It’s a concept car to celebrate Renault Sport’s 40th anniversary, but management are unsure whether there’ll be a limited production run.
They’re thinking it over, but this RS16, more than just a Clio RS with a Megane RS 275 engine, has had enough major engineering work done so it could debut at the Monaco Grand Prix, driven by Renault F1 pilot Kevin Magnussen. A few weeks later, it was driven at speed up Goodwood’s Festival of Speed hillclimb.
At Circuit des Ecuyers, a little northern French track Renault Sport uses a lot, we were allowed to drive the concept as fast as we liked and without a chaperone. If Renault Sport doesn’t build this car, they’re mad.
There are two deciding issues, both around money. Will enough people want a 203kW Clio RS with a manual gearbox? The limited edition Megane R26 R flopped. It was brilliant, but it arrived as world finances crashed. Nowadays, special editions of special cars sell, no problem.
And, complexity – getting an old 2.0-litre engine to talk to the modern Clio RS was hard. The front suspension gets double-axis struts, to reduce torque-steer – except the Megane’s don’t fit. The engine locates in four places, not three, the tracks are wider by 60mm and the bodywork grows to accommodate 19in wheels and 350mm brake discs.
The fit and finish feels production-ready. The 2.0-litre engine is heavier than the 1.6, but the manual gearbox is lighter than the Clio’s dual-clutch auto. A lithium-ion battery means that overall, weight is similar.
The RS16 idles purposefully, thanks to a titanium Akrapovic exhaust, and the controls are light and easy. Once you’re locked in that seat with the steering wheel up close, ergonomics take care of themselves.
Des Ecuyers is small, a handling circuit rather than a race track, and most corners are second or third gear. The RS16 is terrific there. It has ample power to a modest 6500rpm redline, linear torque and a turbine-like whoosh. Turbocharged supercars have low-end torque limited to avoid this ‘always on’ feeling, but it works terrifically in the RS16, lugging out of slow corners in third with the acceleration you’d expect in second.
It steers lightly and messages arrive discreetly, but with a light touch on the wheel you can feel the fronts scrabbling for grip. Overall, mid-corner grip is high and the balance is good. The rear is mobile under braking and on turn-in in that delightful Renault Sport way. It’s a total dynamic hoot, coupled with pliant damping that condones big chunks of kerb.
But it’s not a production car yet. And it may never be – although another two RS16s are being built, for durability testing...
4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
LIKE: Brilliant to drive; manual gearbox; playful handling
DISLIKE: If it is built it will be in very small numbers
Engine: 1998cc 4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 203kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 366Nm @ 3000-5000pm
Weight: 1205kg (est)
0-100km/h: 6.0sec (est)