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Renault Sport Clio 182 Trophy (2005): review, history, prices and specs

The ultimate Renault 182 came close to hot hatch perfection, making it one of our top 25 cars of the last 25 years

There’s a formula for a good hot hatchback. It starts with the engine, which should give the sense that it’s slightly too big for the car. All the best fast French hatchbacks feel like this. Some fast Fords too. Fast Volkswagens rarely have this sensation but make up for it in other ways. Being able to reach their third birthdays without zizzing like a trapped wasp, for example. 

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Then there’s the chassis. Great hot hatchbacks are front-wheel drive, of course. Except the Sunbeam Lotus. So what you need is a front end that’s absolutely nailed down, ready to dive into corners and claw out the other side with barely a hint of slip while the back end feels like it’s on the same team, moving around and giving the car a sense of hip-wiggling mischief. A ride that’s on the comfortable side of firm is nice too, and then you wrap the whole lot in a car that slips neatly into your everyday life.

> Renault Sport Mégane RS Trophy‑R – the car world's greatest misses

The formula is simple, but not foolproof. For every FK8 Civic Type R there’s a Toyota Corolla T Sport. For every 205 GTI there’s a 206 GTi. Fortunately, plenty of hot hatches have got it right. The original Clio 172, for example, was a fine interpretation of the formula, what with that thick-wristed 2-litre engine threatening to punch a fist through one of the plastic front wings, and a grippy but playful chassis that made you want to shout ‘WEEEEEEEE!’ with every trip down a B-road. 

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But Renault Sport isn’t an operation to rest on its laurels and so it kept fiddling with the Clio to extract every last drop of fun. Shorter gear ratios to make it feel faster, the Cup chassis to make it feel sharper, and then, eventually, this. The already brilliant Clio 182 given a final, wonderful drizzle of truffle oil. 

The key to the Trophy’s very special set of talents is a set of Sachs remote-reservoir dampers, claimed by Renault to be ten times more expensive than regular dampers, along with 10mm shorter springs at the front, and hydraulic bump-stops. Chuck in a new set of Recaros that drop the driving position by 10mm and you’ve got the zenith of the Clio Renault Sport. You’ve got a hot hatch that pulls hard, that bangs through the gears with that typically Renault-ish rubbery-slick shift, that has a front end that seems suckered to the ground and a back end that dances so that the whole car flows down a road with a sophistication and a subtle depth of behaviour that allows this little red Renault to thrill like few others.

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Of course it’s not perfect; the driving position can seem a little wonky and some of the trim feels installed on a temporary basis. Plus they only made 500 (and another 50 LHD cars for Switzerland, the only place outside the UK to get the Trophy) so there isn’t a lot of choice if you want one today. Some might also prefer one of the Renault Sport’s other fine creations, the sensational Mégane R26.R for example, but what the Clio has on its side is size, or lack of it, which makes it unstressful to thread down narrower roads and gives it the cheeky, chirpy feeling you want from a hot hatch. In fact, it’s got every element of the formula, buffed to a brilliant shine. That’s why, for many, it’s the greatest hot hatchback ever made. 

What we said

In evo issue 083, we got behind the wheel of the 182 Trophy for the very first time, pairing it with the BMW M6 in a rather unlikely twin test: 'We suspected that the new Clio Trophy would be a bit special when we were tipped off in the autumn of 2004 that RenaultSport was working with Sachs on some bespoke dampers to further hone the already mighty 182 Cup. For our money the Cup is already the pick of the hatches; manic, positively bursting with enthusiasm, but with enough control to keep you out of the hedge should you run out of commitment mid-corner. The Trophy, with its incredibly expensive and sophisticated new dampers (they cost ten times as much as the 182’s off-the-shelf items yet the car costs a still- modest £15,500) and even tighter focus on hard-edged dynamics, suggested it ought to be the definitive hot hatch. Pitting it against the Mini or Civic Type-R seemed almost unworthy.

