The improved Renaultsport Clio hot hatch gets a sleeker look with smarter LED lighting technology. Otherwise, things are much as before. Jonathan Crouch reports.
The latest Clio Renaultsport hot hatch model gets an upgrade in keeping with the changes lately made to lesser Clio derivatives. Here, it means the installation of a clever 'R.S. Vision' LED lighting system and a sleeker front end. Otherwise, it's as you were - which means that the French brand continues to offer this shopping rocket only with paddleshift automatic transmission. There's a choice of variants though - either the standard 200bhp model or the more focused 220bhp 'Trophy' version for real track fiends.
If you had to name two performance cars which are plugged right into the psyche of the modern car enthusiast, it would be hard to do better than Renaultsport's Clio and Porsche's 911 GT3. Both are focused go-faster performance models that have long been recognised as being at the top of their respective games. Go to any track day and you'll see these cars in abundance and despite their wildly divergent price tags, ownership of these models sends a common message. The owners get it. They understand what makes a purposeful, practical yet frill-free fast set of wheels. These cars also have something else in common as well. Neither of the latest generation versions has a clutch pedal these days. We're looking at an improved version of Renault's offering here and while we could lament at length at the death of the manual gearshift and bemoan that it's just one more way in which the nuanced interaction between a driver and a vehicle has been erased, let's park that thought for a moment and consider this. Renaultsport and Porsche have been over this decision at length. They understand the details better than we do. They understand the technology better than we do. And this is their answer. A short drive in the Clio Renaultsport might well be enough to convince you that the French company, at the very least, has that decision right.
There aren't really any dynamic changes made to this facelifted Clio Renaultsport, though its improved 'R.S. Vision' LED lighting system is significant in that it's said to improve night-time visibility by up to 40%. Otherwise, things are as before - which means you get 200bhp in the standard model or 220bhp in the uprated 'Trophy' version. Both derivatives feature a twin clutch paddleshift auto gearbox and around 240Nm of torque on tap from the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine on offer. As before, there's an 'RS Drive' driving modes system that gives you 'Sport' and 'Race' options - both of which are needed to activate the standard Launch Control set-up. Each setting sees tweaks made to throttle response, engine pitch, steering feel and gearshift times, as well as a progressive loosening of the standard stability and traction aids. In fact, that electronic safety net doesn't exist at all in a 'Race' mode that requires entirely manual gear selection and reduces shift times by 25% to just 150ms. Better though perhaps, if you're away from the race track, to leave the thing in 'Sport' where a bit of slide is still on offer without the potential for ultimate embarrassment. Are there issues? A few. The gearbox is occasionally a little dull-witted and even in manual mode will occasionally override a gear selection request if it deems it opportune. If you want the ultimate small hatch, you might be disappointed. If you want a hatch that can take apart a twisty road at devastating pace and then switch to a relaxed pace without breaking sweat, it's hard to think of a much better option.
The styling changes to this improved Renaultsport Clio model are subtle. There's a restyled front end, complete with 'R.S. Vision' LED headlights. Plus there are smarter 18-inch wheels and specific sills. At the rear there is a spoiler, functional diffuser and twin exhaust tail pipes, while the rear lights carry over a slick C-shaped lighting signature. The Renault Sport (R.S.) logo appears underneath the Renault badge at the front of the car, on the wheels and at the rear. As before, the exhaust tail pipes form a fully integrated part of the diffuser and also feature a rectangular surround. Inside, the interior is detailed in red, with the seatbelts and instrument needles, visible stitching, the sports steering wheel's 'straight ahead' position marker, the air-vent surrounds and door panel beading all finished in this colour. The anthracite gearshift paddles are fixed behind the steering wheel, and are the same items found in the Nissan GT-R. The black gloss centre console houses the 7" touchscreen with R-Link and integrated TomTom navigation. Out back, there's a 300-litres boot that's one of the very largest in the class and about 15-20-litres bigger than most of the obvious competition. Push forward the 60/40 split-folding backrest and you can extend it to as much as 1,146-litres, which again is far more space than most rivals can offer.
What about pricing? Well, you're looking at around £19,500 for the standard version or just over £22,000 if you want the more focused 220bhp 'Trophy' version. Before we go any further, I'd like to introduce a feature on the Clio Renaultsport that some might find nerdy or childish but will surprise and delight many. Well, it did with me. Delve into the menus on the R-Link tablet, and you'll find an application called R-SOUND EFFECT. This reproduces the sound of several high-performance engines and plays them back via the car's own loud speakers. A choice of seven sounds is available, including the Alpine A110, R8 Gordini and Nissan GT-R. A sound-management algorithm takes into account the engine speed, accelerator pedal position and speed. They tend to get a bit arcade-gamey when you really accelerate up the rev range, but it's good fun to change the sound of the car. Normally engine sound is piped back into the car via a hose with a diaphragm, rather than a specific artificial sound symposer, but here you can play to your heart's content. Other gear as standard includes launch control, a steering wheel that's adjustable for reach and rake, heated electric mirrors, touchscreen satellite navigation, hands-free kit, Bluetooth, USB socket, Bass Reflex speaker system, cruise control, speed limiter, auto windscreen wipers, climate control, body coloured rear parking sensors and fold-flat rear seat with 60/40 split. Considering you get that lot with a twin clutch gearbox and you have to wonder how Renault are making any profit at all on the money they charge for this car.
One of the benefits of switching from a relatively large normally-aspirated engine (the 2.0-litre unit used on the previous generation version of this model) to the smaller capacity 1.6-litre turbocharged powerplant used in this current car is that far better economy and emissions figures can be delivered. To whit 47.9mpg and 133g/km. The previous generation 2.0-litre Clio 200 Cup could manage only 34.5mpg and 190g/km, so you'll appreciate that this is not some marginally incremental improvement. It's a huge step change. An attractive asking price, big demand from a huge owner community already excited by the tuning potential of this car and improved build quality can only ensure that residual values stack up even better than the last generation of hot Clios, which is good news for owners.
Motorsport, they say, improves the breed. It's just that on most small sporting cars, that isn't immediately obvious. This one's different. The paddleshift transmission, the launch control, the hydraulic damping, the circuit telemetry system: it all comes straight from the track to your driveway. Which, you'd think, ought to be what Renaultsport products should be all about. So why has this one aroused such controversy in the motoring media? Probably because it's so different from its much-loved predecessor. You won't jump in and scare yourself in the first 50 yards - but then, maybe that's a good thing. Could it be better? Of course it could and Renaultsport's development history suggests that one day it will be. In the meantime, there's no longer a shopping rocket division between hi-tech hot hatches and properly involving ones. This car can be both. Which is why if you're shopping in this segment, you need to drive it.
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