- High-level handling
- Gutsy engine
- Oozes Gallic charm
- Dual-clutch shift a bit slow
- No manual
What stands out?The Renault Clio Renaultsport is a cult hot-hatch with a fiery, 1.6-litre, turbocharged engine. It is a brilliant-handling, thrilling little car, but it is easy to drive and relatively comfortable. The Clio RS is very well equipped, has a uniquely French flavour, and is covered by a five-year warranty.
What might bug me?Operating the cruise control. It uses fiddly buttons that are placed out of the way on the centre console, rather than on or near the steering wheel as they are in most cars.
Stop-start driving. All Clio Renaultsports use a dual-clutch auto gearbox. It is good once you’re moving, but it won’t feel as smooth and easy in town as a conventional or CVT auto.
Waiting for gearchanges: for a gearbox in a high-performance car, the dual-clutch auto is also slow to shift.
The stiff ride around town: you will feel most sharp-edged bumps in any Clio Renaultsport, and more in Cup versions.
Dealing with a flat tyre. If you puncture a tyre on a Clio RS, you must get to grips with the tyre-repair kit – or walk. There’s no spare.
What body styles are there?Five-door hatchback only.
This review covers the Renault Clio Renaultsports – the RS200 and RS220 variants. There are also Renault Clios (Authentique, Expression, Dynamique, and GT), which are less expensive, less powerful, and less driver-focused. These are examined in a separate review.
The Clio RS drives its front wheels. It is classed as a light car, lower priced.
What features does every Clio RS have?Air-conditioning, cruise control with a speed limiter, and a digital speedo.
Keyless entry and start (which allows you to unlock the car and drive away without removing the key-card from your pocket or bag).
A 7.0-inch touchscreen from which you can control the Arkamys brand audio system, which offers a radio, auxiliary and USB inputs, and Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and audio streaming.
Headlights that turn on automatically when it’s getting dark, and windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains.
Paddle gear shifters that let you do multiple downshifts with a single press.
Launch control, which helps you maximise acceleration from a standing start. The system is easy to use and brings consistently swift take-offs. However, the Clio RS does not provide the brutally quick getaways common with launch-control equipped rear-wheel or all-wheel drive cars, because weight transfer away from the (relatively narrow) front wheels reduces grip.
RS Drive, which allows you to adjust the sensitivity of the throttle and gearbox, and the weight of the electric power steering. There are Normal, Sport and Race modes.
An RS Diff. This is not a mechanical limited-slip diff. Rather, it is an extension of the electronic stability control system, and uses the brakes to control wheelspin.
Alloy wheels, and a tyre inflation kit. (There is no spare wheel.)
Four airbags: two directly in front of the driver and front passenger; and one alongside each front occupant to protect the head and chest.
Electronic stability control, which can help you control a skidding car. All new cars must have this feature.
Every Renault Clio carries a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?Most Clio Renaultsports use the same engine, a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder that consumes 6.3 litres/100km in the official test (city and country combined). That’s a very good figure for an engine that offers an energetic 147kW with a broad spread of power.
The limited-edition Clio RS 220 Trophy uses a bigger turbocharger to release another 20kW from this engine. It also decreases fuel use slightly – in part through introducing a stop-start system, which shuts down the engine while you are waiting at traffic lights.
Every Clio Renaultsport comes with a six-speed, dual-clutch, automatic gearbox.
A dual-clutch auto operates much like a manual gearbox with robotic control. It will save fuel and will shift very swiftly and smoothly on the highway, but generally it won’t feel as fluid and elastic as a conventional auto in stop-start driving.
What key features do I get if I spend more?The least costly Clio Renaultsport is the Clio RS Sport, which comes with 17-inch alloy wheels that mount 205/45 tyres.
Opting instead for a Clio RS Cup gets you Renaultsport’s Cup chassis, which means stiffer springs and anti-roll bars, and firmer dampers. You also get red-painted front and rear brake calipers (that is just a cosmetic change). Wheel diameter rises to 18 inches. Tyre width remains 205, but tyre profile falls to 40 per cent.
Having chosen your preferred chassis tune, you can spend more on either a Clio RS Sport or a Clio RS Cup for a Premium version, which brings you more equipment and comfort.
The Premiums have rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, leather rather than cloth seat trim, front-seat heaters, and climate-control air-con. The sound system gets extra tweeters and voice recognition. An R-Sound system lets you augment the sound of the engine with a selection of recorded engine notes that play through the speakers (for example, one mimics the Nissan GT-R supercar). An RS Monitor can measure and log lap times and other performance data, in case you should take your Clio RS Premium to the racetrack.
In the limited-edition Clio RS 220 Trophy, you get the power increase as described above, quicker shifts from the gearbox, still stiffer suspension, reduced ride-height, and a quicker steering rack. Equipment matches the Premiums. The RS 220 Trophy went on sale in December 2015, and Renault Australia said it would import 220 of them.
Does any upgrade have a down side?The stiffer suspension and 18-inch wheels of Cup versions brings a busier urban ride than in already-firm Sport versions.
Only one colour – Glacier White – comes without extra cost. Any other colour will add several hundred dollars to the price of the car.
How comfortable is the Clio RS?When you’re gripping the chunky, sculpted steering wheel from the deeply bolstered driver’s seat, a Clio RS transcends its modest price tag and feels like a serious little performer.
The bolsters either side make the front seats more difficult to climb in and out of than those of a normal car, and the seats’ firm padding makes them less soothing over a long drive than those in a regular light hatch. But the payoff is they’re great at gripping bodies during hard cornering. If you’re driving, you’ll probably be having too much fun to mind any discomfort.
