The Clio is an affordable hot hatch with supercar character
French funster punches above its weight with a turbo engine and an entertaining soundtrack
THERE is a little touch of Godzilla about the new Renault Clio RS.
Just like Nissan’s GT-R (the Japanese juggernaut, not the movie monster) the new French funster has a turbocharged engine with an entertaining soundtrack and punches above its weight.
But take a close look in the cabin and you find exactly the same gearshift paddles as those in the GT-R, doing double duty thanks to family ties through the Renault-Nissan alliance.
The classy alloy paddles are no surprise in a new RS that’s had a massive makeover as part of the Clio 4 conversion.
The fourth-generation French baby now comes with five doors, a six-speed doubleclutch gearbox and brakes taken from the V6-engined Laguna.
Australian buyers will get the sharper Cup chassis settings. Standard RS equipment includes red-stitched leather sports seats and the R-Link system that allows data logging and lap times for owners who hit the track on weekends.
‘‘ The Clio range is incredibly important to us. It’s the return of an icon and the Renault Sport model is the halo over the range. It’s the hero,’’ Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar says.
The pocket rocket goes up against a wide spread of rivals in Australia including the Mini Cooper S, Opel Corsa OPC and VW’s Polo GTI. It’s a year away due to the slow ramp-up of production at Renault Sport in France.
When the RS does arrive, following the regular Clio in September, it’s promised with a value price tag, undercutting the current $36,490 sticker.
I’mnot exactly sure how it will perform Down Under, because the press preview drive in Spain put me into a Sports chassis for the majority of the driving. It’s compliant and mature but misses the edginess I expect from a Clio RS.
Track time in the Cup car promises to reveal the answers but rain ruins it. I know it is a nicer car than Clio 3 but the course is flooded and it’s like driving on ice, so the RS Cup can’t give its best.
I’m convinced that it’s a very good car but I don’t know if it will be great in Australia.
Renault is doing a Toyota with the RS, committing to a price cut even though the car is not coming until 2014.
‘‘ It certainly won’t be more than the outgoing car,’’ Hocevar says. ‘‘ And we have capped price servicing at $299 with one service a year, so we have a good story for the customer. What does a Corolla cost to service? There are two a year, for a start.’’
Renault Australia has only sold 500 Clio RSs since the car returned to the range in 2007. It could easily top that in the first full year with Clio 4.
It’s banking on the appeal of the five-door body, which boosts flexibility and includes a roomy boot— without any sort of spare— as well as plenty of standard equipment.
The RS gets the usual stuff including power steering, aircon and electric windows but such items as the body kit, bigger alloys, sports suspension and bigger brakes boost the bottom line. There is a built-in bonus to the six-speed doubleclutch gearbox, which functions like an auto until you take manual control.
The Clio RS is not as cheap as a Skoda Fabia RS, or even the same-sized Polo GTI but it is edgier and more exclusive.
Clio 4 is a much better base for the Renault Sport engineers, from the bigger footprint of the chassis to a smoother body and suspension that better copes with 147kW/240Nm.
Some RS owners and fans will question the decision to switch to turbo power and bin the manual gearbox, but the turbo and EDC (efficient dualclutch) six-speed gearbox are typical of the moves across the performance car landscape from this level up to the likes of BMW’s M5.
There is plenty of impressive stuff from an electronic launch control and hydraulic bump stops in the dampers to an electronic differential, as well as the R-Link infotainment system with data logging for track work. It also does well in engine efficiency, using just 6.3L/100km while emitting just 144g/km of CO.
Importantly, the Cup chassis is the choice for Australia to satisfy the proven customer preference. It sits 3mm lower and has springs that are more than 20 per cent stiffer as special damper settings.
The Normal, Sport and Race mode settings sharpen throttle response, add more heft to the steering, cut electronic intervention and enable quicker shifts with full manual control of the gearbox. Hold the left-hand paddle and it even makes multiple downshifts— previously only seen in the Ferrari 458 and McLaren MP4-12C.
The Clio RS is cute more than crazy. It looks sharp with twin exhausts and 17-inch alloys (18s