That there are cheap Renaultsport Clios in the world should be news to precisely no one. Indeed, ropey 172s and 182s have been in Shed territory for so long that the good ones are now approaching classic status - see this 172 Exclusive, priced at £8,990.
What the cheap Clio discussion hasn't yet switched to is the latter 197. Because, well, they're newer, obviously, and therefore have taken longer to fall into the bargain bracket. It wouldn't be a surprise to find fewer of them sold, either, though that's only a hunch.
Moreover, it would probably be fair to say that the 197 doesn't enjoy quite the exalted status of its forebears, and so perhaps attention is diverted away from it as a result. "Why wouldn't you just get a 182?" is surely being asked of laptop screens right this minute. At launch the 197 was criticised by Renault fans for being a bit soft and heavy after the old cars, while even the PH test preferred a Mini Cooper S for its more accessible performance.
However, there's a lot more going for the 197 as it approaches its teenage years. Let's just say, for example, as a track project, which could well be considered as the car gets cheaper. A car that thrives on revs isn't going to be a problem if it's exclusively for circuit, while the host of upgrades now available for the Mk3 Clio could give it the dynamic tenacity many felt was missing at launch. Should the worst happen, too, surely we'd all rather have a crash in a newer Clio than an older one.
This 197 looks like the perfect candidate for an updated cheap Clio track car. One of the later pre-200 cars (with the gear ratios from the Cup), its 133,000 miles mean it's available for just £2,000. Again, if it's only going to be used on high days and holidays, mileage becomes less of an issue; add to that the fact that this car had the crucial cambelt and water pump change in 2017 and you can see what an excellent base it could be.
Even for road use this 197 looks well set, with recent, discs, dampers and tyres. The MOT runs until October and the seller is only getting rid because of "purchase of an unreliable but fast Italian." Which has to be a good sign, doesn't it?
Despite all this, it may well be the 197's stablemates that conspire against its desirability. Because those 172s and 182s are still available for less than £2k, and the improvements ushered in with the 200 facelift may convince many to wait for those to bottom out.
Let's not be too harsh on it though, at the end of the day this remains a presentable example of a great 2000s hot hatch - with a lot of modifying potential - for the price of a fancy holiday. You're not going to get a contemporary Mini for this money and you're not going to want a Fiesta ST instead, so why not plump for a 197? It would be boring if everybody had the same hot hatch, after all...
SPECIFICATION - RENAULTSPORT CLIO 197
Engine: 1,998cc, 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 197@7,100rpm
Torque (lb ft): 157@5,550rpm
MPG: 33 (NEDC combined)
Recorded mileage: 133,000
Year registered: 2008
Price new: £15,995
Price now: £2,000
See the original advert here.