Would the latest generation Renault Sport Clio be better as a manual? Having acclimatised to its interior, this is something surely natural to wonder, particularly if you’re a fan of previous generation Renault Sport Clios.
With 7000km on our long-term Renault Clio now – more than enough to bed in the twin-clutch – we would describe the auto tranny, generally speaking, as good rather than great. At low speed the clutches engage sometimes a little too enthusiastically, but in “Normal” mode gear changes are appreciably lazy like any auto. Put the thing in “Sport” mode and the shifts quicken significantly, to the point where you’ll get a cool DSG-like fart on upshifts. It’s great fun changing up gears although down gears, sometimes you find yourself wanting a gear a little earlier than it’s willing to give you.
Sadly the paddles are strangely unsatisfying to use, too, like the way they click is too soft, and they really need to be on the steering wheel, not the steering column. Yes, you’re right, you should try to change gears in a straight line, but sometimes when you’re just being a bit of a wally and having fun – you decide, mid-roundabout, that yes, you will knock down a gear and blast out – you have to take a hand off the steering wheel, loaded-up mid-corner, to change gears. Not ideal.
Renault Sport’s switched-on engineers will undoubtedly make their Clio’s twin-clutch ’box better with time, but there’s an even easier way to fix this: put in an extra pedal and an H-pattern gearknob.
This generation Clio RS would be such a great car if it was manual, particularly as Renault Sport know how to make ’em (take a Renault Sport Megane for a spin). If this Clio was manual, suddenly the drivetrain would be as interactive, engaging and fun as the chassis, and you would have one seriously cracking car on your hands – with the practicality of four doors, ample rear leg room and a boot.
The fact it changes gears itself aside, I do quite like the Clio’s interior, particularly in our admittedly-getting-pricey, options-plump $37,490 Cup Premium trim (better stereo, reversing camera, heated seats, leather). I appreciate the big digital speed readout. I love the driving position, which is something I never thought I’d say about a small French car (do the French have legs? If you’ve ever tried to get comfortable in a Peugeot RCZ, apparently not). The seats hug you nicely, yet aren’t too firmly padded. Tick, tick and tick.
The Clio’s interior hasn’t been perfect, though. Some staffers think it feels a bit low rent in places. We think the centre screen’s ‘RS Monitor’ (the Nissan GT-R-esque feast of digital gauges) is a cool toy, except, maybe once in five times we go to use it, it’s totally drawn a blank! It shows the gauges but sans any information. You need to turn the car off and on to get it to work again.
That aside, hand on heart, I’m really liking the little Clio. During extended periods where I’m driving other cars, I look forward to getting back in the Clio for the daily commute. It rides pretty nicely, yet is agile and fun through a roundabout. After 12 hours of emails and meetings I do appreciate that it can change gears by itself, but still I can’t help but fantasise what it’d be like as a manual. I suspect it’d be awesome.
This article was originally published in MOTOR June 2015.