Renault Clio GT Review

Intended to bridge the gap between the standard and RS Clio variants, the new Renault Clio GT tries to find a sweet middle ground

The Renault Clio GT is the semi-sporty mid-way point between the regular Clio hatchback and the high-performance Renault Sport version, so we were keen to find out if sporty styling and suspension has enhanced or hindered what is already one of the segment’s top picks.

Available in two trim levels, the Renault Clio GT starts at $25,290, with a $28,790 GT Premium variant boosting specifications. It sits neatly between the $23,290 Clio Dynamique that previously sat atop the regular range that launched in September, and the $29,290 Clio RS200 that followed.

The Clio GT shares its 1.2-litre direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine (with 88kW of power and 190Nm of torque) and six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission combination (and lack of manual availability) with the Clio Dynamique.

It therefore claims identical combined cycle fuel consumption and CO2 emission figures of 5.2 litres per 100km and 120 grams per kilometre respectively, and a 9.4-second 0-100km/h time - in the latter case, 2.7 seconds behind the full-tilt, auto-only 147kW/240Nm 1.6-litre turbo-four-powered Clio RS200.

It also means the latest little Renault is down on power compared with the likes of the 92kW turbocharged 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder Ford Fiesta Sport, 103kW turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder Holden Barina RS and even the 100kW naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder Suzuki Swift Sport.

It’s up to $4765 dearer too when compared with its automatic-equipped turbocharged warm-hatch rivals, with only the seven-speed CVT-optioned Swift Sport attracting a higher sticker price at $26,490 – itself $500 beyond the excellent but manual-only 134kW/240Nm Ford Fiesta ST that starts at $25,990.

However, the Renault Clio GT is only pipped in torque by the Barina RS’s 200Nm.

Engine outputs are not the Clio’s bread and butter, however, with the standard Clio already a standout performer when it comes to tackling corners.

Aided by an exclusive GT model-specific chassis specifically designed to sharpen handling, the 1120kg Renault Sport Technologies-developed five-door hatch-only Clio GT should be a pleasure on the twisty stuff.

With five per cent stiffer springs all 'round and damping increased by 50 and 40 per cent front and rear respectively, the Renault Clio GT’s more strapped-down ride is immediately noticeable upon exiting our inner city hotel and hitting Melbourne’s notorious Punt Rd.

Helping draw the attention of a few more passers-by on the start of our 250km-plus Victorian road loop through Kinglake, Kilmore and Lancefield, and boosting the new Clio’s funky looks, the GT gains a more aggressive model-specific bodykit, RS-style LED daytime running lights, a chrome-tipped twin exhaust, GT badging, satin grey wing mirrors and 17-inch alloy wheels.

In slow-moving morning stop-start traffic the Clio GT’s hesitant and clunky gearbox is a familiar trait carried over from its base car.

Slow to react to take-off inputs when left in ‘D’, the dual-clutch auto’s shifts smoothen out once larger acceleration bursts are required, such as getting up to ideal cruise control speeds on freeway on-ramps.

It’s here too the surprising poke – between 3000-5000rpm – of the spritely Clio is first felt, though, catching it off-guard below its 2000rpm peak torque delivery point leaves the GT feeling sluggish and laggy. On-test we also averaged fuel economy of between 7.6-9.6L/100km.

With the Renault Clio GT’s standard automatic headlights and windscreen wipers both ablaze, we hit some tight, bumpy, pockmarked and seriously wet roads.

Quietly thanking Renault’s engineers for the Clio’s brilliantly progressive feeling and consistently retarding brakes – comprising 258mm ventilated front discs with single piston calipers and nine-inch rear drums – we get to grab the GT by its leather-wrapped steering wheel, hunker down into the heavily bolstered and winged GT-stamped cloth sport seats and test out its Nissan GT-R-sourced paddle shifters, 205mm-wide Michelin Primacy 3 tyres and RS Drive button - the latter four features all unique to the GT over the Dynamique.

Making engine and transmission maps and throttle and differential response sharper, engaging the RS Drive system’s Sport mode – a function previously only available on Clio RS – also perceptibly transforms the Clio’s sharp and super-light variable-rate electric power steering into a heavier and far more engaging animal.

Less satisfying are the metal gear-shift paddles and the gearbox’s delayed execution of shifts.

Relaxed in Normal mode, and not much more responsive to up or down lever pulls in Sport mode, the system seems less suited to the Clio GT’s intended line-up role, particularly given the model still relies on the same engine as the paddle-free central Clio range.

The Clio GT’s ride quality isn't quite as convincing as that of the plush-riding regular models. Possibly not helped by the GT being fitted with lower profile 16-inch items standard on the Clio Dynamique, the suspension is busy around town, the sportier set-up occasionally crashing through larger potholes and skipping across rutted roads, though it does remain secure and the handling is keen and very well balanced.

Its interior feels semi-premium, and well beyond the likes of the Fiesta Sport and Barina RS that are its closest rivals. The high-resolution centre screen is brilliantly intuitive - and in the Premium spec (pictured below) features an uprated R-Link infotainment system and the Clio RS's R-Sound Effect RS sound manipulation system - though one of our test vehicles suffered from the same glitchy Bluetooth audio streaming previously experienced in other new Clio models. It is an issue Renault Australia freely admits and is in talks with Renault HQ to resolve.

A 300-litre boot is among the largest in its class, and a 60:40 split-fold rear seatback can be used to extend this further if the comfortable and roomy back pews aren't being used.

Although stability control and dual front and front-side airbags are standard, there’s still a lack of curtain airbags in the Clio, though it still rates five stars in Euro NCAP results.

Although some buyers may stretch an extra $500-$4000 to secure an Clio RS200, unlike the Renault Sport versions that score a three-year/100,000km warranty, the Clio GT gets the same five-year, unlimited kilometre cover as the regular Clio range, in addition to $299 servicing for each of the first three services to three years or 45,000km.

The Renault Clio GT is a funky light hatchback with a terrific interior, and for those chasing sporty looks with a focus on economy, it makes sense. It is, however, priced steeply against its rivals and its on-road dynamics seem skewed more to favour potential RS enthusiasts who may accept its firm ride, but who may also want more performance.