Car reviews - Renault - Clio - RS Cup
Dynamic 1.6-litre turbo engine and dual-clutch auto, one of the most affordable ways into a hot hatch, grippy handling, sharp steering
Room for improvement
Harsh ride, tinny build feel, cabin plastics, sub-par infotainment system, FWD layout can struggle dynamically when pushed hard
The Renault Clio RS Cup provides a fun entry point to the hot hatch market
14 Dec 2018
RENAULT has a long and rich history with motorsport, which has filtered down to its passenger-car range with its Renault Sport models, namely the Megane RS small hatch and Clio RS light hatch.
Along with the Peugeot 208 GTi and Volkswagen Polo GTI, the Clio RS is one of the most affordable ways into the hot hatch market.
The Clio RS is offered in three levels of specification – Sport, Cup and Trophy – providing varied levels of performance and comfort.
We tested the mid-spec Cup that features a 147kW/260Nm powertrain, dual-clutch auto and RS-tuned suspension, among other performance-focused equipment.
How does Renault’s pint-sized performance model stack up against other budget hot hatch offerings?
Price and equipment
The Clio RS range kicks off from $30,990 plus on-roads for the Sport, while the Cup – which comes with a more sportily calibrated chassis – ups the price to $32,490.
Standard equipment for the Cup includes climate control air-conditioning, front parking sensors, front foglights, idle-stop, tyre pressure monitoring system, LED interior lights, digital radio, RS Vision LED lighting signature and 18-inch wheels.
Performance-specific kit includes RS drive mode selector with Normal, Sport and Race modes, 320mm large-diameter brakes with reduced brake travel, Renault Sport hydraulic compression bump stops, increased anti-roll stiffness for the rear axle, rear spoiler, diffuser and twin exhaust pipes.
Our test car also came with a number of options that drove up the price, including the Leather Pack which features dark leather upholstery with red highlights and RS badge on the front headrest, heated front seats and a height-adjustable passenger seat.
It also came equipped with the Entertainment pack, which adds the R-Link multimedia system with sat-nav and voice control, Android Auto compatibility, RS Monitor and Bose premium sound system.
Renault asks $1500 for each option pack, bringing the Clio RS Cup’s price to $35,490, which is starting to get expensive and knocking on the door of larger, more powerful hot hatches like the Ford Focus ST and Hyundai i30 N.
While you are paying primarily for the Clio RS’ performance and dynamics, we would like to see a more generous level of standard specification for the price.
As the sporty version of an affordable light hatchback, the Clio RS Cup’s interior is primarily a blend of flashy racing-oriented trim and low-rent cabin plastics.
The optional R-Link infotainment screen falls behind its rivals for ease of use and intuition, with the sat-nav system and media player difficult to navigate at first.
It is the kind of system that is pain-free to use once you’ve worked out its quirks and shortcuts, but to the uninitiated it is slightly difficult to operate.
The addition of DAB+ digital radio is a handy inclusion, but we expected more from the optional Bose sound system.
Gearheads will love the inclusion of the RS Monitor, which gives occupants a multitude of readouts for information ranging from instantaneous power and torque, turbo boost, oil and transmission temperatures, lap times – in fact just about every engine and dynamic readout you could hope for.
The screen is housed on a large gloss black panel that also contains the air-conditioning cluster and two vents, while underneath sits 12V, USB and auxiliary ports. A tiny storage nook sits on the transmission tunnel with two cupholders, which are both narrow and shallow and are only really appropriate for drinks the size of a Red Bull can – something that is typical of French cars.
Our test car came fitted with the optional leather sports seats, which are comfortable and offer superb side bolstering, but can be a bit tight for broader occupants. Legroom is comfortable for front passengers, but the same cannot be said for those sitting in the rear.
The steering wheel, thankfully, offers adjustment for tilt and rake, however it would be better if you could extend it further.
Buttons on the steering wheel are laid out a bit more cryptically than most cars, with operation of the cruise control taking some guesswork. Cruise control takes up the four steering wheel buttons, while music and volume adjustment is housed on a separate column stalk.
The instrument cluster features an analogue tachometer and fuel gauge, while the speed and other information is shown on a small central display with DS digital font, which feels a bit cheap and dated.
Rear legroom is poor (especially with a tall occupant in front) and headroom is only fair. While there is seating for three, no more than two adult occupants could realistically fit, and the lack of cupholders, A/C vents or lighting do not aid rear passenger comfort.
The boot features a tonneau cover and light, but no shopping hooks or spare tyre, with a tyre repair kit in place. Without a spare, we feel the limited boot space in the Clio could be better utilised.
Adding to the stripped-out feel of the Clio RS’ interior are relatively poor levels of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) measures, with the stiff suspension and large rims increasing the levels of tyre roar and cabin rattles.
