The Clio is fast approaching full health, but that doesn’t mean the work is almost finished
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For a car that’s barely worth a couple of grand, it’s quite the kick in the kidneys to have to fork out £270 for an auxiliary belt change. But that’s exactly what I have just done.
Thanks to the tight squeeze of an engine bay that the 182’s 2.0-litre F4R unit lives in, changing the aux belt requires lots of parts to be removed, including the front bumper and grille, to make access possible. That’s why I took the car to Mark Fish Motorsport in Harlow, a respected Renault Sport specialist that has unrivalled knowledge of Dieppe’s performance models, to have the work done.
Turns out I was lucky because, as Mark found, the aux belt was on its last legs, despite being changed on time at the three-year interval. It seems a hole in the front section of the wheel arch liner has been allowing small stones and road muck onto the belt, causing it to occasionally slip and show premature signs of ageing.
“It could have gone soon,” Mark said. “I would get a new arch liner pretty quickly.”
Renault charges £48 for the front section alone. That’s the other kidney kicked.
At least the car is now three years away from its next big bill, the cam belt change, which coincides with the next aux change. That job will provide future me with a near £700 bill, but I’ll worry about that in 2021.
For now, it’s time to enjoy this unusually consistent good summer weather with the Clio, which is handling sweetly on its settled Bilstein B14 coilovers and continuing to put a smile on my face.
The Clio is turning into a bit of a money sponge.
Since having the Bilstein B14 coilovers fitted, I’ve been going for more drives – you know, the ones with no destination – than ever before. As such, the car’s developed quite an appetite for dead dinosaurs, particularly those liquefied into 98 Ron form. My wallet is feeling the squeeze.
This is all good news, of course, because it illustrates just how much fun I’m having behind the wheel again. I’ve done around 500 miles with the B14s fitted, about 50 of which were on track at Castle Combe, and I’ve not regretted opting for the new set-up once. In fact, on the asphalt, I questioned why I hadn’t made the switch earlier.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who describes the standard ride of the 182 as soft, but at pace on circuit the car now corners much flatter and ultimately feels more agile, thanks to the added support the B14s provide. I’ve set the car up with a bit of rake, so the rear is a tad higher than the front; this helps to encourage lift-off oversteer – this proved both useful and giggle-inducing through Castle Combe’s fast-flowing bends (see video below to witness the effects).
That the freshly serviced 2.0-litre engine also ran so sweetly all day really emphasised how effective a package this 182 has become – and how contrasting its current state is to the sorry-looking hatch I pulled from beneath dust covers just over a year ago. Today, the number on the odometer has surpassed 124,000 but, I kid you not, the atmospheric four-cylinder pulls with more enthusiasm now than it did 50,000 miles earlier. It’s a mark of how great the engineering behind this F4R unit was back in the 1990s.
But the car is far from finished. I blame that on a passenger ride in a gorgeous 1964 Mini Cooper S (this one) equipped with a front-locking differential (and owned by fellow motoring journalist Mark Whitchurch). After experiencing first hand three extremely committed laps of Castle Combe within the toy-sized classic, I was inspired to investigate fitment of a locking diff to the 182. So I’m now drooling over web images of the ATB part made by specialist Quaife and having traction-based daydreams.
I’m told fitment of a rear anti-roll bar will go hand in hand with this, if you like lift-off oversteer, so in order to make the car more agile, such a part has rocketed its way up the to-do list. Most anti-roll bars that fit the Clio offer at least two stages of adjustment, which sounds perfect to me. I can soften it on the road and stiffen it for track use, should I feel brave enough.
When I was a wide-eyed 18-year-old, there was nothing I wanted to do more than slam my Fiat Punto on its arse. I spent many a lesson in sixth form daydreaming about how I could transform my 1.2-litre 8v-engined (yeah, it was a beast), Abarth-badge and 17in alloy wheel-wearing first car into a proper driver’s machine with just a set of 50mm lowering springs. I remember the excitement at seeing the arch gaps shrink when the jack was first lowered. I also remember realising how wrong my expectations had been during my first test drive.
While to teenaged eyes my 60bhp Punto Active Sport looked as pretty as a Ferrari F355, nothing could hide from the fact the new set-up made even the smoothest of road surfaces feel like driving over a pebble beach. With the factory-specification shocks still in place, the car was also so under-damped that it hopped violently just at the sight of one of those ‘squiggly road ahead’ signs.
Like many people, I look back on my first car with fond memories, but also with lots of examples of things I wouldn’t do again. That’s why despite having owned my Clio 182 for seven years, I’d never seriously considered lowering its ride height. Dieppe’s engineers spent thousands of hours developing and testing the 182’s set-up before they signed it off for market, I thought. Fiddling with the suspension risks ruining their hard work.
Turns out I’m wrong again. …read more