Car reviews - Renault - Clio - RS
Styling, handling, performance, efficiency, refinement, modernity, space, ease
Room for improvement
No manual availability, three-year-only warranty compared to regular Renault’s five-year guarantee
12 Dec 2013
RENAULT pretty much has single-handedly kept the baby hot-hatch flame burning bright at various times in recent history, with generations of outstanding examples of the breed.
From the ‘80s and ‘90s hotshots we never saw in Australia but drooled over from a distance, such as the R5 Turbo and chunky Clio Williams, to the Renault Sport-developed Clio RS 172, 182, 197 and 200 editions, their raw and edgy tenacity is what became so addictive.
Now there’s a newer, softer and more connected Clio RS, abandoning the old-school three-door naturally aspirated big-engine-shoehorned-in-a-small-car philosophy, for a high-tech downsized turbo engine mated to an automatic transmission – without a manual in sight.
Is this heresy or modern-day reality? Volkswagen’s made it work a peach with the most popular-ever Polo GTI, offering 1.4-litre turbo power driving the front wheels through a DSG gearbox - so why shouldn’t Renault have a crack?So here’s the first Clio RS with five-door body style, turbo induction and a dual clutch transmission the French engineers dub EDC.
If you’re a fan of the previous-generation RS Clio versions, you’ll immediately notice how much larger this car is on the inside as well as outside, with hefty doors, higher quality materials and a driving position that is several times better than before.
Factor in a tablet-style central touchscreen, smart digital/analogue instrument combination and classy gloss black surfaces finished in fetching metallic highlights, and it is clear the latest Clio is a hip little hot hatch.
Yet the basics remain – and by that we mean a driver’s seat that puts you in the mood to move on.
We’re in a base Sport first – controversially the first non-Cup Clio in around a decade in Australia – yet there’s still a push button start, followed by a snarly exhaust growl from the blown 1.6 four-pot unit.
The missing gear lever and clutch (ironically replaced by two of them) is still very much at the forefront of our mind as we slot the ‘box in Drive and wait for the inevitable delay as the turbo spools and the transmission dithers.
But that never happens. No, the 2001-2007 X65 RS 172/182-style jackrabbit jump forward that the heavier 2008-2012 successor lost will probably remain a thing of the past and hills will still illicit a slight hesitation, but the latest Clio RS 200 EDC is still tuned to leap off the line.
Better still, with kerb weight kept down to a reasonable 1218kg and the turbo on the boil, the latest little Renault sprints along intently as the direct-injection engine sings well beyond the 6500rpm.
It’s immediately clear, then, that there’s a big performance story ready to unfold with every kilometre in the Clio RS.
The searing sonic sweetness of the thing further underscores the speed and strength of this utterly delicious drivetrain, especially when – with the Sport mode engaged – the responses are as rapid yet controlled as you would have hoped.
Renault Sport’s engineers are right on the pulse here, because the steering, too, remains sharply reactive like a great hot hatch’s should be, tipping into turns with immediate and effective results, and all without the helm feeling heavy or woolly or devoid of feel. And even the rain couldn’t rustle up torque steer.
Over a series of cresting curves and tight switchbacks with surfaces more pimply and pock-marked than a Clearasil TV ad extra’s face, the Clio would just carve along the road, going exactly where it was told to go, skimming along the bitumen like a bloodhound on speed.
This is great news for RS fans.
Four years ago, GoAuto ran the newly minted X85 RS 200 Cup Series II against a standard VW Mk6 Golf GTI three-door manual, and we came away astounded at the realisation that the Renault offered the more refined and absorbent ride.
This happy memory rushed back as the RS 200 EDC Sport’s 17-inch alloys soaked up the noise and thump of bumps that we expected would have shaken and stirred us instead.
Far more comfortable and isolating than we would have ever dared hoped for then, it immediately became clear that – while the Cup chassis’ 3mm lower tune and firmer suspension tune would pay dividends on our favourite mountain pass – the base Sport’s pliable ride might make it the preferred everyday real-world hot hatch experience – especially when the steering, handling and body control remain pin-sharp accurate.
A whole lot of fun without the sore bum – that’s what a proper French firecracker should feel like! Unfortunately, we missed on repeating the same exercise with the more hardcore Cup version, but did enjoy a dose of its addictive alacrity over a hill-climb section of road known as the Haunted Hills race track.
We also sampled the effective launch control technology, as well as the sheer effectiveness of the four-wheel disc brake set-up.
Yet it is the absolute ease and refinement in the way the RS 200 EDC whooshes along – whether the road is straight or not – that impressed us most.
Purists might want a bit more visceral rawness – something Renault says the larger Megane 265 still possesses – but for a sub-$30K Polo GTI rival, the latest Clio is right up there as a fabulous little hot hatch machine.
But we can’t help thinking that a six-speed manual gearbox would only enhance the strong connection we have with the car, making it a very real contender for runabout of the year.
Only a back-to-back drive with the reigning Ford Fiesta ST would reveal whether the French defeat the Blue Oval.
Still, even as it stands, the Clio RS 200 EDC manages to redefine the latest breed of B-segment slingshots with a compellingly broader range of capabilities than ever before.
It’s great to see Renault’s great run of piping hot hatches continues.
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