This is a little old now but thought some of you might find it intersting to read.

Get a comfy chair to sit in first... its a long read




As some of you will probably know I wrote a very long review of the MK3 Clio a few days after its initial launch, but have been waiting for the launch of the new MK3 197 sport to answer the questions that we have all been asking.

This Saturday just gone I had the chance to drive a demo car at the end of its run-in period, and the experience was shall we say surprising and oh so disappointingÂ…

You see Renault have made some very very nice advancements to the 197 that should have really been incorporated on the 182 before, weÂ’ll get on to that later, but at the same time there does seem to be something missing thatÂ’s been lost in the translationÂ…

Exterior:

Dimensionally this car seems to have a little bit of TARDIS about it. It looks smaller than it actually is, there is tons and tones of room on the inside and at first I couldnÂ’t work out how this all fitted togetherÂ… but then it becomes all too apparent.

According to Renault literature:

Width Length Kerb Weight
182 dimensions: 1639 3811 1035
197 dimensions: 1768 3991 1240-1265
MK3 dimensions: 2025 3986 1.2-1090 1.6-1190

Ok on paper the 197 is marginally bigger than the 182, but is said to be smaller than the standard MK3 clio??? Is that right? Little car + fat body kit = a car smaller than the standard car? Ok either the chap that measured it doesnÂ’t know how to use a tape measure or he was drunk at the time.

Styling:

In the flesh this car does look fantastic from every angle apart from head on and from the back, it looks much better formed and of a more purposeful design than before, the lines do flow very well.

I still think that the boot needs a spoiler to help finish off the roof line as this does look a little odd just trailing off into an abrupt end. And it would look so much nicer with exhausts that are on show.

The front and the back of the car donÂ’t look special or particularly sporty, they seem very plain in comparison to some of the sports being produced by other manufactures, the front especially is missing the aggressive styling that denotes this car being everything but ordinary. And I personally think the font end in terms of air flow is flawed in its design from its lack of huge wind guzzling front air dam for engine cooling.

As far as the body kit goes this car does look very much like a mini V6, for those of you that have had the experience of a V6 then youÂ’ll understand just how fat that was. Well this car isnÂ’t that much smaller. Interior door sills are huge and are a proper bugger to get out over if youÂ’re parked in a tight space.

Having parked the car up in a standard sized parking space with cars either side it became apparent how difficult it maybe to park this thing down TescosÂ… or anywhere really unless you take up two spaces. If you donÂ’t then someone is going to ding your door in a big way.

Being parked central in the bay there was very little room to get the door open enough without resting it against the other car and to actually slide out, a task made harder by the huge bolsters on the sides of the seats and the door sills.

Build Quality:

Looks and feels a lot more sturdy than the 182, door mechanisms feel very German and precise, also has a nice weight to it and a reassuring clunk when closing the doorÂ… no need to slam these, not even the boot which now benefits from the electronic touch pad from the LagunaÂ’s boot mechanism.

IÂ’m not too sure about the fitting together of the front bumper, wings and the side skirts, out of the two cars that I had a play with both had massive unequal gaps under the headlights and round the arches.

Where the front wing meets the edge of the doors the gap runs away at the bottom to the point where it looks as if the bottom of the wing hasnÂ’t been fixed in place properly, this is also apparent from the differing sizes of the groove in the side skirt where it meets the wing. On one side was a huge gap, on the other it was smaller but uneven as if it was pinched in at the top and ran out at the bottom.

The rest of the lines and joins on the body are very tight and look great, nothing feels flimsy or just loosely fitted, even the petrol filler cap and flap feel solid, as does the interior of the car.

Paint Job:

Renault has yet again excelled itself with another naff paint job! The paint on the MK2 sports was smooth and very polished, most of the time, but at a cost of being wafer thin! The paint on both the 197’s looks good from a distance but up close its horrendous! Ok its shiny but every panel that wasn’t plastic suffered from sever “orange peal” paint and you can see this in the pictures. Ok the paint felt much thicker and was flawless in all other areas but the actual look of the paint wasn’t all that clever.

