When it comes to offering affordable performance to the masses, no firm has done a better job than Renault
By PH Staff / Thursday, March 18, 2021 / Loading comments
There's not much to get a UK car enthusiast excited like a great Renault Sport product. For more than 20 years now it's created some of the very best hot hatches out there, and that form continues into 2021: the current Megane may have got off to a rough start, but in facelifted form it's a real gem.
What's drawn so many to the wares of Renault Sport over the years, in addition to how well they've almost always driven, is value for money. In the glory days you really couldn't have more fun for less money than in a Renault hot hatch. Popularity new meant plentiful supply for the used market, too, with a vibrant aftermarket scene to cater for those wanting an even sharper Renault Sport creation – you can speak to some PH staff members about that…
Let's not forget, either, that the fast Renault story stretches back an awful lot further than the 1999 introduction of the Clio 172; there are Sport Spiders, Williams and 5s to consider as well, just for starters. So that's exactly what we'll do here, from £3,500 upwards – the best used Renaults to buy in 2021. They aren't all exactly what you might expect, either…
Up to £3,500…
- Twingo 133
Such was the quality in the Renault Sport range at the time of the Twingo's arrival that it almost went a little unappreciated. The case for the Clio was simple to make at not an awful lot more money, and elsewhere the Abarth 500 was new kind on the block in the late 2000s – its style, torque and silly soundtrack made a pretty persuasive case.
All of which is rather a shame, because the Twingo was a wonderful little car. It was a bit of a throwback even in 2008, a traditional pocket rocket that needed thrashing to realise its full potential – so nowadays it should feel like a right old hoot. The 1.6-litre engine made 133hp a whisker from the limiter, encouraging every gear in the six-speed 'box to be wrung right out; the build quality was nothing to write home about, but it made the Twingo really light and super agile; and so what if it looked a bit dumpy? You'd have been having too much fun to care.
Its relative lack of popularity means good Twingos are few and far between in 2021, a situation not helped by its up-and-at-em nature; it's easy to imagine many being crashed right at the point they were being brilliant. This one has covered 60k miles and is for sale at £3,500; it isn't a Cup, which brought even firmer suspension and ditched the air-con, but this still should be a barrel of laughs. With a recent cambelt kit and wheels that'll be refurbed before sale, what more could you ask for?
Up to £5,000…
- Clio 172/182
Surprised to see the Clio this high up? Don't be. The days of good 172s and 182s being offered at little more than loose change are pretty much over, as its reputation continues to climb and numbers dwindle; once more, a slightly lairy handling balance will have seen off many. But then nobody has ever lusted after an understeering hot hatch, have they?
The Clio 172 and 182 really were the icons of the 80s brought up to date for the 21st century. Like all the very best, they had three doors, 16 valves, loads of power and precious little weight to cart around. Just as Peugeot dropped the hot hatch ball, Renault Sport picked it up and ran far away with it, the 172 and 182 dominating their segment from launch to being taken off sale. Rivals might have been plusher or a bit faster, but for sheer entertainment nothing could beat a quick Clio. Arguably, still nothing can, which is why values are slowly climbing.
This 182 is an ideal example of what's available; a late 2005 car with a reasonable 73k mileage, it had a new cambelt in 2019 – the bane of many a Renault owner's life – and is for sale at £3,995. Which, in the grand scheme of things, really isn't much. Once more, it's not a Cup, but that's no problem – no excuse required to upgrade the suspension. Then you can think about the wheels, the brakes, the seats…
Up to £10,000…
- Megane 250
Another one from the time where Renault Sport could seemingly do no wrong, and we make no apology for that. Some saw the early 250s as a bit flat after the awe-inspiring R26.R, but then most cars short of a GT3 are. For bringing together all that was required in a Golf-sized hot hatch – where fun was still key, but with a sliver more maturity – the Megane was a resounding success. Like so many Clios, it was the standard bearer for its class throughout its entire life, not least because it got better as time went on – if you can track down a 275 Cup-S, the Megane's run-out special, then keep hold of it.
