I came to this car from two other hot hatches, a Skoda Fabia vRS, and a Mk2 VW Golf GTI. I used to have a fear of French cars, due to their supposed poor reliability and build quality. Nevertheless, I have read many reviews about many hot hatches, and the Clio 182 always gets rave reviews.
I popped into a dealer for a test drive of the tidiest example. I was only originally going to spend £8000 but I ended up forking out the extra having had the test drive of the 182. I just preferred its looks over the 172, and my research indicated up to 100 mph, it was a bit faster than the 172 (not cup version).
My car was good value, £10,500 with 5,000 miles on the clock, under 1 year old, and already with a service under its belt. Totally spotless.
The car has the typical cute looks of most French small hatchbacks, looking somewhat like a bigger Citroen C2 VTS, which I also liked the look of, but dismissed thanks to having a puny 123 bhp. Its not quite as menacing looking as either of my old cars, but it looks very nice and fun in its own way. Some of my friends say it's a girls car, well that must mean girls like it, and the attention it gets around town (from girls) is very satisfying for an ugly git like me :-)
It has a good specification too... electric windows and mirrors, climate control and air-con, cruise control and speed limiter, half leather, half alacantra seats and trim, and even the sound system is reasonable albeit somewhat lacking in bass, especially if you are used to a good in car entertainment system. Oh, and it doesn't support MP3 either. The seats are nice looking, but not as supportive as the ones in the Fabia vRS. The driving position is often criticised, but I find it very comfortable. The steering wheel is a tad large though.
The engine is good, a 2.0 engine in a car this size is always going to be fun, but when its got 180 bhp, then it can be more than fun sometimes! It really needs to be driven hard to see what the fuss is about though, at 5,000 rpm it comes alive, and is aggressive and loud, with a satisfying growl to its engine note. This car is very noisy at speed, and adds to the excitement. Its not quite as loud as my Mk2 Golf was, however.
If you don't like to rev a car, don't bother with this one. Its delivers its best when its revved all the way to its 7250 rpm red line in the lower gears, and at least 6500 rpm in the higher gears. Compared to my Fabia vRS, however, it is gutless at low revs, but compared to most normally aspirated petrol engines, it still feels willing, and it is still fun to drive at low speed, and for the most part, if the revs are kept above 2500 rpm, then it is a willing performer almost all of the time.
Personally, I love its power delivery. Nice and progressive, and this car can be Jekyll and hide! Perfectly calm, and refined when needed, but an animal down a B-road. Its hard to discipline yourself to keep to the speed limits in this car, as its just so eager to put a smile on the drivers face. It will return low to mid 30's MPG when driven relatively sensibly, and even when I have really thrashed it, somehow it still returns over 25 MPG most of the time!
The handling of this car is impressive too. It handles much better than my Fabia, and in some ways, is even better than my Mk2 Golf was. The body roll is largely absent, and there is plenty of grip. The suspension is firm, but it is decently damped so it rarely becomes bone jarring. It turns in very keenly and quickly. The steering is pretty communicative too. It can kick its tail out if provoked, and like the Golf will lift a rear wheel in the air on hard cornering. The handling is more entertaining than the Golf, but maybe not quite as composed as that was – the Golf was a bit more communicative and will try not to bite the hand that feeds it. The Clio can be brought out of shape if provoked, much in the same way as my mates Saxo VTR.
Overall, I am impressed with this car so far. Its not been long enough to truly know its reliability, all I do know at the moment is that it's a fun to drive car, with good performance and excellent handling. For the price, there's not a lot out there to touch it.