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Why the Renault Clio 172 is one of the most significant cars of the last 25 years

To mark our 25th anniversary we name the 25 most significant driver's cars launched in the last 25 years. Richard Meaden presents the case for the Renault Sport Clio 172

Renault Clio 172 – front

The 182 Trophy tends to hog the limelight, but for me the Clio 172 holds particular significance, for it marked the beginning of a remarkable run of truly great hot hatchbacks from the French maker – as good in their own way as Porsche’s extraordinary dynasty of GT3 911s. When it came to exceptional front-wheel-drive performance cars, Renault Sport ruled the roost.

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Launched in 1998, the Clio Renault Sport 172 was the first properly hot Clio since the Williams. Those early Phase 1 cars looked a bit gawky compared with the gorgeous blue-and-gold icon, but don’t let the mild RS styling tweaks and tiddly 15-inch wheels fool you. The 172 is a feisty performer. 

> The new Renault 5 could be the fun EV hatch we’ve been waiting for

Its blend of gutsy, naturally aspirated engine and snappy manual transmission was a well-established hot hatch staple, but few have done it better. Mated to a tenaciously grippy-yet-playful chassis, the RS 172 was and remains a brilliantly energetic car with a truly infectious character. 

Looking back, its genius was in modestly but masterfully moving the game on without trying to reinvent it. In so doing it immediately reminded everyone of Renault’s hot hatch credentials and formed the foundation upon which Renault Sport went on to build some of the greatest front-wheel-drive cars of all time.

This story was first featured in the 25th anniversary edition of evo. Richard also voted for the Pagani Zonda, Porsche 911 GT3 (996.1), Subaru Impreza P1/RB5 and TVR Tuscan to round out his five most significant cars of the last 25 years.

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