Marriage material is not someone who, after 20 minutes on the first date, turns out to be shallow, frustrating and a bit dull.
For romantic partners it’s fair to say we all want someone with a little darkness and mystery – a personality that’ll take time to unravel. Of course, a nice chassis helps, too. Which brings us to cars.
Nobody wants to do two laps of a racetrack to find their newfound four-wheeled performance lover has crap steering and a talent for understeer. You want to know that, five track days later, you’re still figuring it out, that perhaps the car is better than you are.
So hallelujah, after a Friday spent at a Winton track day we can confirm our Clio RS has a depth of chassis character that’ll take several track days, or Warren Luff’s brain, to properly understand and expertly exploit.
Through Winton’s slower hairpins around the back of the circuit, beyond limits there isn’t much more going on than understeer, but through Winton’s faster crooked bits, like turns three and four, the Clio will predictably oversteer on corner entry with an aggressive and calculated steering flick. It’s hilarious fun and you’ll be wishing such corners were all Winton was made of.
Meanwhile the Clio’s chassis displayed such depth and ability that it had us wondering if the nuts holding the wheel, rather than the car, were the things holding it back the most. The Clio had us arguing the quickest way around Winton’s fast turn five. I was able to drive, throttle flat, straight into the sweeper and worry about the turning and braking late in the corner. But associate editor Scott Newman proffered the slow-in, fast-out technique was the way to slice tenths around Winton in the Clio. Either way, the Clio’s great chassis ensured many of the limitations for going fast were the pilot and not numb steering or diabolical understeer – the case for so many “performance” cars.
Of course, this love affair isn’t without turbulence. The Clio’s chassis still teeters towards understeer and unlike the playful Fiesta ST, or indeed the Clio RS’s predecessor, it takes reasonable-sized gentleman vegetables to solicit pre-apex oversteer in the Clio. It feels like the wheelbase is half a metre longer than the old naturally-aspirated Clio, when in fact it’s just 4mm longer.
Meanwhile the 2.7 turn lock-to-lock electric steering is sufficiently fast and feelsome on track, even if to use it’s more satisfying than stunning.
The seats, too, were great on track, holding us all in place well and giving fantastic control of the big round thing. The Clio RS earns brownie points for full ESP deactivation, too, and good power-down despite the lack of a proper diff (it has a faux LSD, braking the inside wheel).
The brakes held up strongly, too, even if MOTOR is sympathetic on the anchors when there’s no stopwatches involved. Don’t get us wrong, we give the brake pedal plenty of hammy, but we’re not kissing ABS every braking zone.
Meanwhile the tyres were absolutely fine after around 30 or so laps, and that’s in 30-odd degrees of ambient temp.
There was one core criticism levelled at the Clio RS from our track day: the engine and transmission are boring. Yeah, it has 147kW and 240Nm but down the straights we were checking the rear vision mirror for a drag chute.
The shift paddles really need to be on the steering wheel, too, rather than the steering column. Ferrari puts them there so that, when you’re power oversteering your F12 in second gear and need to grab third, you always know where the paddle is. Renault’s reason? Not sure, but we dare venture it’s a little different.
Three months into the relationship our Clio RS has revealed a talented track day chassis. Next month we pontificate if the sawdust-y engine, and that auto, are marriage makers – or deal breakers.
This article was originally published in MOTOR May 2015.