With the Clio now back on the road bearing a fresh MOT for the spring, attention turned to sorting out its sagging front anti-roll bar bushes. The original rubber bits had done their job perfectly well for the best part of 15 years, but a loss of front-end tightness late last year confirmed what was evident from inspection: they were done. In keeping with the philosophy of upgrading rather than replacing, I ordered a set of higher spec Polybush polyurethane bushes, with promise on the forums for a noticeable improvement in the responsiveness of the car’s front-end.
Some might find it hard to believe any measurable impact would be possible given the size and simplicity of the parts. ARB bushes are essentially just the material that wraps around the bar at its mounting points, and these Polybush upgrades are obviously identical in size and shape to the standard rubber ones. Each fits in the palm of your hand. The positive effect on handling is due to their extra stiffness; they feel almost solid to touch where the standard rubber parts are obviously squidgier. Or, in the case of this Clio, actually beginning to break up, thanks to the stress of 129,000 miles of enthusiastic driving.
While seeing the state of the original bits added to my optimism for what the Polybush replacements could bring once on, getting them to fit was not to be an easy process. Far from it. Thanks to the additional firmness of the inner pair in particular, it was impossible to get the clamp around the semi-circular outer edge so that it could be bolted in place. Perhaps with a proper ramp to clear more space under the car (we had it jacked up on the ground) a larger tool could be used to press the clamp around the bush, but with only human muscle, another solution had to be thought up. Predictably, the scenario turned out to be a common one, and a handy fix had already been thought up by another Clio owner.
Using the advice posted on the Cliosport forum, it would take some gentle sanding away on a machine to make the inner bushes accept their clamps. You might think that taking away a few millimetres of material would reduce the bush’s effects on anti-roll bar rigidity, but as discovered by the OP on the thread, without this modification, the design actually appears to crush the bush too much – as if the polyurethane part ought to be made slightly smaller to account for its properties. It’s not like we took off so much material that the clamp went on with ease, though; rest assured it still required serious muscle and lots of swearing. But once both inner mounts were on, the outer ones were a comparable doddle and the car was back down on all fours relatively swiftly.
Once fitted the difference was clear right away. From the first turn of the wheel the steering felt cleaner, and some just-audible clicks that had previously been concerning me during very low speed manoeuvring had all gone. Perhaps it’s a placebo effect based on those immediate differences, but on the open road, the nose of the car felt like it had picked itself up. It wasn’t night and day – and my old man, the poor (Lotus Elan-owning) sod responsible for most of the aforementioned elbow grease certainly couldn’t tell anything from the passenger seat – but in that frustratingly difficult-to-articulate way, it just felt better.
That’s not to say it’s an enormous improvement over what I remember the OEM bushes to be like before they began breaking up. But for someone who swears to god they can feel the benefit when pressures have been set perfectly and fuel is RON 98 rather than 97 (don't laugh), it is a massively worthwhile improvement. One so good that it’s totally quashed my longstanding desire to fit a quick ratio steering rack (OK, almost quashed). It’s those initial few degrees of steering input that benefit most, presumably because even worn-out OEM bushes do a decent job when they’re compressed under load. But in those first few tenths before the lateral loads are pressed through the bar, the sagginess of the perished bits removed some immediacy from the process. Now, it’s back and more instantaneous than ever. Which, in the case of a model that’s famed for lifting an inside rear on request as standard, translates into overall better agility and even more laughs.
The car actually still needs to be tracked properly as it’s definitely pulling slightly to the left, so there’s potentially even more fun to come when everything’s aligned. But thanks to the UK lockdown that immediately followed the new bushes going on, use of the 182 has paused once again. It’s a crying shame, but having come to terms with the importance of not driving unnecessarily during this unprecedented time, I’m just happy to know the car sat outside under its cover (so it remains pleasingly spotless) is fit and ready to be let loose again.
The next job on the list is the fitment of a strut brace to further enhance that front end. But after some consideration I’ve actually decided to jump a few rungs down the priority order and buy a quick release boss for the wheel. Partly because I want the wheel a little bit closer, but also because of the added security it provides during this time of stasis outside. Thanks to the UK’s excellent delivery service during the pandemic, the part is actually due to arrive in the post this week. So in this case at least, no driving doesn’t have to mean no progress.
Car: 2004 Renault Clio Renaultsport 182
Run by: Sam Sheehan
Bought: May 2011
Mileage at purchase: 74,457
Mileage now: 128,610
Last month at a glance: New bushes help the Clio get back to its best