Born to run

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132

If the Williams-badged version of the 16-valve Renault Clio was not such an enjoyable drive, we could simply dismiss the whole thing as a cynical marketing ploy. The only common strand between the 750-plus bhp Renault RS5 racing V10 and this 150 bhp front-drive hatchback is the understandable desire to build a showroom future for the Renault and Williams alliance.

However, the Clio Williams was built with competition in mind, overseen by Patrick Landon’s Renault Sport department which brought us the extraordinary mid-engined Renault 5 Turbo. It has already built the foundation for a sporting pedigree with eighth and ninth places, plus a category win, on the recent Tour of Corsica. This two-litre Clio is also a fearsome contender in French Championship events, despite the lack of the 4×4 turbo format that outright winners depend upon today.

In Corsican competition trim the Clio Williams weighed 930 kg and had 220 bhp by 8500 rpm, according to Landon. The derivative we drove in Corsica a few days after that championship event offered customers 150 bhp at 6100 rpm in a kerb weight of approximately 990 kg. That drops the power to weight ratio, but the claimed performance figures are still close to the hot hatch benchmark: Renault claims 0-62mph in a believable 7.8 sec, and a maximum of 134 mph.

The maximum torque of 129 lb ft at 4500 rpm is not remarkable for a two-litre, dohc, 16-valve unit, but it is the amiable spread of power and outstanding handling that makes it so memorable. The power steering may wheeze a bit, as may the driver, confronted with myriad Corsican corners and complete co-operation from the car.

You have world-class ride and handling balance at your command. The sheer grip is immense, yet the on-the-limit safety is preserved, with none of the vicious oversteer traits that can haunt ambitious drivers if they should suddenly release the throttle mid-corner in certain other performance hatchbacks.

What has. been done to make the competent Clio 16v so outstanding?

Renault Sport manager Patrick Landon reported that the biggest changes were to provide replacement lower front wishbones, larger capacity shock absorbers and thicker torsion bars. The most reassuring aspect, the completely fuss-free way in which it applies its considerable clout to the tarmac, whether that road surface is corrugated by bumps, bespattered with gravel, or clinging to an uphill hairpin, is also due to fundamental engineering principles.

Renault extended driveshaft lengths some 1.3 in and had Michelin precisely match its 185/55R Pilot HX rubber to 7Jx16 Speedline alloy wheels. This meant not just the characteristics of the rubber compound, but also the shape of the cover itself, avoiding the overhanging ledges that you often see with oversize tyres hitched to the nearest proprietary rim. The effect on steering precision is immediate, and worthwhile.

Cosmetic changes which identify the fastest production Clio include any colour you like, so long as it’s French metallic blue, gold finish to the wheels and assorted Williams/2.0 badges. Corporate colours are also applied to the production plaque within.

Originally the Clio Williams started off as a simple 300-off homologation run for Groups A and N, but Landon imparted that Renault was already planning production of more than 3500 examples alongside regular Clio and Twingo output at the Flins factory, a commuter trip and a half from Paris. Engine noise levels varied from car to car, though there was an explanation: some wore damaged exhaust systems as a result of the distinctly rugged press launch. I’ll reserve judgment, but try before you buy as the reverberations come at exactly the 3-4000 rpm levels you need on British motorways.

If engine noise does prove obtrusive, it would not be a huge surprise, for the larger torque capacity gearbox has close ratios to keep the longer stroke (93, rather than 83.5 mm) F2R development of the Clio 16v motor busy.

Other motor changes include slightly increased bore and resin coating of the alloy cylinder head, a technique, developed in F1, that is designed to ensure optimum sealing. Some of the 13 bhp bonus and accessible torque (85bper cent of the maximum is available from 2500 rpm) is credited to reprofiled camshafts that feature a modest lift increase. In traditional tuning fashion, inlet valve diameter has also increased quite sharply, and the wet sump has revised baffles to defeat oil surge. It is all commanded by a new Renix 3A ignition system and tri-electrode spark plugs with a reported 12,500-mile life expectancy.

Interior specification is restrained, an attractive blend of cinder grey and blue taking one’s mind off some of the cheaper plastic fittings and the mundane, though effective, three-spoke wheel. The superbly retentive seats are a boon, too, though none of the lhd demonstrators was equipped with footrests.

At the time of writing, no firm price has been quoted for the 300 rhd examples that will reach the UK in time for August registration. The target was to compensate for the loss of certain standard I6v features (ABS is only an option on the Williams, for instance) by pricing it only a little higher than the standard model.

My guess is that it will be around £12,700… and there is no more enjoyable way to spend that much money. J W