Second-gen RS offers great entry point into Renault Sport range. Quick and cost effective, good cars still boast great blend of pace and daily driveability
How much to pay
• Project £1000-1500 • £2000-3000 • Concours £3500-4500 •
Most expensive at auction: £11,000 (low-mileage 182 Trophy)
Running costs ★★★
DIY friendly ★★
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The turn of the century arrived without much for hot hatch fans to get excited about. The once class-leading Peugeot 306 GTi was getting on in years, while the Golf 4 GTI was not one of VW’s finest moments.
Come mid-year the Clio 172 Renault Sport stormed in and, just like its 1993 Clio Williams forebear, jumped straight to the top of the pack. Its keen pricing and great dynamics gave the competition a very hard time, and regular tweaking by Renault Sport only improved as the years went by.
The hardcore 172 and 182 Cup variants proved particularly popular; trading some equipment for a sharper driving experience, they also undercut the standard models in pricing. The ultimate Clio was the 182 Trophy – and with only 500 sold in the UK, it’s also the rarest of the lot.
Early 1980s classics such as the Mk1 Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTi have already moved into modern classic status, with prices to match. The sublime Clio Williams is on this upward trajectory, too, but the second-gen Clio RS is currently occupying that no-man’s land between cheap old hatchback and the classic car stardom for which it is undoubtedly destined. If ever there was a time to take advantage of this fact, it is now.
Your AutoClassics inspection checklist
Both the 172 and 182 came fitted with the same F4R 2.0-litre inline-four motor, with minor changes carried out over the years. Equipped with variable valve timing and a 16-valve head, they are tough old units that are both frugal and use very little oil if well cared for. Renault recommends 12,000-mile service intervals, although it is advisable to change the oil every 6000 miles, especially if driven enthusiastically.
The cambelt needs changing every five years/72,000 miles and is a labour-intensive job, especially on cars equipped with air-con. The various auxiliary belts should also be done every 36,000 miles. Parts in general are quite affordable, so finding a reputable specialist to carry out your servicing can help reduce running costs. Engine mounts can fail – an issue that can be identified from a knocking in the lower two gears.
Driveshafts can fail, which is a pricey repair, so get the car up on a lift and make sure these are in good condition. Original exhausts tend to rot, so don’t be surprised to see an aftermarket system fitted under there, too.
Have a look at the steering rack, too, especially on 172 models. These have a narrow-diameter power-steering pipe and can become noisy.
The JC5 five-speed transmission was used with minor changes across all variants, and Phase II 172s gained a shorter final drive. It stands up to abuse fairly well, although hard driving can drastically reduce the lifespan of the clutch. If you see bills for frequent replacements (30,000 miles or less), the car may have led a hard life.
Suspension and brakes
The basic suspension set-up is not as exotic as in some rivals. MacPherson struts up front with a torsion-beam rear are pretty standard stuff, but it has all been set up to offer a very sharp driving experience. This attention to detail means there are small differences in castor angles, and spring and shock rates, across the various models.
In addition, Cup and Trophy variants have slightly differing shock mount sizes compared with standard RS models. Trophy versions had Sachs shocks, which are pricier than the standard items. Many cars have aftermarket suspension kits fitted, so be sure to check that you are happy with the way your potential purchase drives if this is the case.
Brakes are ventilated discs in front and solid discs in the rear, and all models excluding the 172 Cup variants also came fitted with ABS. Braking performance is good in normal use, but some owners fit uprated front pads and discs to reduce fade on track days. Rear wheel bearings tend to need replacing every 40,000 miles, so listen out for any tell-tale grumbling sounds.
Tyres should be in good condition, as worn or mismatched sets can severely impact on how the car feels. Most owners recommend sticking with a modern version of the now-discontinued original-fitment Michelin Pilot SXs.
A recall was carried out on late-2002 cars for suspension arms that could break if subjected to an impact.
Rust should be a non-issue on most cars, although small patches of corrosion are not unheard of. Look out for crash damage; missing trim and overspray around the front arches are tell-tale signs of a poorly repaired car.
Bonnets are made of aluminium, while the front arches are plastic. The rest of the panels are made of steel, and most parts can still be sourced at affordable prices. Headlight washer jets on non-Cup variants can fail with monotonous regularity.
While an official recall was never carried out, there have been many recorded incidents of Clio II bonnets flying open due to the catch not being cleaned and lubricated during servicing.
The interior suffers from the usual creaks and poor build quality that featured on many contemporary hot hatches. The steering wheel, in particular, tends to disintegrate over time. Front-seat bolsters wear out, too, as do the gearknobs.
Equipment levels differed slightly across variants, with Cup models making do without a radio, air-con (on 172s) and side airbags. The seating position is a bit offset and headroom may be an issue for tall drivers. A blocked air-con system, rather than any structural issues, can cause water in the footwells.
Check that the electrics are all working correctly. Issues with the airbag-warning lights can usually be traced to a loose wire under the front seats. Warning lights on the SERV unit generally indicate issues with the engine.
- 2000: Clio 172 RS launched featuring 170bhp 2.0-litre engine and five-speed manual gearbox. 1357 Phase 1 and 3059 Phase 2 examples sold in UK.
- 2001: Phase 2 Clio introduced, and RS variants gained a six-disc CD changer, climate control (instead of manual air-con) and xenon headlights.
- 2002: Lighter, stripped-out Clio Cup shorn of audio system and air-con. Side airbags introduced. 2392 sold in UK. ESP introduced on standard 172 RS.
- 2004: Facelift introduced, and Clio 182 RS replaces 172 RS. Power up slightly and equipment now includes cruise control and optional Recaro sport seats. 5222 sold in UK.
- 2004: 182 Cup now comes with air-conditioning. 539 found homes in the UK. Cup chassis becomes an option for standard RS.
- 2005: Run-out 182 Trophy with uprated suspension introduced; just 500 were made available to the UK. 396 still exist today.
Cheap to buy but not necessarily to maintain, the second-gen Clio RS should be approached armed with the knowledge of how to spot an unloved one. Don’t be put off by a slightly tatty-looking interior; poor build quality was standard fitment.
Of more concern should be the condition of the engine and suspension components, as issues here can be relatively easily rectified but labour charges can soon add up. Any variant is good fun, but the Cup versions are that bit sharper and their scarcity tends to push up values a bit. The rare Trophy models are even more sought-after and command the highest prices, but a decent 182 can be had at a fraction of the cost and will still deliver 90 percent of the experience.
Despite over 13,000 of all variants having been sold in the UK, attrition rates have been high and not many tend to come up for sale as a result. Bide your time, though, pick one with a verifiable service history and you will find that this generation of Renault Sport Clio is one of the very best.
Picture courtesy of Renault Media
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2.0-litre 16-valve inline-four