Overall, we would have liked the Clio RS interior to feature more quality materials and specification, with buyers having to fork out an additional $3000 for the Entertainment and Leather packs which give the cabin a big lift.
Engine and transmission
Powering the Clio RS Cup is a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine producing 147kW at 6000rpm and 260Nm of torque from a relatively low 1750rpm.
The engine exclusively drives the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, with a manual option not available in this generation due to low sales expectations.
Engine performance is potent for such a small car, and can really be felt once the turbocharger spools up. Initial punch is lacking a bit but once moving, power delivery is ample.
Throttle response is quick, with power being found through the majority of the rev range. The dual-clutch auto is capable of downshifting rapidly when the throttle is applied to produce sprightly acceleration.
Gearshifts from the dual-clutch are lightning-fast, smooth and very responsive – great for dynamic driving – but like most dual-clutch transmissions, it suffers from awkward and elastic changes at low speeds. The auto start-stop system also struggles when paired with the dual-clutch.
When engaging sport mode, operation is best done with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, as the transmission has a habit of otherwise holding onto gears too long, with the engine still revving hard when the vehicle is cruising along at a steady pace.
The exhaust system hints at the sporty nature of the Clio RS, with a reverberating note that snaps and pops when shifting and occasionally burbling with engine run-off.
During our time with the Clio RS we recorded a fuel economy figure of 9.3 litres per 100km, which combined with the 45-litre fuel tank meant that driving range was not one of the little hatchback's strong points.
Overall we were pleased with the potency of the Clio RS Cup’s drivetrain, offering plentiful power and a lightning-quick transmission that is still accessible for day-to-day use, with some exceptions such as the jerky idle-stop system.
Ride and handling
The little hatch loves eating up corners at high or low speeds, generally holding its line well even when fighting for grip, thanks to its stiff suspension, sticky tyres and low kerb weight.
Its front-drive layout did present some problems, however, such as a tendency to torque steer under heavy acceleration. For even better dynamic handling, the Clio RS would benefit from a more sophisticated limited-slip differential on the front axle, similar to its larger Megane sibling or the Honda Civic Type R.
Steering feedback has an analogue, communicative feel, which is fun for twisty roads and tight for around town.
As expected for a car with sporty roots, ride quality in the Clio RS is firm. Around town and at low speeds it is uncomfortable, due also to its 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres.
On poor road surfaces the harsh ride is particularly noticeable, although it tends to smooth itself out better when travelling at 80km/h or more. However, owning the Clio RS as a daily driver could be draining if your commute involves less-than-perfect road surfaces.
Overall, the Clio RS gets a big tick for its handling prowess, and for the money you would be hard-pressed to find a more dynamically involving car. The Mazda MX-5 might just trump it for smile-inducing driving characteristics, however the Clio’s practicality and space easily bests the little Mazda.
Safety and servicing
The Renault Clio range was safety tested by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) back in 2013, where it scored a five-star rating and an overall mark of 35.87 out of 37.
It scored full marks for the side impact, pole and whiplash tests, and 14.87 out of 16 for the frontal offset test.
The Clio RS comes standard with six airbags, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, launch control, brake assist, electronic stability control, hill hold assist, front and rear parking sensors, rearview camera and tyre pressure monitor.
All Renault Sport vehicles come with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, down on the five-year term of non-sporty passenger vehicles.
Three capped-price services are included at intervals of 12 months or 20,000km, costing $369 apiece with extra costs incurred for replacing the air filter, pollen filter, spark plugs or accessory belt.
The Clio RS Cup is a vehicle that is a lot of fun, but will not be for everyone.
In twisty, back country roads it is a delight, with responsive, communicative handling and sharp performance from its peppy 1.6-litre turbo engine.
For most other applications, you can find better offerings for the money. The ride quality is harsh, NVH levels are poor and the infotainment system and build quality are average at best.
For an entry point into the hot hatch market, the Clio RS is one of the better options around. If performance isn’t your first and second priorities, there are other light hatches that will offer a better package for less money.
Peugeot 208 GTi from $29,990 plus on-road costs
French rival Peugeot’s little hot hatch offers similar performance to the Clio RS with a 1.6-litre engine and front-drive layout, but a lower price than the RS Cup. While the Renault only comes with a dual-clutch auto, the Pug only has a six-speed manual.
Mazda MX-5 2.0 Roadster from $34,950 plus on-road costs
Mazda’s fan-favourite MX-5 offers simple driving pleasures with a lightweight rear-drive layout, aspirated 2.0-litre engine and six-speed manual transmission. Tall drivers and those who need luggage space may want to look elsewhere.
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