The Renaultsport Clio has grown up – no longer normally aspirated, now it’s a turbocharged, twin-clutch-equipped ultra-modern. But has it lost something in the translation?
“Press the RS button for Race, and have the gearbox in manual,” said the man from Renault as I took the Clio’s slim keycard off him. I smiled back; clearly, he was under no illusions that the latest hot Clio, named here Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC LUX (phew!), would be going for a leisurely spin through some leafy Yorkshire lanes. Similarly, his very instructions indicated how different a car this new Clio RS was going to be.
I have been a huge fan of Dieppe’s Renaultsport department for many a year now, thanks to a succession of almost exclusively excellent hatches. OK, the Renaultsport Megane 225 wasn’t epic, but the R26 F1 230 which was based on it was fantastic, and then the wild arm of Le Diamond went mad and gave us the R26.R. Enough said, as I believe the yoof of today are wont to utter.
The Clio line, though, has been even better. Since the Clio Williams departed in the late Nineties, there has been a succession of souped-up Clios trickling out of RS that have been festooned in superlatives by all and sundry. But, despite this example wearing a nameplate that suggests it is part of that line, this is a new era – the giveaway being the ‘Turbo’ in the name. Even Renaultsport has to bow to emissions and economy pressures from the market, and abandon high-revving for forced induction. Still, on paper, the spec of the Clio is pretty impressive.
I’m not sure about the front end, however. It looks odd. If the more juvenile among us can stifle their sniggers at what I’m about to write next, it looks a bit like Mr Busy the beaver (steady…) from Lady And The Tramp. Its features are all out of proportion, most notably with a Renault diamond that’s so big it needs its own postcode. I don’t like the strange silver plastic trim that runs inside the way-too-wide lower airdam and separates the beaver’s teeth numberplate from the rest of the car. The RS logo below the southern point of Diamondshire also looks shoehorned in, and the end result is too fussy to work cohesively. I think, since the change from Clio III RS 197 to 200, this is something of a trend to make the once-beautiful Clio’s visage into something of a munter.
While the front end is questionable, there’s nothing wrong with the rear three-quarter view. With its low-down diffuser, great stance and neat detailing, it’s every inch a true Renaultsport. Elsewhere, the Cup chassis optioned up on this press car (£650) gives you 18in gloss black alloys wearing Dunlop Sport Maxx RT tyres, a 1/10in (3mm) drop in ride height, 15 per cent stiffer springs and dampers, and red brake callipers. It’s a pleasing shape if you’re not looking at the nose, so I’ll have to give it higher marks on the desirability front than I would like to, as I can see it winning fans in showrooms.
Inside is laden with toys and the aforementioned RS button, which switches the car between Normal, Sport and Race modes. You know the score here – adjusts throttle response, weights up steering blah blah blah. I’m not sure why it needs this, as the old Clio RS made do without it and could manage all sorts of surfaces and routes. Anyway, the front seats are excellent and allow a good driving position, and it looks pretty expensive in here. Although the paddles for shifting gears, which sit behind the steering wheel, seem like they’re not connected to anything of note when you click them.
Fire it up and M5Mt400 engine doesn’t give away any aural deficit to the old F4R 2-litre. But, once underway, its eco credentials (it can apparently manage 44.8mpg) have clearly blunted the aural delights of the Clio RS. It now makes the same noise (which I can only write as ‘bbbwwwwwwwssssstttt’) under hard acceleration that the turbocharged Meganes do; and that’s the only area of a Renaultsport Megane you could criticise. The hard-edged yowl of the F4R is nowhere to be found. There is a function to mess about with the infotainment system in the car and have the noises of a Renault 8 Gordini or an Alpine A610 (among others) piped into the cabin, but I find the idea reprehensible. Why can’t the car make its own mechanical soundtrack?
There’s no doubt it’s an impressive engine, though, as it’s hard to discern that it’s forced induction. That is, until you extend it right out through the gears and the delivery doesn’t seem to get appreciably stronger as you reach 6000rpm and peak power. Yes, it responds a lot quicker at lower revs, but I miss the sparkle of the old lump at full chat.
The gearbox is a bigger distraction. I might as well pin my colours to the metaphorical mast now: I don’t like dual-clutch gearboxes. I haven’t met one yet which offers anything like the interactivity of a proper manual, while some of them leave me with the lingering suspicion they are nothing more than very fast and very slick autos. Short of dismantling them and seeing the clutch plates myself, I have no alternative but to take the manufacturers’ word regarding the absence of a torque converter.
