Want front-drive French fun but don’t want to pay 205 GTI premiums? Step right this way


My first foray into the land of hot hatches was not a casual one. I was forever changing cars but, every winter, I’d always buy something with four driven wheels. Jeeps were the usual fare but, one year, circumstances led me to buy a Lancia Delta HF Integrale 8v. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I’d always liked the early flat-bonnet 8vs, partly because they were less costly than 16vs and Evos yet offered a similar experience. At any rate, using the weather – or budget, time of day or a momentary passing interest on eBay – to justify trying something new seemed reasonable. Continually buying, fettling and driving myriad classics offered a refreshing change from the experiences offered by the new cars I tested daily, among other things. The comparatively weak values of 8v Integrales, at the time, led me to look for other similarly unloved derivatives. Cars that had much to offer but, often living in the shadows of more fabled iterations, were frequently overlooked – and far more accessible. Four years after the retirement of the fabled 205 GTI in 1994, for example, Renault unveiled the Clio II. While a perfectly serviceable and popular hatch, it was hardly one to light a fire under any passing enthusiast. Things got far more interesting in January 2000, however, with the UK launch of the Clio Renaultsport 172.

Besides bearing the performance oriented sub-brand’s badge, it quickly established itself as a highly regarded hot hatch. It weighed in at a mere 1035kg, packed a stout 170bhp 2.0-litre naturally aspirated 16v engine, a revised chassis, OZ F1 wheels and flared arches. These early ‘Phase 1’ variants, built until June 2001, were remarkably analogue machines – with cableactuated throttles and no stability or traction control, unlike later models. Even today the 172’s performance figures stack up well, with a claimed 0-62mph time of 7.2sec and a top speed of 138mph. Driven sensibly, it would even reputedly knock on the door of 36mpg.

Yet, despite this, a good example won’t break the bank – with presentable 172 PH1s currently selling for around £2500, while even immaculate low-mileage dealer examples command less than £5000. This is in part no doubt due to 1980s hot hatches continuing to dominate the limelight while most collectors focus on the flagship Renault Sport Clio V6. What’s also striking is that only 1357 of the 172 PH1s were sold in the UK, making them one of the less common models in the Renault Sport line-up; track action and unintentional hedge remodelling have no doubt reduced that number further since. To put things into perspective, there are currently some 6500 Peugeot 205 GTIs on the DVLA’s radar – and we all know what the prices of those are doing these days.

Up, up and away – eventually

PH1 prices won’t remain low; one dealer is asking £8990 for a limited-edition 172 PH1 ‘Exclusive’. Overly optimistic, but it echoes the early appreciation of collectable 205 GTIs and XR2s. The new Megane RS has just been unveiled, too, further drawing attention to Renault’s back catalogue. Get a history check and look for cam and auxiliary belt changes – and don’t discount costlier later iterations, including the rare 182 Trophy.

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