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

  • cadoganpier 14 Dec 2012

    Cracking little thing

  • MagicalTrevor 14 Dec 2012

    Not sure I'd be brave enough to buy a sub-£1k one. With less than 100k miles and IF it's in good nick then that's a very, very good price for that.

    That's an awful lot of fun for the money

    Editted to add, no mention of whether the belts have been done (at all!), they should have been done twice so far.

  • richb77 14 Dec 2012


    I'm not a huge fan of this shape clio.

    But I have never got on with small Renaults (being 6ft 5in) and their god awful offset pedals.

    That being said, 172bhp at under £1k cant be bad. Even if the belts need doing its still a cheap blast.

    I cant imagine what possessed the original owner to spec that interior though...YUCK.

  • MagicalTrevor 14 Dec 2012

    Standard interior, there were no colour options. It's not too bad in the flesh

  • Mr MXT 14 Dec 2012

    A steering wheel cover on a <100k mile car? Do they wear that badly?

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