The unique card-key might be the first Gallic design touch to strike you. Then there is the elliptical digital speedo, flanked by the tacho and fuel gauge. Elsewhere, splashes of chromed, coloured and textured trim liven up the cabin, and mark the Clio as A Bit Different - in a good way.
Most minor controls, such as those for the air-conditioning, are sparingly marked but straightforward to use and have a nice feel. There are fingertip controls for the audio system on a block that sprouts from the right of the steering column. While their position is unusual, using them is intuitive.
The Clio RS 200 Sport has quite stiff suspension, and the Cup versions are even tauter. This makes them – and the Cup in particular – less than tolerant of sharp-edged urban bumps. Either car might feel wearing when you’re confined to the grind.
However, once away from the city either Clio RS does a terrific job of absorbing lumps and undulations – the springing and damping, although firm, is beautifully judged. That’s a Renaultsport specialty – and it helps the Clio RS deliver brilliant handling.
There’s a bit more tyre noise in a Clio RS than in a normal light hatch, because the tyres are broader.
What about safety in a Renault Clio RS?Stability control, four airbags, and seatbelt warnings for front and rear occupants, contribute to a good safety package, and the Clio did well in independent crash tests. All Clio Renaultsports also have automatic headlights and windscreen wipers.
However, while the airbags protect front-seat occupants from frontal and side impacts, there are no curtain airbags to protect rear-seat passengers from side impacts.
Only Premium versions have rear parking systems and a reversing camera (it’s arguable this is less important in such a small car).
An autonomous emergency braking system is not offered in any Clio.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Renault Clio its maximum five stars for safety. It received a perfect score in the pole and side impact tests, only losing points in the frontal offset test. The Clio was given the rating before side-curtain airbags became a prerequisite for five stars.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?Even in much slower – and much less costly – Clio Authentique and Expression form, Renault Clios have flair and talent that give them character and make them fun to drive. In a Clio RS, the speed, grip and fun-factor are turned up to 11. Given such a terrific donor car in the basic Clio, the result is pretty special.
Yet, the Clio Renaultsport’s pursuit of performance isn’t so single-minded that it overrides the great qualities of the cooking versions.
For example, a Clio RS remains easy to drive, with the 1.6-litre turbo engine providing effortlessly swift performance around town.
The dual-clutch auto is the only let-down here: it exhibits the common dual-clutch characteristic of being less than smooth away from a standstill, and during low-speed manoeuvres. And unless you select Race mode, it is a bit slow – for a performance car – to respond to the shift paddles.
When you flatten your right foot, the turbo four-cylinder has a nice, rorty note. And with a claim of 6.7 seconds for a sprint from a standstill to 100km/h, any Clio RS is quite quick.
But the Clio’s party trick is handling, rather than speed. It dives into corners with alacrity, and hangs on with tenacity. In fine front-drive hot-hatch tradition, lift-off oversteer – the tail sliding subtly on a lifted throttle to help point the nose – is part of the Clio’s repertoire.
The Clio is very entertaining to drive on a twisty country road, thanks to its quick responses, great grip and turbo shove. In these conditions, Sport is the pick of the driving modes: it beefs up the steering and makes the engine more alert, while leaving the electronic stability control on. The ESC system is lenient enough to let you have a lot of fun – if you’re driving beyond its limits, you should be on the track.
In the track-focussed Race driving mode, the Clio responds more immediately to the shift paddles, holds gears for as long as you please, and switches off the ESC so that you can have as much oversteer as you want.
How is life in the rear seats?There is plenty of leg room in the back of the Clio – it has a long wheelbase (for a light car), which creates extra space for rear passengers to stretch out. Headroom is good, too.
Rear occupants experience the same firm to very firm ride as those in the front. While it’s a fair trade off for the driver, who gets to have a lot of fun, the ride becomes tiring for passengers.
The Clio’s rear seat base provides good under-thigh support, and the backrest offers good side support. When the driver is having a go on a twisty road, it’s easier to stay put on the grippy cloth seats than on the leather of Premium versions.
The upswept bottom of the rear windows makes it a bit darker in the back of the Clio than in some alternatives. The other side of this is that there’s more metal to protect rear occupants in a side collision.
How is it for carrying stuff?The Clio has plenty of room in the boot for a car of its size. It can swallow 300 litres of cargo, which is more than most light hot hatches but about 20 per cent less that the boot of a small hot hatch such as a Golf GTI.
With the rear seats folded, the Clio can take 1146 litres of luggage.
Where does Renault make the Clio RS?The Renault Clio Renaultsport is made in France.
What might I miss that similar cars have?The option of a manual gearbox, which you get in most other light hot hatches. You might enjoy a Renault Clio RS even more if you were shifting it yourself - especially in light of the shortcomings of the dual-clutch automatic.
Curtain airbags for rear-seat passengers. You get these – and a driver’s knee airbag – in the Ford Fiesta ST, for example.
Among other light hot hatches worth considering are the Volkswagen Polo GTI and the Peugeot 208 GTI.
Are there plans to update the Clio RS soon?The current Renault Clio RS 200 arrived in December 2013. A facelift under development for the entire Clio range could bring a minor update for RS models as early as 2017. Updated Clios will have side-curtain airbags for rear passengers, but the Clio RS is likely to remain auto-gearbox only.
I like this car, but I can’t choose which version. Can you help?We like the Clio RS200 Sport. As the least costly Clio RS, it maximises the model’s bang-for-buck, which is always a big factor in the appeal of a hot-hatch.
- High-level handling
- Gutsy engine
- Oozes Gallic charm
- Dual-clutch shift a bit slow
- No manual
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