That said, much of what made the car great is in sub-£10k examples, making them look exceptional value. The turbocharged engine is punchy and eminently tuneable, the Cup chassis (which this car has) is the perfect base for road and track driving and the manual gearbox offers another layer of interaction denied to the current car. Indeed, hot hatches this focused look unlikely to happen again; whatever we like to think, they simply weren't as popular with buyers as their more accommodating rivals. But everyone should try a great R.S. hatch at some point in their lives – for many, they don't come a lot greater than this.
Up to £15,000…
- Clio Williams
Where better to kick off the true classics than with a Williams? Though known to everyone for the colour scheme and the F1 association, the cognoscenti love the Williams for so much more than that. It was actually a homologation car, built to permit Renault to go Group N rallying; modifications included a front subframe from the Cup car, new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars plus, of course, that gutsy 2.0-litre engine. The 1.8-litre 16v had hinted at quick Clio potential, all of which was emphatically realised with the 150hp Williams – it was a riot.
So much of a riot, in fact, that the flagship Clio was a smash hit sale success; the later Williams 2 and Williams 3, the car the eventually ensured Renault made more than 12,000 blue-n-gold Clios, rather upset the first buyers who thought they were getting a limited-run homologation special. Arguably, the sheer amount of them helped further the Williams legend, as more got to see what the fuss was all about.
Even so, you'll do well to find a good, rot-free Williams today, 25 years after the last one was made. Naturally, that first batch are the most desirable, the numbered and non-ABS Williams, but truth be told all of them are corkers. This 2 has covered a little over 70,000 miles; it isn't quite standard and will need a cambelt soon, but it would be hard to think of a better way to spend £15k on a Renault Sport icon.
Up to £25,000…
- Megane 280
Perhaps this one might not meet with the universal appeal of some others, but what gets lost in the internet bluster around the current Megane, however, as with the EDC Clio, was that there was a lot to like in amongst the more divisive elements.
Ever since launch it's been the best looking hot hatch in the segment, and the Sport chassis – as opposed to the optional, stiffer Cup set up – actually suits the UK really nicely. The 1.8-litre turbo, as also found in the Alpine A110 and still used in the facelifted car, was great; eager and willing, more than match for the larger engines used in rivals. The opprobrium directed this Megane would have led you to believe it was an irredeemable stinker; sure, it wasn't as raucous or as tactile as cars that had preceded it, but those sorts of hot hatches simply weren't viable by 2018. For a first go at a more rounded Renault Sport Megane offering, the 280 had plenty to recommend it.
This particular one has the additional intrigue of a manual gearbox that's no longer offered in new Meganes. And while nobody will ever claim the six-speed as one of the manual greats, it's almost become something to pine for knowing that three pedals are very unlikely to be found in an R.S. product ever again. Don't know what you've got until it's gone, right?
Up to £30,000…
- Sport Spider
We did say it wouldn't all be hot hatches! Though the Spider might have had its contemporary impact lessened by the arrival of the Lotus Elise, time has been kind to it. Not only does it look like nothing else, but the Sport Spider is also exceptionally rare, and promises the kind of pared-back driving experience that will surely only become more desirable in the coming years. What better palette cleanser to electric SUV commuting than a weekend blast in a mid-engined, manual roadster? The doors even go up like a Lamborghini and everything.
The Sport Spider's lack of commercial success when new has, as is so often the way with these things, ensured strong residual values as a classic. This 1997 car is notable for not being yellow or blue – Mars Red really suits it, in fact – and having covered a mere 27,000 miles in almost a quarter of a century. Perhaps an Elise is the more rational choice, but doing things differently has never looked quite so appealing as in a Renault Sport Spider.
Up to £40,000…
- Megane R26.R
Fret not, Renault fans – you don't yet need £40k for a R26.R. This one is probably the best out there and is little more than £30,000. Less can be paid, though values have been holding pretty firm over recent years. Quite frankly whatever the cost, an R26.R had to be in here somewhere. It's not just one of the best Renault Sport creations ever; it warrants mention with the 21st century's finest driver's cars.
