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Car reviews - Renault - Clio - RS220 Trophy

Our Opinion

We like
Brilliant steering, strong performance, much-improved dual-clutch auto, high grip levels, exquisite rough-road damping
Room for improvement
Below average value, tough ride quality, auto improved but imperfect, lacks playful handling of Megane RS

Renault logo3 Jun 2016

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

Price and equipment

FOR a light hatchback no bigger than a Ford Fiesta ST or Volkswagen Polo GTI, both of which retail for below $30,000 before on-road costs, the Clio RS220 Trophy is certainly not cheap at $39,990 plus on-road costs.

The $10,000 premium over an automatic-equipped Polo GTI buys larger 18-inch alloy wheels (up from 17s), leather seat trim with front heating and keyless auto-entry with push-button start. The Renault gets integrated sat-nav with traffic updates, but the VW counters with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring technology.

Size- and price-wise the Clio RS220 Trophy more closely rivals the auto-only $39,900 Audi A1 Sport and auto-optioned but three-door $39,300 Mini Cooper S, however each is pitched as a ‘softcore’ hot-hatchback alternative.

Interior

The Clio’s interior is funky for $20,000 and semi-premium for $30,000 but out of its depth with $40,000 pricing.

Basics important to RS buyers are covered, with a nice steering wheel, snug bucket seats and a good driving position all noteworthy improvements compared with past hot Clios.

However the bathmat rubber-style plastics, glitchy screen graphics and paucity of storage are reminders of this light hatchback’s budget origins. Where the A1 Sport and Cooper S offer a premium feel, the 220 Trophy does not.

There are five seatbelts, but limited rear legroom for outboard passengers and headroom that causes the hairline of this 178cm-tall tester to brush the roof.

At least the boot is big for the class, but there is no spare wheel underneath – only a tyre-repair kit.

Engine and transmission

The changes to the RS220 Trophy read like a ‘fix it’ list addressing criticism of the fourth-generation RS200 that remains on sale.

Topping the page is an auto gearbox with 30 per cent faster shifts, because the six-speed dual-clutch unit dubbed EDC (or Efficient Dual Clutch) was previously sloppy when swapping cogs. The paddleshifters behind the steering wheel have a shorter stroke of operation, too.

It all teams a larger turbo and intake, and revised engine mapping for the 1.6-litre four-cylinder, which now delivers 162kW of power and 260Nm of torque, up 15kW/40Nm, and with a 300rpm-higher cut-out now 6800rpm.

The upgrades push the 1270kg five-door hatchback from 0-100km/h in 6.6 seconds, a tenth faster than the RS200 Sport and Cup.

All changes to the RS220 Trophy are as noticeable as they are likeable. The initial doughiness of the RS200 is entirely removed, even in normal mode, while the Sport setting is more intuitive and the automatic is now quicker to pick lower gears.

Only minor room for improvement remains. The auto can dither in response to full throttle when maximum kickdown is required, the Sport setting isn’t aggressive enough for spirited driving and the tiptronic manual mode will auto-upshift at redline unless Race mode is selected. However that mode disables the electronic stability control (ESC), something Renault advises against doing on a public road.

Otherwise the refreshed engine – which under the bonnet looks as though you have ducked your head into the roof of an office building given the piping and ducts weaving over it – is a whooshy, heavily boosted little firecracker, with distant exhaust pops on over-run a real sweetener.

Ride and handling

The changes continue with the chassis: ride height lowered by 20mm front/10mm rear, stiffer dampers, hydraulic bump stops, Michelin Pilot Cup Sport tyres and 10 per cent quicker steering.

The latter change proves most impressive, soaking up the dribbly on-centre patch of the RS200 Cup like a sponge removes water. It is now immediately sharp and direct, pointing a chassis that feels battle hardened.

Around town the RS220 Trophy is stiff but not uncomfortable. On country roads the damping is exquisite, remaining tough but removing the edge off big hits.

Indeed the shock absorbers could just be a quartet of Glad Wrapped baseball bats.

The Clio’s 162kW power output is such that it now requires the mechanical limited slip differential (LSD) that transformed the Megane RS’s handling back in 2007. Incidentally when that bigger Renault got it almost a decade ago it produced 168kW.

In the tightest corners this Renault struggles to find traction. Yet in more open bends the stiffer suspension’s front-end bite and agility are stunning.

There is barely any bodyroll, so you drive the RS220 Trophy almost entirely from its front-end.

Ultra-grippy Michelin tyres can make the rear-end feel inert, however, this hot Clio largely refuses to tighten its cornering line via a lifted throttle mid-corner – a classic hot-hatch party trick – like Clios past, the current Megane RS, and particularly the Fiesta ST do. What the 220 Trophy lacks in playfulness it largely makes up for with sheer surety and complete control, though.

Safety and servicing

The current Clio lacks modern active safety technology options such as forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB). More glaringly, it only gets dual-front and front-side airbags but not full-length curtains.

The Clio range has been awarded a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.

A five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty is impressive, as are servicing costs of $299 each for the first three annual or 10,000km check-ups.

Verdict

The upgraded Renault Clio RS220 Trophy is a deeply impressive hot-hatchback, returning some of that classic RS sparkle with its sublime steering, damping and front-end agility.

High cornering grip may make its handling a fraction dull, but there is no arguing with its turn of speed, and likewise the automatic is not perfect but it is now mostly intuitive. However the biggest issue is price, and for $40,000 the 220 Trophy is expensive.

When the improvements trickle down to the more affordable Clio RS range in the future, as they inevitably will, enthusiasts as well as commuters will find a lot to like here.

Rivals

Audi A1 Sport from $39,990 plus on-road costs
Suave, quick five-door trades hardcore handling for all-rounder qualities.

Mini Cooper S from $39,300 plus on-road costs
Feels more premium than ever, but let down by Hankook rubber.

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