Month one running a Renaultsport Clio: Steve introuces the ultimate mid-life crisis antidote
'I’m sorry about that my dear, but Ben Pulman said I had to have this, so we’ll just have to make do,' I lament to my wife as the Liquid Yellow Clio Renaultsport is rolled onto our drive. With a two-child family and large brown dog to transport, you might think that being sent a £19,995 197bhp small hot hatch to live with for a year might not be the most logical move. But I am 39, about to tick over into old age this year, and am thus experiencing the first icy tentacles of a mid-life crisis.
So what better way to suppress the cold, dark descent into death than to relive my youth, zipping around country lanes as I did in a battered old L-reg Clio RSi 8v (the very poor man’s Clio Williams), with a speedo that didn’t work, a clutch cable that pinged occasionally and constantly failing wheel bearings? An entirely practical decision then.
I’m just hoping this time round this Renault will be a little more reliable and at least as much fun, but while waiting for it to arrive I’ll admit to being a little nervous of the first few minutes with my new Clio. And not just because of the wife’s reaction.
This week I’ve had a Peugeot 208 GTi and been pretty underwhelmed, yet in numerous group tests it has ridden roughshod over the Clio. So I might hate the Renault, and have to spend months and months shackled to this thing, us existing like a couple of escaped convicts in a film, who despise each other but are co-dependent for survival.
Then there’s the other, even more terrifying possibility. I might love it, and at a stroke open myself up to the mockery, disdain and outright loathing of those thousands of foaming, angry people who live in the internet, who have got very foamy and angry about its softer set-up and dual-clutch gearbox.
Because of course (just in case you have spent so much time getting angry over the 911 GT3’s paddle-only predilection and missed it), the Clio Renaultsport is paddle-only too. The truth of the matter is very simple: they want to sell more cars, and believe that customers want to row their hot hatch with paddles, not a stick. The counter is that Renault has made some of the best driver’s cars of the past 20 years and the touchstone has always been the touchpoints: perfectly weighted steering, pedals and gearbox.
But there is plenty else to keep me amused. Our Lux model comes with R-Link as standard, which means I can do all those things thrusting young 20 year-olds do such as Tweet my (admittedly only seven) followers and load apps that will tell me what One Direction are up to. It also has an RS mode hidden down by the handbrake where I can switch to Race or Sport at the twitch of my thumb, while the speakers have a ‘3D sound and bass reflex’ which should really bring The Archers and this season’s Radio 3 Proms concerts to life.
The only other option fitted apart from the £1600 paintwork is an important one: the £650 Cup chassis with 18in Renaultsport alloy wheels, which are cool black gloss with Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres. It means a lower ride height and 15% stiffer springs and dampers. Quite how my back will find this on a long trip to the in-laws is anyone’s guess, but the idea of this test is to see whether Renault really has aced this Clio and made it a more liveable car for the everyday that can still hack it on a track day. My wife can’t wait to find out.
By Steve Moody