The all-new Renault Clio RS 200 EDC takes the light hot-hatch segment to an entirely new level. Whether it can still satisfy the Renault Sport purists is a different question, however.
Unlike the previous two generations of Renault Clio RS that made use of a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine coupled to a six-speed manual, the new car makes use of a Nissan-Renault engineered 1.6-litre turbocharged four.
It puts out the same power as the previous model, at 147kW (200hp, hence the RS 200 moniker) and comes up with 240Nm of torque – 25Nm more than before, but over a wider rev band. For the first time ever, a Renault Sport model utilises a dual-clutch automatic transmission, without the option for a manual gearbox.
This may upset some Renault Sport purists, in the same way that Porsche’s decision to make the 911 GT3 auto-only irked many this week. However the generally negative initial reaction towards the choice of a dual clutch transmission mated with a turbocharged engine – with the potential for turbo lag further diluting driver connection – is thankfully unwarranted.
There’s no doubt that a manual transmission offers greater engagement levels, but not only is the auto faster and more convenient, but it’s hard to argue that it will also lure in an entirely new buyer group who would never have considered an RS in the past. This is important because in this day and age the folks at Renault Sport have to justify their existence to the bean counters.
On the whole, the new Clio RS looks the business. While its competitors tend to look like lightly modified versions of their originals, the French looks far more ‘enhanced’ than its vanilla siblings.
To drive the new Renault Clio RS, we came to Granada, Spain, where the roads are twisty and narrow and the rain relentless. Here was our first taste of the new 1.6-litre turbo that will also power the forthcoming Nissan Pulsar SSS.
Unlike with the Pulsar, the folks at Renault Sport have worked the engine, choosing a smaller turbo (for quicker maximum torque), enhanced air intake, bigger air filter, modified exhaust line and even a sound pipe that goes from the air intake to the cabin so you’re constantly audibly reassured of your weapon of choice.
Although the old 2.0-litre naturally aspirated unit was a gem, the new 1.6 turbo is far more elastic at low revs, enhancing driveability, while it still loves to be pedalled enthusiastically. Then there’s the fuel economy figure of 6.3L/100km, a vast improvement over its predecessor.
In the country side the hot hatch is king and the Clio RS is no exception. Press the RS Drive button, which goes from normal to sport and race mode, select Sport and away you go. In this setting the accelerator becomes more responsive, the electronic controls accept more sliding before intervening and the dual-clutch transmissions shift times are reduced from 200ms (normal) to 170ms.
Feed in power and the turbo comes to life, instantly. There’s that overwhelming intake sound throughout the cabin which is not only delightful for any car enthusiast but provides feedback on the turbo’s state.
Around bends the Clio RS is miles ahead of its rivals in terms of engagement and feedback. The steering is spot on, with even the tiniest input resulting in a corresponding output. There’s a genuine sense of connection to the road and you can feel the instant the Clio is about to lose grip, long before the computer steps in – a sign of any well-engineered sports car.
It does have a tendency to oversteer if you lift your foot of the accelerator pedal mid-corner, particularly in the wet. This is a familiar characteristic to current-generation Clio RS owners and is a source of undeniable fun.
The dual-clutch transmission is a little bit of a downer in normal mode, as it tends to find it self confused at times and champions saving fuel more than anything else. Thankfully the Clio RS’ dual-clutch also has a dual-personality disorder that makes it instantly comes to life when in Sport or Race mode.
In those modes there’s no longer a care for fuel efficiency and you’ll find yourself in the perfect gear nearly every time. You can, of course, use the steering wheel-mounted paddles, which are borrowed from the R35 Nissan GT-R (and don't move with the steering wheel, like a proper race car), to do the job yourself but we found the Race mode capable enough.
It’s worth noting that the Clio RS’ gearbox can drop down multiple gears at once (by pressing and holding down the left paddle), which is not something you’d find in any other car of this price range.
In race mode the gearbox changes get as low as 150ms and the accelerator pedal has no hesitation. The stability control goes to sleep and the Clio RS becomes a pure hot hatch in the traditional sense of the word – despite the turbo and automatic gearbox.
Renault says that unlike the previous generation Clio RS, which was engineered for track, road and everyday use equally, the new car is more focused on road use. Which is odd, because for the second part of our test we came to a race track on the outskirts of Granada, in Spain, to prove its credentials.
With torrential rain above and a very wet track below, we set out to see what the Clio RS would do without restrictions. For this purpose, we switched from the Sport chassis Clios to the Cup cars. The current plan for Australia is to bring the Cup versions only, which have red brake calipers, sit 3mm lower with 27 and 20 percent stiffer springs front and rear. This is a reflection of current sales, where Australian buyers have generally preferred Cup chassis, but that may still change before the car launches locally early next year.
On track the Clio RS is an absolute joy. It has just the right amount of power to thrill with the perfect poise and balance to make the whole experience a treat, every lap. Using launch control (holding down the brake pedal and pulling both paddles until launch control engages, pressing the accelerator pedal and letting the brakes go within two seconds) the Clio RS gets off the line and to 100km/h in roughly 6.7 seconds.
Even in the rain there seems to be almost no understeer, with oversteer being the dish of choice. Plant it hard out of a corner and there’s the slightest hint of torque steer but it’s nothing like you’d expect from a front-wheel drive with this much go – this is largely thanks to the car’s high-tech electronic front differential (but it's not a proper LSD like the Megane RS).
Renault has employed a skid detection system that is always checking for different speeds between front inner and outer wheels as well as front and rear wheels in general. It interferes by braking the front inner wheel to bring consistency. It’s a much smarter way of doing things as it doesn’t hold back engine torque, simply adjusting the misbehaving wheel.
There’s a clever system inside called RS monitor 2.0, which seems to have an almost endless number of digital displays that will tell you everything you need to know about your Clio and your own performance. Everything from power and torque, gearbox and clutch temp, turbo boost, wheel torque, 0-100km, 100-0km/h, 0-400km/h, 0-1000m, G force diagram, traction slip and more (check photo gallery for screenshots).
The best bit, though, is the chronometer GPS system which can be used to log your track sessions and the on-board computer has the ability to record the data on to a USB stick, which you can then download to the Renault Sport website and see your lap times, track position and all the engine details in the corresponding time. It’s truly the closest thing you’re going to find to a Formula One style track session management system.
We tested this data logging system numerous times and found it addictive, trying to work out at which corners and sections we could gain more time. It currently doesn’t have all the racetracks in its database, but you can add tracks by drawing them (needs to correspond to GPS coordinates to work). You can choose to share your work with the world, which means it’s likely that within a few short years the majority of the world’s tracks would be online.
The interior itself is a big step up from the regular Clio, with bucket sport seats, a proper Renault Sport steering wheel, racing pedals and upgraded interior trim all around. The Recaro seats have been sidelined, but Renault Sport says they may return in the near future. The bucket seats can be a tad too tight if you’re fast food-inclined, but otherwise they are snug and very supportive around the twisty stuff or on track.
Of course there are a few somewhat annoying aspects of the Clio RS, like terrible rear visibility (reversing camera available), the annoying and very loud rev-limiter beeping sound in Sport mode and the closeness of the accelerator and brake pedal for those of us that prefer left foot braking.
Nonetheless, on the whole, the Renault Clio RS is the ultimate hot hatch for its segment – it’s as simple as that. No other car can match it for performance, style, elegance and purity. Pricing is still unannounced but it’s suspected to either remain at the current $36,490 or even climb a tad higher given the inclusion of a dual clutch transmission.
Check out the photo gallery for more detailed photos of the interior and on-board technology.