The skinny: Delve into the specs of the Renault Clio RS and it looks more than merely 'promising' - a bucket of turbo-fed torque, a light compact body and RenaultSport’s reputation for sharp handling.
But with plenty of other contenders out there, Renault isn’t alone in the light hot hatch game, far from it. The Clio is now pitted up against some decent rivals, most with European roots and all adept at delivering motoring thrills on a budget.
In ‘Cup’ specification, the handling gets kicked up a notch and the Clio RS puts on a serious driving face - this is no boy racer, but a genuinely ferocious package.
Vehicle Style: Light five-door hot hatch
Price: $31,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/240Nm 1.6 4cyl petrol turbo | 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.3 l/100km | tested: 9.5 l/100km
The tenacious little Clio RS might offend some purists when it comes to its five-door body and automatic transmission, but the truth of the matter is, as far as broadening the little hot-hatch’s appeal, both of those things are exactly what the market asked for.
Unlike most other single-variant hot-shoes, the Clio also comes in a spectacular four-model range: Sport, Cup, Sport Premium, and Cup Premium - or put more simply - "fast", or "fast with tighter handling", and then a "luxed-up version" of each.
The RS200 Cup you’re about to read about is "fast with tighter handling", or, in other words, the new purist’s choice.
It also happens to fall at the higher end of the pricing scale, with the only more expensive options being it’s own more highly-specced variants.
Are Renault’s hot-hatch credentials enough to carry the RS200 Cup over the line, or has the new crop of sharp-handling light hatches started to erode the Clio’s advantage?
- Standard equipment: Cloth trimmed sports front seats, red seatbelts, proximity key with auto-lock and push-button start, manual air conditioning, auto lights and wipers, multi-function trip computer, cruise control with speed limiter, sports pedals, leather-wrapped steering wheel with contrasting stitching, rear privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, four-speaker audio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity CD/MP3/USB and Aux in playback, control paddle behind steering wheel
- Cargo volume: 300 litres minimum, 1146 maximum with rear seats folded
On the inside, Renault has given the entire Clio range a modern look and feel. Leather-grained plastics have been banished, replaced by a contemporary-looking geometrically patterned finish.
Some of the RS200’s dress-up items include deeply bolstered front sports seats, a fat-rimmed sports steering wheel, anodised red trim highlights, and enormous column-mounted gearshift paddles.
Those front seats are vice-like in their grip, but the aggressive bolsters run from hip to armpit in anyone under 170 centimetres tall, while anyone above is likely to be a little too broad to squeeze in between.
The car tested here was also blighted with rattles, a symptom of the rock-hard Cup suspension.
Rear seat-space is also pretty tight, but even though the Clio RS is a five-door, that’s less likely to be a major annoyance for most buyers.
Renault’s slick touchscreen interface looks good, and is simple enough to navigate around, but it can be glitchy, audio cuts in and out constantly via Bluetooth, and pairing a phone (running iOS 9) took multiple attempts before the system would recognise it.
Forgivable if the problem were isolated, but these glitches existed in the Clio from launch and nothing has been done to remedy them since.
ON THE ROAD
- 147kW/240Nm 1.6 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Six-speed dual clutch automatic, front wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front suspension, torsion beam rear, with firmer ‘Cup’ damping
- 328mm front disc brakes, 260mm rear disc brakes:
- Electric power steering
The vital element for any hot-hatch, is where is sits on the 'scoville scale', and amongst the current crop of light hatches, the Clio is something of an Habenero - there’s plenty of room to go hotter, but the Clio RS delivers plenty of spice.
With 147kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm at 1750, the Renault sits just below the Peugeot 208 GTi, which fires with 153kW, but tops the 141kW Volkswagen Polo GTI and the 132kW Ford Fiesta ST.
The biggest difference in driveability between those cars and the Clio is in terms of transmission, with others offering a six-speed manual as standard, while the Polo offers an optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Clio on the other hand ships as standard with a dual-clutch auto - and at suburban speeds it really dulls the incredible response of the Clio’s firecracker of an engine.
Incredibly reserved in first gear, no matter how you launch it, the Clio RS feels downright drowsy instead of throwing you back in your seat.
It isn’t until the vehicle has picked up speed and shuffled into second gear that the package starts to feel lively.
Between that, and the clunky, slow, and dim-witted gear changes the EDC transmission offers, the Clio RS is anything but a barrel of laughs around town.
It isn’t until you escape the confines of the city and find the right flowing stretch of tarmac that the RS200 shows you what it’s all about.
At speed, the car feels more urgent and connected. Thumb the RS Drive button on the centre console and a more aggressive shift pattern is activated.
Hold the RS button for a little longer while the gear shifter is in its manual gate, and you’ll find Race mode.
Now the transmission will hold gears against the redline, and the stability control is decoupled, allowing freedom of movement which the rear of the Clio will happily indulge in.
By opting for the Cup chassis, wheels are upgraded to 18-inches, while the suspension gets a thorough stiffening.
Like the transmission, the suspension set-up isn’t for the city commuter. It’s rough, jars over imperfections, and will give your kidneys a relentless pummelling on a long haul.
But, on the right road, or on the track, there’s barely any body-roll through corners, and the ability to stick like glue through some tricky tight bends had my internal organs firmly crushed against my ribcage.
Ultimately, you won’t simply hop in and drive the Clio RS200, you’ll need to take the time to get to know it. It’s a car that makes you adapt to its style, not the other way around.
As for fuel consumption, Renault claims 6.3 l/100km, but our drive circuit, which included a lot of steady highway cruising to get to our favourite country roads, was a fairly unpleasant 9.5 l/100km. That’s plenty for something so compact.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the Clio scored 35.87 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Dual front and dual side/head airbags are standard, as are anti-submarining seats, load-limiting front belt tensioners with height adjustment and adjustable head restraints for all seats.
Stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution and ABS brakes are also standard.
Important to note: the front head airbag is an extension of the side-bag. Curtain airbags are not available in the Clio range, despite this Euro NCAP determined the Clio to be the safest car in the light-car class when tested in 2012.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
While the Volkswagen Polo GTI was previously auto-only, it now offers a choice of auto or manual, teamed with a five-door body, and despite the subtle styling, it’s quite a surprising drive.
Ford offers the engaging Fiesta ST, it’s well priced but far from premium, whereas the Peugeot 208 GTi feels a touch more upmarket. Both are a hoot to drive, thanks to their manual transmission, but practicality takes a back seat owing to their three-door layout.
Strangely enough, the quirkiest choice doesn’t come from France, but instead Korea - Hyundai’s Veloster SR might get overlooked in the hot-hatch stakes, but it has the power and handling, plus coupe styling on the driver’s side and hatch practicality on the passenger’s side.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Clio RS200 Cup isn’t without its flaws - owners of French cars often refer to these as ‘quirks’ - but it certainly nails the ‘hot’ part of the hot hatch theorem.
Given the right stretch of road, or preferably track, the Clio RS200 comes to life in spectacular fashion, dancing around with an agility that makes the RenaultSport division the envy of other manufacturers.
But in between weekend jaunts, there’s the terrible task of commuting, and as a run-of-the-mill hatchback, the Clio RS200 simply isn’t as good as some of its competitors. Instead of a dual purpose hot-shoe, the Clio is a little too focussed.
Not a problem if you’re prepared to make that sacrifice, but for those that seeking something sporty-ish the less aggressive RS200 Sport might be a better fit.