MODERN CLASSIC: 2000 Renault Clio RS 172

Renault Clio

Largely forgotten these days, except by true Renault afficionados, is the fire-spitting little Clio RS 172 from the dawn of the new millennium. We track down (and drive) one of the few examples in South Africa.  

Words and photos: Wilhelm Lutjeharms

The modern-day hot hatch has been completely transformed compared with the original recipe... Owing to years of rapid development and stiff competition, these cars can now only be referred to as "super" hatches.

Take, as an example, cars such as the Mercedes-AMG A45 4Matic and the Audi RS3. On the right road these cars will provide a stiff challenge for even a supercar owner - one who doesn’t know how to extract the most from his/her machine.

Renault Clio

As most will know, the hot hatch story really started with the Volkswagen Golf 1 GTi. But the French quickly followed, particularly manufactures like Peugeot and Renault. On Renault’s side the first hot Clio came in the shape of the Clio Williams (never sold in SA), followed by what was technically the first RS (RenaultSport) model, called the RS 172. That number refers to the horsepower figure of the four-cylinder, 2.0-litre engine under the bonnet.

Not many came to South Africa, and having checked the classifieds myself, and having spoken to an enthusiast who has spent considerable time searching for a running example that has been correctly maintained, I can confirm that there are only a few left.

This model

Renault Clio RS

I was close to giving up hope of finding one to drive, but then I came across this Sunflower Yellow example in Cape Town. Right from the start, you need to understand that this particular example is not perfect, but then again that depends on what your expectations are.

It does, however, have 241 000 km on the odo and needs some work, both on the engine (apparently the hydraulic lifters need attention) and it can do with painting of the bonnet and some other cosmetic work, too. But the fact that it has the original interior and steering wheel, the correct wheels and is running, makes it without a doubt one of the better examples locally.

Renault Clio RS

I can’t remember the last time I saw an example in the metal, but it has been, at the very least, a good few years. The first thing that strikes me is how small it is, particularly compared with modern hatchbacks, and the fact that there are so many visual changes that set it apart from standard two-door Clios of the day – not to mention the mechanical upgrades.

However, RS enthusiasts will know straight away how special this car is. For starters, it tips the scales at just over 1 000 kg. Then there is the 127 kW and 200 Nm of torque from the engine, which pulls the car through the front wheels via a 5-speed gearbox. Remember the days when five gears and a clutch pedal were enough!?

Behind the wheel

Renault Clio RS

I slide in behind the steering wheel and, perhaps to my surprise, find the plastics to be in relatively good condition considering the mileage and age of the car. The seats are still original with the three lines on the backrest and it seems not even the steering wheel has been recovered.

I twist the key and there is a throaty sound from the engine and exhaust. It is immediately noticeable how direct the gearshifts are which is of course what you want in a car like this. And it sure is nimble! Through turns and sweeps the lightweight nature of the car allows you to brake later while the engine never has to work hard to pull the car’s weight. 

Renault Clio RS

The engine is already alive at 3 000 rpm, and then it is just as happy to rev through the next 4 000 rpm revs. It is a naughty little car and you can’t help but copy its character and misbehave in it. The car's nose is basically negligible as you sit so close to it, and you can easily place the car on the road and through a corner. The combination of the racy handling and the rorty engine makes it a joy to drive in nearly all conditions.

Many enthusiasts will ignore this hot hatch as a modern classic, but they will do so at their own peril. When this car was released in the UK, it won several comparative road tests and the media adored it (and still does). Even today it is still a track day favourite in the UK where the aftermarket parts and specialists allow owners to develop their Clio RS's into some of the most fun track cars for those on a tight budget.

Renault Clio RS

RenaultSport might have lost the plot a little with the introduction of the 1.6-litre turbopetrol in the later generations of Clio, but the Clio Williams, RS 172, RS 182, RS 197 and RS 200, are some of the most celebrated variants of entry-level fun cars that we’ve experienced in the 21st century. 

A big thank you to the owner for making this drive possible. Contact him on 071 208 5806 if you are interested in purchasing this car. 


Renault Clio RS 172

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol

Power: 127 kW @ 6 250 rpm

Torque: 200 Nm @ 5 400 rpm 

Transmission: 5-speed manual, FWD

Weight: 1 050 kg

0-100 km/h: 7.2 seconds

Top speed: 213 km/h

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