The Renault Clio Williams Is the Best-Kept Secret VW GTI Rival

With Ford discontinuing the Fiesta ST and Focus ST, and the Fiat 500 Abarth gone too, the pool of US-market hot hatches has shrunk significantly. It’s down to the Honda Civic Type R, the Hyundai Veloster N, and the latest version of the original hot hatch, the VW GTI. However, thanks to the 25-year import rule, previously-forbidden cars are starting to become available. Cars like the Peugeot 205 GTI, the AWD Nissan Pulsar GTi-R, and the mid-engine Renault 5 Turbo. But there’s one more forbidden French fruit to add to that list: the Renault Clio Williams.

What is the Renault Clio Williams?

As Evo explains, the Renault Clio Williams was based on the existing Clio 16v, which competed with the contemporary Peugeot 205 GTI. As with the 5 Turbo, Renault wanted to take the Clio rallying. So, the company had to produce homologation specials for the pubic. And, luckily enough, in 1993, the Renault-Williams team managed to win the Formula One world championship, Motoring Research reports. All this came together in the Renault Clio Williams.

Under the hood, instead of the Clio 16v’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder, the Renault Clio Williams got a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, putting out 145 hp and 129 lb-ft. And this wasn’t just an enlarged version of the 1.8-liter engine. The Williams’ engine had a stronger crankshaft, new pistons and camshafts, bigger valves, and a lighter exhaust manifold.

1995 Renault Clio Williams S2
1995 Renault Clio Williams S2 | Bring a Trailer

The Renault Clio Williams got more than just a new engine, though. Underneath, it had a reinforced chassis, thicker anti-roll bars, upgraded springs, upgraded shock absorbers, and stronger rear torsion arms, Bring a Trailer reports. The 5-speed manual transmission was revised, receiving new gear ratios. The Renault Clio Williams also got gold Speedline alloy wheels, fender flares, and sport seats.

And if blue’s your color, this is the car for you. The Renault Clio Williams was only available in blue, for one. And inside, the seatbelts, carpets, gauges, shifter, and seat stripes were all blue.

Renault Clio Williams vs. VW GTI: driving experience

In terms of handling, the Renault Clio Williams definitely out-classed the Peugeot 205 GTI, Autocar reports. Motoring Research reports the suspension is extremely supple, letting the car grip without being harsh. And while there’s definitely more body roll than a modern car, Evo reports, but as in a Miata, that also tells the driver exactly how the Clio’s behaving. The throttle response is quick, and the engine eager to rev.

1991 VW Golf GTI Mk3
1991 VW Golf GTI Mk3 | Volkswagen

And, in many ways, the Clio Williams was a definite match for the contemporary Mk3 VW GTI, the RAC reports. When it debuted in 1991, its 2.0-liter four-cylinder only made 115 hp. It took until late 1993 for the 150-hp 16-valve version to show up. And even then, the RAC reports the VW GTI weighed in at 2275 lbs. The Clio Williams weighed about 100 lbs less and had significantly better handling. Its acceleration was also better: the Clio did 0-60 in 7.8 seconds, while the VW GTI needed 8.

Pricing and availability

1995 Renault Clio Williams S2 interior
1995 Renault Clio Williams S2 interior | Bring a Trailer

Originally, Renault was only planning on producing 3800 Clio Williams models. But demand was so great, the company eventually produced 2 more runs of the hot hatch. 12,010 Clio Williams hatches were eventually sold from 1993-1995. These ‘Series 2’ and ‘Series 3’ cars didn’t have a numbered plaque inside and came in slightly different shades of dark blue. The Series 3 did have ABS, though.

1990 Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9
1990 Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9 | Bring a Trailer

Naturally, the Series 1 models are the most desirable. BaT reports prices for low-mileage examples can reach close to $30,000. Series 2 and 3 models, though, are noticeably cheaper: closer to $10,000-$12,000. That’s roughly on-par with Mk3 VW GTI prices and somewhat cheaper than the Peugeot 205 GTI, BaT reports.

The Renault Clio Williams, though, is harder to find than a Mk3 VW GTI. But then, if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a secret, now would it?

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