Re­nault Clio RS Lux de­liv­ers mixed emo­tions

Good pace, but let down by con­fused dual-clutch gear­box

The Star Early Edition - - MOTORING - JESSE ADAMS

THE PRE­VI­OUS Clio RS, from 2009, was a mem­o­rable car. Not only be­cause the test unit we drove was fin­ished in a scorch­ing yel­low, but be­cause it was sprung like a shop­ping trol­ley, its trans­mis­sion was a rush­able, snick­ity man­ual, and its 2-litre en­gine revved like a den­tist’s drill. It felt naughty. Like you were driv­ing a le­git race car il­le­gally on the road.

The new one, which launched around three years ago but was facelifted in May, is noth­ing like its pre­de­ces­sor. For starters it’s a five door now, in­stead of three. Its screamy nat­u­rally-aspi­rated en­gine has made way for a qui­eter 1.6 turbo, the man­ual box has been re­placed with a dual-clutch auto, and the ride is much eas­ier on the spine. Not nec­es­sar­ily bad things, es­pe­cially if you like a less high strung va­ri­ety of hot hatches.

As with the pre-facelifted ver­sion, the Clio RS comes in two flavours Lux and Tro­phy (the lat­ter re­places the Cup). The Lux, as given away by its name, is the more live­able of the two. It rides on higher pro­file 17” rub­ber, its sus­pen­sion is tuned a lit­tle more pli­antly and it’s a bit more hushed be­cause it doesn’t get the Tro­phy’s free-flow Akropovic ex­haust sys­tem.

Be­sides the ex­haust, the racier Tro­phy sits on firmer springs (20mm lower at the front and 10mm lower at the rear), tyres are less for­giv­ing 18-inch­ers and, strangely, it gets heated leather seats which in our opin­ion would be bet­ter suited to the Lux. The Tro­phy’s also quite a bit more pow­er­ful at 162kW and 280Nm ver­sus the Lux’s 147/260, but even with its ex­tra oomph it’s only marginally quicker with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 6.6 sec­onds to the Lux’s 6.7.

On test here is the Lux, which be­sides be­ing the more re­al­is­tic daily driver, is also 40 grand cheaper at R379 900.

It might be the plusher op­tion but you’d never guess by the seats. The side bol­ster­ing of the front buck­ets is bor­der­line ab­sur­dity, and though my small­ish frame tucked neatly be­tween them, I won­der if any­one north of 90kg would even be able to sit in there. Clearly Re­nault Sport isn’t play­ing around when it comes to hold­ing bod­ies in place when roads get twisty, but per­haps they for­got not ev­ery­one’s built like Nico Hulken­berg.

If the seats sug­gest a sense of hard­core he­do­nism, the rest of the car doesn’t re­ally fol­low through. There’s just not enough of a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween this and the far less ex­pen­sive Clio GT-Line, es­pe­cially in han­dling. Re­mem­ber, I’m speak­ing for the softer Lux model only, and to be fair the tauter Tro­phy might rec­tify some is­sues; but it’s hardly play­ful enough at full tilt in cor­ners to jus­tify an RS badge.

In a bumpy moun­tain pass the car de­liv­ered a good mix of han­dling sharp­ness and sus­pen­sion com­pli­ance. But driv­ing in real anger around a smooth test track re­vealed a ten­dency for the nose to wash away from apexes, rather than tuck into them. An elec­tronic front diff-lock tries to cor­rect some un­der­steer, and it works to an ex­tent, but be­cause it’s es­sen­tially just brak­ing the spin­ning in­side wheel the sen­sa­tion is more de­cel­er­a­tion than added trac­tion. There’s gobs of torque steer when hard on the throt­tle, and while this is of­ten con­sid­ered a com­plaint in high-per­for­mance fron­twheel drives, it’s a com­pli­ment in this case be­cause work­ing the wheel dis­tracts from other­wise dull han­dling.

Re­nault’s six-speed EDC (Ef­fi­cient Dual Clutch) gear­box is also a let down. In nor­mal drive mode it falls asleep, de­fault­ing to the high­est pos­si­ble gear, pre­sum­ably to op­ti­mise fuel con­sump­tion. Wake it up with a kick of the gas pedal, and it stut­ters, yawns, has a stretch, clears some sand from its eyes, and then drops a cog or two when it’s ready. Op­po­site prob­lem in sport mode. Push the RS-la­belled but­ton just ahead of the hand­brake, and the trans­mis­sion tosses a dou­ble es­presso shot, rages on a caf­feine high, and be­comes re­luc­tant to let the tacho’s nee­dle leave the red zone. Some happy mid­dle ground would be nice, Re­nault. It’s of­ten best to take con­trol and change man­u­ally with the steer­ing pad­dles, if any­thing just to

avoid frus­tra­tion. On the plus side, there’s a cool (al­beit un­nec­es­sary) throt­tle blip fea­ture on each down­shift when in RS mode.

The car’s quick, I’ll give it that. De­cep­tively quick. Be­sides the ubiq­ui­tous se­ries of blurps from the tailpipes be­tween gears, it ac­cel­er­ates rapidly but with­out much fan­fare. Its im­pres­sive fig­ures are mostly down to an ef­fec­tive launch con­trol sys­tem, ac­ti­vated by tug­ging both shift pad­dles si­mul­ta­ne­ously be­fore bolt­ing off the line. You’ll know it’s work­ing, not only by a bright or­ange light in the in­stru­ment clus­ter, but by the hi­lar­i­ous fart noises it makes as the revs rise and the turbo spools be­fore take­off.

We couldn’t match Re­nault’s 6.7 sec­ond claim, but we came close with a best 0-100km/h of 6.99 sec­onds, and the quar­ter mile came in 15.1. These times slot it smack in be­tween the slightly quicker Polo GTI and slightly slower (man­ual) Fi­esta ST, ac­cord­ing to our Vbox test equip­ment.

The Playsta­tion gen­er­a­tion will go knees weak for the Clio’s RS Mon­i­tor, a func­tion housed within the 17.8cm touch­screen where drivers can scroll through nu­mer­ous so-called teleme­try dis­plays. Most are use­less to be hon­est. Who needs to see steer­ing an­gles or in­di­vid­ual wheel spin in real time, and who has time to glance at these while driv­ing? But, it is pos­si­ble to store all recorded data from a track ses­sion, and up­load it to a USB stick for later re­view. Gim­micky, yes. Use­ful, per­haps ... if you’re Nico Hulken­berg.

One RS Mon­i­tor screen records ac­cel­er­a­tion per­for­mance fig­ures, which, by the way, were way off what our satel­lite-based Vbox reg­is­tered. Un­less you be­lieve the Lux can beat claimed ac­cel­er­a­tion times by half a sec­ond or so. VER­DICT An RS badge, re­gard­less of brand, is ac­com­pa­nied by high ex­pec­ta­tions. In Lux guise the Re­nault Clio RS dis­ap­points some­what. It’d be eas­ier to for­give its medi­ocre on-the-lim­its han­dling and schizo gear­box if it were la­belled as a Sport and po­si­tioned be­tween the GT-Line and the RS Tro­phy.

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