Wheels and Tyres:

The 12 spoke 17’s fitted to the 197 look very nice, also very similar to OZ Super Turismos , not too sure how light these are, I know that the 16” OZ’s are incredibly heavy for their size and add a lot of unnecessary mass to the un-sprung weight of the vehicle.

The wheels are a similar design to those on the concept car, they have the nice grooves but not the red paint in them, so close and yet so far all for a sixpence of paint.

Although the wheels look great you have to bear in mind that they are now 17” instead of the customary 16”. If you thought that tyres were expensive before then this will defiantly put a hole in your pocket when it comes to changing them.

The tyres are Continental Contisportcontact 3 215 / 45 / R17 87W
From the heavy grooving of the tyres and past experience with similar tyre designs the rubber fitted to the 197 is very grippy, I would imagine that their performance in the wet is going to be very similar to the Michelin Pilots fitted to the 182Â’s and their dry performance something quite special.

The rubber compound used is very soft, good for some high manoeuvrability fun, but long distance and track useÂ… I donÂ’t see people getting 16K miles out of these with enthusiastic driving styles.

Interior:

Remember I said this car had something of the TARDIS about it, well on the inside this is very true. In a car that is only marginally longer than the 182 the interior feels much more roomy. And the boot is HUGE!

Rear space is still limited if you have long legs but then if you wanted a passenger car you wouldnÂ’t buy a pocket rocket, youÂ’d buy a bus or and Espace.

The design of the front seats will please a lot of drivers, in the MK2 people complained that the drivers position was too high and had limited adjustment, although I managed to get it very comfortable being 6’2”.

The new Recaro style seats are fantastic, a little hard on the bum but they do go all the way back so you canÂ’t reach the pedals, they go up to the point that you have to duck to sit in the car if your small and conversely they go all the way down to the point where I couldnÂ’t see over the dash board! You can literally sit on the floor in the 197!

The side bolsters on the seats are much much larger than the 182, they actually hold you in place instead of just framing you, never once on my test drive did I find myself thrown about or leaning forward against the seatbelt into corners.

Now personally being wafer thin myself these seats fitted perfectly, but some of you with broader shoulders or a little more girth might find these a little too restrainingÂ…

My only complaints with the seats is that the bolsters are so huge that when it comes time to fold the seat forward to get someone in the back they donÂ’t bend far enough for easy access, and what about the leather option for when you do something stupid and have a brown trouser moment an need to wipe the seats clean???

My only suggestion is rip out the rear seats and install a roll cage as that would be a better waste of space and weight than the rear seats are at the minute.

The interior still looks cheap, donÂ’t get me wrong it does look nice but does feel cheap. Ruff seat material, standard plastic for the dash normal mats, the worksÂ… it just doesnÂ’t feel like a sport apart from the metal pedals, the gear nob and the front seats.

There isnÂ’t a foot rest on the left of the clutch on this ClioÂ… cost cutting or is it the French not putting things on again think we English will not need it? Still no heated seats though

Still too much plastic and on display and the centre console could have been enclosed a little more so that you could actually get something in the “cup” holders or at least hold some junk.

Gone are all the little nooks and crannies to put your phone in, in the 182 it was handy to be able to put your phone in the pocket on top of the dash and keep your fags and lighter in the little pit in front of the gear stick along with your sunglasses.

Door pockets are a lot bigger now; you can actually fit things of a good size in there on a long journey.

The glove box is now so huge you could fit a 16 pound chicken in there as well as the two cans of tyre foam! Finally somewhere to keep your car manuals, the tyre foam, your license, accident pack and a few cdÂ’s to boot.

The reason the glove box is so huge is the fact that the dashboard is now a metre thick! and how have they done this trick of the TARDIS you ask and kept the car the same general size as before?

They have shrunk the engine bay!!!

You thought the engine was shoehorned in on the 182 / 172Â’s well this baby looks like it was fitted with a very big hammer and an even bigger screwdriver!

So at the cost of serviceability the 197 will keep you as safe as houses because any accident that you get into will always be around 9 miles from where you actually sit!

Part 2 to follow