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So what’s the Clio Trophy got in its armoury? Well, agility by the bucket-load for starters. It weighs 1075kg to the M6’s 1710kg and its compact size allows it to carve a cleaner line through a sequence of corners than the fat-bottomed Beemer. The 1998cc in-line ‘four’ is unremarkable when compared with the all-singing 90deg 4999cc V10 lurking under the M6’s bonnet, but it’s an aggressive little unit, bursting with a roughneck charm and getting freer and faster with every committed thrash. But with a power-to-weight ratio of 171bhp per ton to the M6’s 297bhp, the odds still look heavily stacked against the Trophy.

It’s got a couple of other weapons that might just trouble the BMW, though. For one, the Clio’s brakes are fantastic. The discs aren’t headline-grabbingly huge (280mm front, 238mm rear), but without the burden of massive weight they do an incredible job. Fade is never an issue on the road and even pounding a circuit barely troubles them. The M6’s monster discs (348mm front, 345mm rear) may look impressive, but on the launch we found them to be woefully short of endurance and a real hindrance to the M6’s ground-covering ability.

Look behind the Clio’s new lightweight Speedline wheels and the tyres and you’ll see the real reason why this Renault is able to take the fight to the BMW. Those trick new remote-reservoir Sachs Race Engineering dampers look like they’ve been lifted straight from a Touring Car; their remote chamber allows the damper rod to be both thicker and stiffer for added control. Hydraulic bump-stops allow for more consistent damping in the most extreme circumstances, too. The Trophy is as uncompromising as a hatch has ever been. With a devastating combination of low mass, exceptional body and wheel control and eye-popping brakes, it has everything it needs to punch above its weight.

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I’ll be honest, after the M6 the Trophy feels SLOW, especially when you’re dragging it uphill rather than running with gravity. But after a few corners I’m not sure if this is the ‘M6 effect’ (I have a feeling most things will feel slow if you live with an M6 for a while) or whether the Clio’s chassis has finally evolved beyond its engine. The speed it can carry into a bend is faintly unsettling, and your brain expects the g-force onslaught to continue when the road straightens out. It doesn’t, but the Clio is still a damn quick hatch.

It seems to have zero inertia, darting into a turn instantly, front tyres gripping tenaciously, outside rear digging in to control the back end and inside rear waggling in fresh air. When you’re pushing really hard, the whole car hops, the front wheels slipping momentarily then locking into the surface, the rear bouncing through the corner as the weight transfer shifts. It’s just like a front-drive race car.

It doesn’t take long to learn to trust the Trophy, either. If you need more lock when fully committed it’s no problem, just turn and the nose takes another big bite at the asphalt. Even better, the Trophy doesn’t hang you out to dry if you bail out of the throttle mid-corner. Of course, there is a degree of throttle adjustability, but despite the Clio’s incredibly intimate and immediate responses the chassis isn’t poised on a knife-edge. I’m sure it will bite in the wet or if you’re truly taking liberties, but after just a few miles I was happy to turn off the ESP and drive without a safety net. It’s not an overly intrusive system though, and when you’re pressing on in less than ideal conditions it will trim your excesses without killing the fun.' evo 086

'The Trophy carries its speed with ease, keying into the surface like there’s something considerably stickier underfoot than just crumbling asphalt and a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 3s. There’s just enough pliancy through springs and seating that it’s rarely uncomfortable, and there’s little the dampers seem to struggle with. Get on the power as early as you like – the front tyres seem to cope whatever you do, and if there’s such a thing as doing so too early, the tiniest lift of the throttle will instantly hook you back into the apex.' – Antony Ingram

Renault Sport Clio 182 Trophy specs

Engine2-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder
Power180bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque148lb ft @ 5250rpm
Weight1090kg
Power-to-weight165bhp/ton
0-62mph6.5sec
Top speed138mph
Price new£15,500
Value todayFrom £14,000

What to pay

(March 2024)

Excellent£23,000
Good£19,000
Average£14,000
Projectc£10,000
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