It had a fantastic base to work with in the standard Megane, which had really found its form in F1 Team R26 guise. By then stripping away every ounce of excess and retuning the suspension for a 123kg weight loss, Renault created a legend. Not just because of the remarkable Nurburgring lap time or the infamy that came with not selling out – only 159 of the UK's 230 allocation found buyers – but because the R26.R was such a joy to drive in any situation. Well, assuming the air con had been specified, that is. Being light made it raw and completely immersive, but through being softer as well the R26.R felt as at home on a great road as it did a circuit. There was a tarmac rally car vibe to it, a car supple enough for lumps and bumps yet still in possession of incredible immediacy. The incongruity of this all being contained in a Megane, one with enormous bucket seats, a very serious roll cage and plastic windows, only added to its appeal.
Renault followed up the R26.R with similarly exceptional two-seat Meganes, but neither Trophy-R had the impact of the original. It was truly a landmark performance car, which is why values are still so high – the fact that so many have been exported will also have contributed. Its appeal might have been hard to explain to the casual enthusiast, yes, and it's certainly not what might be deemed cool. But the R26.R is truly one of the all-time great front-wheel drive experiences; even in this list, it stands out.
Up to £50,000…
- Alpine A110
Alright, so the A110 doesn't have a Renault badge, but make no mistake that it was a product of the same Dieppe-based magicians that built everything else recent on this list. Also, we could hardly leave it out because it's a genuinely wonderful little thing, and the fact that a mainstream manufacturer of any stripe turned out one of the best sports cars built in the last decade is obviously worthy of celebration.
All the Lotus analogies you've heard are spot on, the Alpine as deft and as agile as only a car this light can be, with an uncanny ability to smother bumps and carry speed. That the A110 is so small works further in its favour, B-roads too big for many suiting it down to the ground. Yet it's also everyday usable in a fashion that a Lotus just can't be, albeit with precious little stowage space and a crummy infotainment set up. Still, can't have everything.
Though the A110 hasn't been short of plaudits since the end of 2017 – sales haven't been so inspirational. Though that means residuals are strong, it leaves the secondhand buyer with little choice. There are just two for sale on PH at less than £50k, both with four owners already despite sub-10k mileages. Perhaps the compromises enforced by the Alpine's diminutive size were too much to deal with – but if your lifestyle can accommodate the strictest of two seaters, an A110 is sensationally good.
Up to £60,000…
- Clio V6
If you want the ultimate expression of Renault exceptionalism, look no further than the Clio it remade as a V6, rear-drive muscle-hatch. Sure, most of the original heavy lifting was contracted out to Tom Walkinshaw Racing (side note: PH once spoke to a former TWR engineer who worked on the project and would only blow his cheeks out when questioned about it) but just indulging in the basic concept was evidence enough of the manufacturer's hold-my-beer spirit, let alone the production and marketing of the end product.
Best of all, it proceeded to have a second go at it when the first car turned out to be a mite twitchy. The second generation was less wayward on a wet roundabout, yet was still brimmed with unlikely energy. Any car which requires you to share interior space with an engine gives off a certain amount of freak-power, but the Clio factored in oddity all over the place, from the supermini-sized cabin to its eerily light front end and leisurely steering.
There was nothing else like it in other words. And while there's no question that Renault Sport has built superior cars to drive since it went off sale, it is possible that it has produced none with quite the same curio vibe. Which, of course, is why it tends to command impressive values to this day – and always will. Up to £60k buys you collector-grade car like this one.
Sky's the limit…
- 5 Turbo 2
When the Turbo 2 succeeded its fully fledged rallying predecessor in 1983, the mid-engined Renault 5 left a few a little disappointed. Where the 1980 Turbo had wowed the world with its mid-mounted 160hp engine, wide-arches and, in the following year, that spectacular Jean Ragnotti Monte Carlo Rally win, the Turbo 2 looked comparably soft. To all intents and purposes, it was, bearing the same 1.4-litre four-cylinder, but no aluminium body panels or Bertone bucket seats. It was cheaper, too. People, amazingly, didn't immediately take to it.
These days, it's easy to see the Turbo 2 for its own brilliance. It helps, of course, that prices for its predecessor are now positively sky high, and that's if you can find one actually on sale. The Turbo 2, once the cheap alternative, is significantly more available (3,167 were built to the Turbo 1's 1,820), although it's seen values rises of its own. In 2021, good cars go for more than £60k, and the best cars can easily command six-figure prices. While it's true the Ragnotti link might not be so direct, it's clearly close enough. Don't expect values to change direction anytime soon.
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