The "Best Hot Hatch Ever" is all I expected it to be and more.
My appetite was previously whetted through long-term ownership of the 16V, upon which the Williams is based. The Williams takes the best bits about driving the 16V and makes them better. Please bear with this long review - it's a bit geeky, but it's accurate and could help you a lot!
Mine's one of the original 1993 Williams batch (No. 123 of the 400!), which was followed in 1994 and 1995 by the Williams 2 and 3 respectively. The original Willy was a homologation special for Renault's antics in Group A rallying - yes, it was up against the likes of the Integrale, Scooby and Cosworth back in the day. On tarmac at least, it was as quick and quicker: the Tour de Corse in 1993 being a particular giant-slaying event. Despite the lack of 4WD, a turbo and being about 200bhp down on the competition, the Willy showed the world how an amazing chassis and torquey motor make up for the lack of technological trickery.
In keeping with the rally theme, the road-going homologation car is a little spartan. The Willy 1 is a Phase 1 Clio, so some interior and exterior visual aspects have dated more quickly than the Phase 2 Clio range (1994-on, including the Williams 2 and 3). The Willy 1 also dispenses the sunroof, electric mirrors, door bottom speakers and some soundproofing found on its contemporary 16V brother.
In its original incarnation, the Willy was sold at a very similar price to the 16V, so these equipment economies were made to get the uprated engine and suspension on board at the price (Renault said it was because customers for the Willy wouldn't want these anyway).
In terms of the exterior, the Willy similar to the 16V. No bad thing, since this entails "that" bonnet bulge and air intake, flared front and rear arches and wider bumpers. The Willy obviously adds the trademark combination of 449 Sports Blue paintwork (Monaco Blue on Willy 3), the gold Speedline wheels with polished silver rims, a slightly larger rear lip spoiler and the Williams decals. The offset of the wheels naturally fills the arches a bit more, but up front the wider track from the suspension modifications pushes the wheels much further out than on the 16V. As a result, the wheels are very easy to kerb.
The mechanicals are where the Williams makes its biggest departure from the 16V. Bored out to 1998cc, the 16V-based bottom end is home to a crank from the 1.9 diesel. The cylinder head and inlet manifold are polished 16V items, with larger inlet valves and a resin coating. The engine also gains a custom fabricated steel manifold, uprated ignition components and a few other bits that I don't think would be of much interest!
This tweaked motor supposedly develops 150bhp at the flywheel, but almost every Williams strapped to a rolling road dyno has made in excess of this figure (I know it's convenient - but it's also true). The "undersquare" nature of the engine gives it 85% of its torque at a mere 2500rpm and 100% all the way from 4000rpm to the redline. That's torquey. The rev limiter cuts in at about 6500rpm (750 rpm earlier than the 16V), giving the Willy the nickname of "tractor engine" amongst some. Very different to the 16V.
It's actually a very pleasant car to pootle about in, for whilst the gearbox and clutch are harsh, the low-down power carries the car through most situations without the need to change down a gear. Motorway trips are a noisy affair due to the lack of soundproofing, but the Williams does get a taller 5th gear than the 16V (as well as a beefed up casing, bearings and clutch). While you do need arms and legs like HeMan, your wallet will fair better since economy averages at about 33mpg.
While it may also be fairly cheap to buy a Williams, owning one might not always be so. Parts prices are relatively modest although labour costs can shoot up due to the nature of the mechanicals being squashed into a small Clio engine bay. Even replacing an auxiliary belt requires the removal of the bonnet and a front headlamp. The condition of cars for sale varies enormously and it is wise to take a companion familiar with the 16V and Williams with you to view a car. Many "mint" examples are not. This makes finding a pristine example of a very rare car even more difficult.
Nonetheless, for a car that is regularly featured alongside 911s and Elises in the press, these occasional hardships are a minor inconvenience. Today's equivalent would be something akin to a Clio 182 with a 2.2 litre engine, devoid of all unnecessary luxuries and with heavily revised suspension and mechanicals. While Renault got close with the 172 Cup, something faithful to the Williams idea is unlikely to appear again in the medium term.
I would recommend a Williams above any other car I have owned or driven. It is truly unsurpassed.