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Carry on Clio at a real rate of stylish knots.

Byline: By Chris Russon

Aerodynamics have become a speciality of Renault - especially when it comes to motor sport.

The company which specialises in small hatchbacks is now outshining Ferrari in the world of Formula One.

Now the technology which makes Renault's racing cars so successful is being given wider use.

Enter the Clio Renaultsport 197 - a car destined to be the hottest hatch of the summer.

Packing an engine which develops the magical 100bhp per litre - no mean feat without the benefit of turbo charging - this beefed-up Clio has instant impact.

With true hot hatch credentials it will sprint from standstill to 60mph in less than 6.9 seconds and has a claimed top speed of 134mph.

It also pumps out a rewarding roar from the exhausts under acceleration.

But this is no stripped out version of the latest Clio. The 197 - the name comes from the bhp figure - is trimmed in style.

Sports seats, leather-clad steering wheel with a stitched red centre band, drilled metal pedals and a carbon effect dashboard deck out the interior while the cockpit is also air conditioned.

At pounds 15,995 the 197 is some pounds 1,000 more expensive than its immediate predecessor but Renault is swift to point out it is the fastest accelerating car for the price.

It outstrips rivals such as the Ford Fiesta ST and MINI Cooper S and the aerodynamic package - a spin off from the work carried out by the engineers at Renault's Formula One HQ based in Britain in Oxfordshire - gives it a mean stance.

With the exception of the doors, the body is completely different to that of a standard Clio. It's more than three inches wider at the front where the bumper has been restyled to act as a spoiler.

Flared wheel arches lead to vents behind the front wheels which not only allow air to pass through the engine compartment to provide cooling but channel the airflow along the contours of the body.

Underneath the car is Renault's engineering masterpiece - an air diffuser just like on World F1 Champion Fernando Alonso's Grand Prix car.

It creates an area of low pressure beneath the vehicle sucking it to the ground at speed. There is no need for a rear spoiler on the Clio Renaultsport since the aerodynamics deliver the equivalent of 40 kilos of downforce -about the same as having two bags of sand in the boot.

Compared to earlier hot Clios, the 197 is much more pleasant on the road. Torque steer, which plagued previous models, has been almost eliminated and there is more travel in the suspension to give a better ride.

Stopping power comes from high performance brakes developed for the bigger Megane Renaultsport and the Clio's steering has been specially tuned to give the driver plenty of feel.

The Clio 197 is the first road car to make use of such an air diffuser and it gives the rear end a very special appearance. On paper this is a potent machine and it's styled to thrill - but on the road the Clio 197 is not as rewarding as Renault would have you believe.

Max power arrives at 7,000 revs - just 500 short of the red line - which means there is no instant hit under heavy acceleration.

It picks up in a fraction of a second and then flies but you have to work the engine to get the best. That suggests Renault's claimed average of 31.7mpg will be optimistic for many a driver.

Compared to the hot versions of the Fiesta and MINI, the Clio is not as rewarding to drive and the suspension is a bit too supple for my liking.

And I must question the real benefit of the aerodynamics.

The Clio 197 sits quite high and surely the downforce will arrive in sufficient quantity only at very high speeds - not possible on the road.

I put the Clio 197 through its paces on the road and on the track - and under heavy, straight line breaking from very quick speeds there was an awful lot of twitching and buffeting.

Nevertheless, in looks alone this Clio will be a winner when it goes on sale in July.

It has all the right ingredients to make it another successful member of the Clio hot hatch club which now goes back 16 years to the likes of the Clio S and Clio Williams of the early 90s.

This one is the best of the bunch and will appeal to a growing number of drivers who want look good and feel good in a performance car -whether or not the purists agree is a different question.

CAPTION(S):

The Clio Renaultsport 197: It will sprint from standstill to 60mph in less than 6.9 seconds and has a claimed top speed of 134mph
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jun 9, 2006
Words:803
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