CLIO RS 200 REVIEW
Vehicle style: Light-segment five-door hot hatch
Price: $31,290 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/240Nm 4cyl petrol turbo | 6sp twin-clutch EDC automatic
Fuel economy listed: 6.3 l/100km | tested: 9.8 l/100km
So, Renault's Clio RS is now automatic-only. That can't be good in a rat-fast little hot-hatch, can it?
The fact is, however, that there is a simple reality behind the decision to drop the stick-shift: most drivers - in this country at least - prefer automatics.
And this is where the hot little auto-only Renault may find its trump card.
While competitors like the Fiesta ST and 208 GTi are restricted to a manual transmission, and pay a penalty in the showroom, the Clio RS’s auto guarantees a broader appeal.
But is it at the cost of performance?
- Standard features across the Clio RS 200 range are power windows and mirrors, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio, cruise control, and trip-computer.
- The second-tier RS 200 Cup model tested here gets unique front seats, red contrast stitching on fabric upholstery, unique steering wheel, alloy pedals, red interior trim accents, red seatbelts
- Boot space: 300 litres with rear seats up; 1146 litres with rear seats down.
With a thick-rimmed steering wheel, heavily-bolstered front seats, Renault Sport alloy kickplates, alloy pedals, satin red trim, red contrast stitching and red seatbelts, this is familiar territory for anyone who’s spent time in any of Renault's sporting hot-boxes.
The seating position is perfect for a hot hatch. Not bolt-upright, but still high enough to give you a good view of the road in front of you.
The seats themselves are great. Bolstered more generously than regular Clio seats, but not so aggressively that getting in and out is a chore.
The steering wheel is superb too, with just the right amount of thickness and a small diameter that’s easy to twirl from lock-stop to lock-stop.
The plastic paddles mounted on the steering column aren’t that great though. For something that will get used heavily on spirited weekend drives, they flex under the hand and feel cheap.
Metal paddles would be preferred, or at least a more rigid plastic.
The RS Monitor datalogging system that’s standard in the more expensive Trophee variants would have been nice to have during our drive, but its data readouts are perhaps more for the passenger’s enjoyment than the driver’s.
Features like sat-nav, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and cruise control are standard across the Clio RS range, but so they should be considering the Renault’s premium pricing.
So, yes, it’s at the pricey end of things among light hot hatches, but you do get a great car for your spend.
Behind the front seats you’ll find the same spacious back seat and luggage area as any other Clio.
With five-door practicality and a boot that measures 300 litres with the back seats up, the Clio is a pretty useful thing considering its compact size.
ON THE ROAD
- 147kW/240Nm 4cyl petrol turbo | 6sp twin-clutch EDC automatic
- MacPherson Strut front suspension, torsion-beam rear suspension.
- Disc brakes all around
- Cup chassis adds 3mm lower ride height, retuned dampers, 18-inch alloys.
- Three modes for transmission and steering calibration: Normal, Sport, Race
The 2014 Clio RS 200 is driven by a turbocharged 1.6 litre inline four, and is the first Clio RS model to feature a turbo powerplant.
It’s also the first Clio to be available purely with a twin-clutch automatic. To Renault Sport purists, the loss of the previous model’s revvy 2.0 litre four and its attendant six-speed manual may be unforgiveable.
But is it a change for the better?
The engine makes 147kW like the old car, but torque has risen to 240Nm - a gain of 25Nm.
Though it’s got less displacement to work with, the 2014 Clio RS 200 has bigger muscles than its predecessor and has enough mumbo to fire itself to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds.
Yet, though it's quick (and peak torque arrives sooner), the power isn’t delivered with as much urgency as it was in the old car.
Compared to the older Clio rocket, the turbocharger dulls throttle response slightly.
If you're really looking for a quick exit, you have to anticipate the brief pause in power delivery as the turbo builds boost - especially at low revs.
The EDC twin-clutch auto transmission can be a bigger handicap though, depending upon the kind of driving you do. In Normal mode, it’s glacially slow to respond.
It can be a real pain in heavy traffic. There's a lull before getting away from standstill while the transmission makes up its mind about what it's going to do.
In this mode, the gearchanges are also leisurely. Thankfully, it gets a heck of a lot more likeable the further from the city you get, and the harder you drive.
Prod the RS Drive button on the centre console to put the transmission in Sport mode, and you’re rewarded with faster, sharper shifts.
Hold the button down longer with the shifter moved into the manual gate, and Race mode is enabled.
The EDC transmission will now hold gears right against redline (rather than automatically upshift) and cog-swapping becomes lightning-fast.
There’s one caveat though. Race mode disables the stability control system, and with the Clio RS’ incredibly tail-happy chassis that means you need to be on your toes.
There’s lift-off oversteer aplenty, but thankfully this is a beautifully tuned chassis that is as adjustable as it is taily.
Being the Cup specification, our Clio RS tester came with a suspension sitting 3mm lower than the standard RS. The Cup also rolls on 18-inch alloys rather than 17s, and the damper tune is firmer.
You’d think it would make for a hard, crashy ride, but in truth the Cup chassis is compliant when it needs to be, and unyielding when the road smooths out.
The steering weight in Race mode is also right in the Goldilocks zone - neither too heavy, nor too light.
There’s a smidge of torque steer to deal with, and tight hairpins can see the Renault’s torque-vectoring system briefly overwhelmed, but front-end traction is very, very good.
It’s not as razor-sharp as a Ford Fiesta ST, but it’s certainly more civilised.
And on the right kind of road with Race mode engaged, it’s bliss.
Approach a tight turn under heavy brakes, start turning in and slightly lift off the accelerator. The rear begins to come around, but add countersteer and feed in the throttle to rein in the slide.
As the turbo picks up boost the front wheels pull the car straight, and then you get to repeat the process at the next curve.
Safety features: Standard on all Clio RS 200 models is stability control (switchable), traction control (switchable), ABS, EBD and brake assist.
All occupants get three-point seatbelts however airbag protection is limited to the front seats, which recieve dual front and side/head airbags. Curtain airbags are not available on any Clio variant.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Ironically, if you spend most of your time poking around town, the one thing that should gift the 2014 Clio RS 200 with broader appeal - its automatic transmission - does the opposite.
In Normal mode, it’s too slow to respond and lacks the ease and driveability of a conventional automatic.
But pop it in Sport or Race mode, and the Clio RS 200 adopts a harder, rougher persona. One that’s closer to its manic forebear, and one that will get keen drivers salivating.
Yes it’s a compromised transmission, but it isn’t performance that suffers.
That fact, and also that it handles so supremely well, is why this little Renault keeps its TMR four-star rating. Hot hatches, after all, are all about performance.
When we weren’t crawling through traffic, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Clio RS. It’s a playful scamp, and we want one.