Automotive history

Ad Break: The Renault Sport Clio 172 Subtracted Weight and Added Fun

by Antony Ingram
11 March 2024 3 min read
Ad Break: The Renault Sport Clio 172 Subtracted Weight and Added Fun

No nation understands hot hatchbacks like France does. There have been great hot hatches from other countries of course; Germany and Italy have their fair share, Japan and more recently Korea have had some absolute crackers, and then there’s Ford, which despite some patchy form over the years has redeemed itself from the 1990s onwards.

But for sheer talent, brio, and consistency – the nation has given us truly great hot hatchbacks in every decade since the concept began (with one caveat, which we’ll get to at the end) – France has it sewn up.

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If you had to pick one brand, from some very strong contenders indeed, that has probably hit the mark more than most, it’s Renault. Peugeot owners will probably be aghast at this statement, but since your author is the owner of a 106 Rallye and has driven a 205 GTI 1.9 – ticking off probably two of Peugeot’s best – I feel qualified to say it with confidence.

I’ve also driven all but a handful of the enormous list of hot Renaults, and the back-catalogue makes for truly remarkable reading. R5 Gordini, 11 Turbo, 5 GT Turbo, Clio Williams, 182 Trophy, 200 Cup, 220 Trophy, Twingo 133, Megane R26.R, both generations of Trophy R, and several other RS Meganes. That’s to say nothing of the mad mid-engined ones, which probably don’t count as true hot hatches but deserve recognition anyway, and all the ones I’ve not yet tried – Clio 16v, R19 16v, and, of course, the original Renault Sport Clio 172.

The 172 launched at the tail end of the 1990s and had the difficult job of filling the shoes of the Clio 16v and Clio Williams. Not everyone was convinced it could do it, but it had pugnacious styling, a real wallop of power for such a compact car (172PS, or 170bhp), and the agility that only light weight and a keen eye for chassis tuning can bring.

It only lasted a few years, though, before the Clio range was facelifted, and with it the 172. It, too, was admired but didn’t necessarily attract universal appeal – particularly as some deemed it softer than the 1999 car – but that all changed with 2002’s 172 Cup, and after this long-winded introduction, the car in today’s advertisement.

Renault Sport Clio 172 ad

The ad almost does it a disservice, as this was definitely not a car all about the numbers. But the reduction of some numbers helped, specifically the 89kg it lost through the fitment of basic fabric seats front and rear, ditching xenon headlights for halogen ones, binning some sound deadening, ditching air conditioning, and chucking out the ABS module. The last one was brave in the increasingly safety-conscious 2000s, but it was all in the aim of homologating the car for Group N, and it made the Clio 172 Cup a kind of Rallye for the 2000s.

It was visually distinguished from the standard car by a set of smart Speedline Turini alloy wheels and a rather lovely coat of Mondial Blue metallic paint. Neither of which you can really see in the ad. You can’t see the firmer springs and dampers, either, which made the Cup sharper than the regular 172, not just lighter.

Renault used the Cup badge again on the later, slightly more powerful 182, but that was more a chassis package than a stripped-out road racer like the 172 Cup, and it took the 182 Trophy with its fancy dampers to cement the second-gen Clio’s legend.

Today, however, Trophy models cost a fortune whereas a good Cup is still incredibly affordable, and if you’re lucky you’ll find one that hasn’t even had its naff cloth seats replaced by buckets or Recaros from a fancier model. Just like Peugeot’s Rallye models, it’s a car best appreciated for what Renault took out, rather than what someone else has put back in. And it’s another page in the very long book of great French hot hatches.

Oh, and that caveat mentioned at the top? Well, the current decade is currently looking pretty barren for hot hatches from French marques, but with an Alpine version of the new all-electric Renault 5 on the way, we’d not bet against Dieppe doing the business once again.

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