RENAULT CLIO RS 200 REVIEW
What’s hot: Hot-hatch performance, handling.
What’s not: Some want a manual option, poor rear visibility.
X-FACTOR: Bristling on-road brilliance with five-door hatch practicality thrown in.
Vehicle style: 5-door small sports hatch
Engine/trans: 147kW/240Nm 1.6 turbo petrol | 6spd auto
Fuel consumption listed: 6.3l/100km | tested: 9.8l/100km
The Renault Clio RS - or for the purists, the RenaultSport Clio - has a cult following in this country.
The quick Clio's pedigree is impeccable: it's built at Renaultsport in Dieppe in the same factory as the Alpines of old, and it has a reputation stretching back to the epic Renault Clio Williams.
Australia didn't see that Williams, but we did get the Series 2 Sport, before it went on sale as part of Renault's assault on the car market in the early 2000s.
Now in its fourth generation and supported by three- and four-cylinder models below it in the filled-out Clio range, the new RS has thrown down the gauntlet on price.
Buyers now have the choice of Sport or Cup chassis - as well as the Trophy, a slightly more luxurious spec-level which adds 18-inch alloys and can also be had in Sport or Cup chassis tunes.
It has also had a major change in philosophy: the transmission. A 6-speed dual clutch EDC replaces the 6-speed manual. The purists are howling.
Now the price is right, can the Clio once again be king of the hot hatches?
The Sport and Trophy trim levels share the same basic interiors, with changes restricted to some spec items.
The basic Clio's interior is pretty good, with red-satin accents on the doors, shifter and steering wheel, as well as the requisite stitching on the leather-bound wheel.
The Clio has a tradition of chubby buttons switches and dials, and this continues in the Sport. The plastics are good, approaching VW levels of fit and finish with just the odd niggle.
All Clio RSes come standard with sat-nav on the 7-inch touchscreen, four speaker stereo with bluetooth, USB and SD.
The Trophy adds two speakers and something called "Bass Reflex", leather trim and an upgraded sat-nav with voice recognition and customisable home screen.
The Trophy spec also adds leather upholstery and upgrades the air-con to climate control (as well as 18-inch gloss black alloys).
You don't get something for nothing and, sadly, the lower price means the excellent Recaros from the old RSC are gone.
Thankfully, the tight-fitting replacements are just fine, if a little spongy in the Sport trim level. The leather seats in the Trophy seem a little firmer.
There's also a full-on race computer with telemetry in the Trophy. You can download your data to a USB stick and upload to the Renaultsport website.
And if the racetrack you're on isn't in the database, you can "draw" it yourself by driving around it, with GPS doing the rest.
Your line is overlaid on the track map, and things like steering, G-forces, throttle and gearshift are mapped as you follow the dot that is your car around the track.
It makes you feel like a proper race driver.
ON THE ROAD
The new Clio is a lot of fun in its three-cylinder base version, with a lightweight chassis and a five-door body.
The RS inherits the five-door body, eschewing the three-door of old and moves to 1.6 litre turbo power from the high-revving 2.0 litre atmo.
Power is unchanged at 147kW (the 200 in the car's name is the horsepower figure) but torque is up to 240Nm.
There's also a raft of changes under the skin with bigger brakes and more downforce from front and rear splitters.
We drove both standard and Cup chassis on the road and took to the track in the Cup Trophy.
Was it fun? You bet it was.
The new engine brings it into line with its fellow hot-hatch heroes, with a torquey, more relaxed demeanour but 240Nm punch from just 1750rpm.
This figure is down on the current pin-up boy, the Fiesta ST, which maxes out at a heady 290Nm on overboost.
The six-speed EDC won't be to everyone's taste, but importantly it will be the reason a lot more people buy one of these cars.
In Normal mode, it's a bit slow, shifting up and saving fuel, but betters VW's DSG around town and, it seems, the same transmission in lesser Clios.
Switch to Sport or Race, however, and things get better.
Thirty-millseconds are lopped from the 200ms shift-time in Sport mode, and you can also shift yourself using the fixed Nissan GT-R paddles (really!) on the steering column. Another 20ms disappears in Race mode.
Upshifts shoot through with every pull of the right-hand paddle and if you need to shift down more than one gear, just stamp on the brake pedal and hold the left-hand paddle, the gearbox will do the rest, effortlessly.
While you're driving it as Renault intends, the communicative chassis will be dancing around beneath you, absorbing some of the biggest depressions and bumps Victoria's Gippsland roads could throw at us.
On the track it was forgiving and, cliched as this is, amazingly chuckable.
The electronic front diff, which brakes the spinning inside wheel, helps pull you out of corners and in some cases, the Clio almost feels like a rear-wheel drive car.
The Clio won't understeer if you go in too hot either, instead transitioning into a progressive slide before being gathered up by the brilliant stability control system. Or, if you're good, you can do the gathering yourself.
On the track, the electronics let you do your heroic thing without ever over-nannying, letting the inside front wheel spin up on wet kerbs, the electronic front diff making sure you keep going forward.
You can also show off with Launch Control. With left foot on the brake, pull both paddles back and the dash will tell you it's ready.
Floor the throttle, slip the foot sideways off the brake and the Clio executes perfect starts every time. Well - five in a row before telling you it needs to cool down.
Both Sport and Cup models are perfectly liveable on the road. The Sport is more comfortable, sure, but the Cup won't smash the fine china (you got from Great Aunt Doris).
The Cup is appreciably firmer, with uprated springs and dampers coupled with larger 18-inch alloys.
If you're not much of a parker, it might be worth specifying the Silver Radicale wheels ($750) which will hide some gutter scarring - the black will not. Rear parking sensors are a steep $300 option, although Trophy variants get a standard reversing camera.
You can fit four people in with good comfort, there's plenty of room for shopping in the back and it will look pretty good while doing it, especially in the spectacular Liquid Yellow (a stout $750 option) or Flame Red (a still-pricey $550).
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT | OVERALL
The new Clio RS lives up to its formidable reputation, while adding a few more talents to scare its rivals.
The Series 3 was finding just 100 buyers a year. Manual only, in a market where eighty percent of hot hatches are now automatic and, of course, it was too expensive.
Renault has sorted both of these things, and added two doors.
With the EDC and a family-friendly body, the die-hards will complain, but Renault thinks five hundred RSes will find homes in its new form.
And it should. It's an excellent car to attack both the school run and your favourite bit of road or track. It combines the excellent handling of the Fiesta ST with the brilliant ride and specification of the 208 GTi.
Once again, we find ourselves spoilt for choice. Competition is a marvellous thing.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Clio 200 RS EDC Sport 200: $28,790
- Clio RS 200 EDC Cup: $31,290
- Clio RS 200 EDC Sport Trophy: $34,290
- Clio RS 200 EDC Cup Trophy: $36,790