Renault's performance arm, Renault Sport, is likely to move away from manual transmissions in the coming years as it seeks to further exploit its links with modern motorsport and expand its global reach.
At the international launch of the all-new Renault Clio RS, Renault admitted that a move to automatic transmissions was necessary to grow the Renault Sport brand globally. Interestingly, Australia has moved up to be the second-largest market for Renault Sport models anywhere in the world.
The new Clio RS has not only ditched its naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder for a 1.6-litre turbo (developed as part of the Renault-Nissan alliance), but it has gone from offering a six-speed manual only to being singularly available with a six-speed dual clutch transmission.
The Clio RS follow other competitors in the class, notably the Volkswagen Polo GTI, by no longer offering a manual transmission, a move which Renault says was engineered into the project from the very beginning.
According to Christophe Deville, the company's head of public relations, the reason for ditching the manual transmission in the Clio RS comes down to transmission advancements that allow dual-clutch automatics to shift faster than ever before (150ms for the Clio RS in race mode), deliver better acceleration time than a manual transmission model, and also improve fuel economy and emissions.
The company also emphasised that it seeks to further exploit its association with Formula One cars - for which Renault has been a championship-winning engine supplier - as F1 also utilises dual-clutch transmissions.
Asked if the move from manual to dual-clutch for the Clio RS was a sign of what was to come from Renault Sport in the future, particularly regarding the successor to the currently manual-only Megane RS, Deville said it’s still early days and that the current dual-clutch transmission system in the Clio RS couldn’t handle the torque of the more powerful Megane RS265 engine (195kW/360Nm).
This also means that owners seeking to further modify or tune their new Clio RS (147kW/240Nm) are likely to put undue pressure on the dual-clutch transmission.
Deville admitted that Renault's "competitor’s had shown the way" when it comes to transmission choice, in a reference to the popularity of Volkswagen’s DSG system in the Polo and Golf GTI. Furthermore, given Renault Sport's growing commitment to serve overseas markets, the need for an automatic transmission was vital to the brand’s survival.
At the Paris motor show last year, Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar commented that "if you don't have five doors and an auto [in the Clio RS class] buyers go down the road to Volkswagen..."
Are the days of manual transmissions numbered?