to poor tyre choice. From new, the Clio RS came with Michelin Pilot SXs, but these are now unavailable and most owners go with Michelin PS3 tyres as the modern direct replacement.
A 16-inch alloy wheel is the norm for all 172 and 182 Clio Renaultsport models except phase 1 172s, which have 15-inch OZ F1 alloys as standard, but the 172 Cup gained lightweight Speedline Turini alloys. The 182 Cup had dark-painted wheels which were an option for standard 182 RS models fitted with the Cup suspension. Last of the line Trophy models have Speedline Turini wheels finished in anthracite.
Steering is by rack and pinion and you should listen out for noisy operation on 172 models as the return pipe is a smaller diameter than the 182's. It's an easy upgrade, while a failed rack is more likely down to a worn auxiliary belt than the rack itself.
The Clio 172 Renaultsport was fitted with an aluminium bonnet from the outset, which can be more prone to dents. Renault issued a recall to deal with this generation of Clio's bonnet catches, which could fail and let the bonnet fly up against the windscreen. Be sure this work has been carried out.
All Clio RS models have plastic front wings, which are durable and cheap to replace. Rust has sadly now started to become an issue; key areas to look are around the fuel cap and the sills, particularly around the rear arch area. Rear sill rust will likely be hidden by the side sills so ideally you want to see photos with the side sills removed. Bubbling paint on roof bar fitting covers is common but these are plastic, so don't confuse this for rust.
Also look for the sticker on the driver's door with the car's details on it. If it's missing, the car has most likely been repainted at some point in its life. The VIN plate is at the base of the windscreen on the left side of the Clio and visible through the windscreen, so be sure it tallies with all other documentation.
The 172 Cup gained a larger rear spoiler and lower front lip spoiler, while the 182 introduced the twin rear exhausts poking out from the rear bumper. Standard 182 RS Clios could be ordered with the larger rear spoiler and front splitter of the Cup model, while the Trophy had its own unique, larger rear wing.
Washer jets are a common point to fail on Clio RSs as they become clogged or leak. This is now an MoT failure point, but they are straightforward to fix.
The original Clio 172 Renaultsport came with twin front and side airbags, climate control, leather and Alcantara upholstery and CD stereo. A six-disc CD autochanger was a £300 option, while sat-nav could be ordered at £1,500. The 172 Cup ditched the side airbags, stereo and air con to save weight, shedding 89kg with the help of thinner window glass. The Cup also did without ESP that was introduced in July 2002 as standard fitment, while the leather seats were dropped in the Cup in favour of Mossa Dark Cloth trim.
The 182 Renaultsport had much the same spec as the 172, but with the addition of cruise control, automatic windscreen wipers and the option of Recaro Sport Trendline front seats for £500 that did away with the side airbags. The 182 Cup kept air conditioning but swapped leather seats for Graphic Night fabric. Taller drivers should try before they buy a Clio RS as the driving position is not the best although seat lowering mounts are available.
One problem common to all Clio Renaultsport models is the 'melting' steering wheel leather. In time, the leather simply starts to crumble and the thumb rests also wear very quickly. You can buy a new wheel or have your existing one re-trimmed for around £150. You could ditch the large 380mm item in favour of a smaller one if you don't mid foregoing the driver's airbag. The gear knob can also wear, but is easy and quick to replace.
Build quality isn't great on Clio Renaultsports, so expect a few creaks but make sure all of the electrics work properly. A SERV light on the dash indicates a fault code, which can be read though the diagnostic port hidden under the ash tray.
Seat bolsters wear in time and are a good indicator of how careful an owner is. While looking at the seats, feel in the footwells for water that might point to a blocked valve or filter in the air conditioning system. Rear window seals are also prone to leaks, so check for damp down the sides of the rear bench.
An airbag warning light is more likely to be a faulty wire under the seats. While peering in here, check a CD autochanger is present if it should be or the wiring is there if you want to add one as it was an option on later 172s and the 182.
Contrary to what some people may try to make you believe, generally a well cared for Renaultsport Clio should be reliable and cheap to run for the performance that it offers.
Whilst they're not without their flaws, they're fantastic little cars for the money and very rewarding to drive on the road and track.
Depending on your intended use, we would recommend spending between £3,000 - £4,000 on a car that has been well looked after and has a decent service history to match. If you're after a cheap track toy, then something in the £2,000 - £3,000 bracket would be more than adequate. Bear in mind when the cambelt and dephaser change was last done, as this will likely be your biggest expense during ownership.
If you're looking for a car that you can use every day and enjoy on track, we would recommend buying a Clio 182 with the Cup pack. These retain creature comforts such as climate control and cruise control. If you can live without these, a 172 Cup will be the most entertaining to drive without paying the premium for a 182 Trophy.
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