This EDC version does nothing to change my beliefs. I see the appeal of having something that can give you a ratio instantly, for that mad moment mid-corner when you’ve gone in way too hot and need both hands on the wheel and a lower gear as well… but if you can actually drive properly, this system seems like overkill on something with 197bhp. It also upshifts for you in some modes which are supposed to be for the keener driver – you approach the redline, a buzzer sounds and before you can click the paddle or pull on the gearlever, the software has gone for the next ratio. It’s also saddled with bizarre gearing, in which fifth and sixth feel massively tall and, concomitant with that, the first four are strung out to try and bridge the gap to the upper ratios. The result is that there are times the Clio feels annoyingly long-legged. This is supposed to be a fizzing hot hatch, after all.
All of the above – the needless tech, slightly dull engine and the bizarre gearbox – becomes even more frustrating when you start to lob the little Reggie into the bends, because there is no doubt that underneath all this technological tomfoolery, there’s a decent car trapped, desperately trying to claw its way out. It’s way more supple on its springs and dampers than the old NA car, but the Clio maintains exceptional body control at all times. This means that it transmits as much of its 197 horses to the tarmac, for as much of the time as possible, making it very fast across the ground. Unfortunately, that bland engine note means you have to keep checking the speedo to ensure what velocity you’re doing, because it felt subjectively slower than a Fiesta ST I thrashed along the same route earlier on the same day.
The steering is not quite heavy enough across all uses and modes, but it’s precise enough, while the brakes are mammoth with wonderful pedal progression – with 12½in (320mm) front discs, there’s no wonder retardation is so good. So the ingredients are definitely all there. It just seems like someone got the recipe slightly wrong.
Renaultsport is to be commended for keeping the weight down to 23.7cwt (2654lb or 1204kg), what with all this kit on board, but you can’t help wondering how good a car it would have been if Dieppe could have somehow stuck to NA and a manual box. I honestly didn’t mind the old car’s Spartan interior; if I want something that can talk to my iBlackberry Android, boil me a cup of tea at home when I’m still five miles away and navigate me to eastern Romania should I feel like it, I’ll go and buy an executive saloon with a humdrum diesel engine and soft suspension. I don’t need all this stuff in a driver-focused hot hatch.
This seems to be a modern affliction for manufacturers – simply give punters a load of tech spec, without considering whether this is part of the car’s USP. Yes, this Clio has a more mature interior than its predecessor, it has more grunt in the midrange and a faster gearbox, and it’s laden with Bluetooth and multimedia. But is it only me who thinks ‘what was wrong with the old Clio Cups?’ I loved the old 197 and 200 models, they were stunning hot hatches which required a bit of skill to get the best from them… but when you did, you were suitably recompensed by a chassis and fiery engine that made the car feel much faster than it already was. It was sensationally good and I lament its demise. What’s so infuriating here is that the turbo version is not a bad car – but it could and should be so much better.
The funny thing is, I’ve seen some reviewers saying much the same – that the magic of the old NA car has gone. Yet some of those journos used to be the very ones who decried the old car’s lack of torque, harrumphing “it’s too much like hard work, the Clio; you have to actually drive it to get it go fast”. Well, I hope they’re satisfied – because, on this showing, Renaultsport has bowed to popular pressure and the green stasi, and messed up what has traditionally been one of its very strongest products. What a huge shame.
Tech Spec Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC LUX
- Body Front-engined five-door hatchback
- Engine 1618cc 16v turbocharged petrol
- Transmission FWD, six-speed twin-clutch manual with paddleshift
- 0-62mph 6.7 seconds
- Top speed 143mph
- Max power 197bhp @ 6000rpm
- Max torque 177lbf.ft @ 1750rpm
- Fuel consumption 44.8mpg (claimed combined)
- CO2 emissions 144g/km
- Price from £19,995 (£22,355 as tested)
The Truth & Nothing But…
Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC LUX
+ It’s a hot Renault so it has a well-sorted chassis, and the turbo does give it the low-down muscle its predecessor was missing…
– …but it also robs the little Reggie of its high-revs fireworks and intense feeling. Dual-clutch gearbox is also flawed, while the car’s front end looks too fussy.
∴ There’s still a capable chassis underneath all the tech, but the hot Clio has lost some of its pizzazz.