Overall rating: 4/5
Tech-rich specification for Renaultsport's latest Clio should deliver, but for all its impressive pace and head-turning looks the new Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo lacks the engagement of the car it replaces.
In the Metal:
Five doors or not the new Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo is a great looking hot hatch. From its bold new face and prominent badge back it's a far more stylish machine than its predecessor. The longer, lower looking roofline and brushed silver accents around the lower bodywork, allied with Renaultsport alloy wheels, black rear-view mirrors and a diffuser style rear under-bumper insert (with a pair of exhaust outlets integrated) give the already head-turning looks of the standard Renault Clio a real shot of assertive, sporting appeal.
Inside, there are sports seats and some body-coloured trim materials on the door cards. There's a stitched straight ahead marker on the leather rimmed-steering wheel, Renault thankfully not cutting the bottom off the wheel like others do - leaving it usefully round. There's a pair of paddles behind it though, which signal something of a change of direction from Renaultsport.
Those paddles absolutely dominate the driving experience. The use of a turbocharged, 1.6-litre engine (in place of a rev-happy naturally aspirated unit) is forgivable in the quest for emissions acceptability and improved mpg, but the core value of Renaultsport's previous cars - engagement - has been robbed by the inclusion of the six-speed dual-clutch automatic. It's quicker, naturally, the RS now reaching the benchmark 0-100km/h time some 0.2 seconds faster than its predecessor at 6.7 seconds, but in chasing speed and numbers the fun has been lost. Three shifting modes are offered, but none are hugely convincing thanks to a gearbox that's slow to react to paddle inputs and ratios that deliver big holes in the power delivery. On a tight, testing switchback road the Clio frequently runs out of revs in second gear, the rev limiter beeping infuriatingly as you paw for another ratio. When it does come there's a pause in the delivery, and third feels too long - even with the engine's additional low-rev response.
That makes for frustrating progress, the transmission actually working best if you leave it in automatic - though you'll work the brakes hard as there's less opportunity to rely on the engine braking. That poorly matched transmission and engine frustrate so much as the rest of the package shows real promise. The engine itself might not have the sparkle of its high-revving predecessor, but it's not without character or, unusually for a turbocharged engine, aural appeal. It gets a bit raucous and strained at revs, but there's less need in everyday driving to reach for its redline thanks to the greater low-rev flexibility.
The chassis remains playfully adjustable on the throttle and there's loads of grip and traction, the Clio hanging on doggedly even if you're very ambitious with your corner entry speed. The steering lacks the old car's feel and has lost some of its immediacy too, but it's still commendably accurate when compared with its electrically assisted contemporaries. Those brakes take some serious punishment, too.
If there's one real area where the new Clio RS shines it's the ride quality. Gone is the sometimes sharper edged ride of the old car, the new RS delivering a compliance and control that's impressive. There's arguably a touch more body roll as a result, but it's well managed and the greater ability to smother poor surfaces - without isolating you from them - is a worthwhile compromise. That's on the standard suspension, as the Cup settings have yet to be sampled... Even so, it all feels like a more mature Clio RS, less hardcore in its make-up, even if the numbers associated with it are better than its predecessor's.
What you get for your Money:
Factor in that transmission and the additional equipment in the new RS and the Clio should remain something of a performance bargain. We say should as Renault Ireland has yet to release pricing and specification details. In the UK buyers are offered the snappily titled Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC (Efficient Dual Clutch) and the Lux model. Both come with air conditioning and an integrated media/nav touchscreen system. The Cup option brings 3mm lower ride height, a 15% stiffer chassis and a quicker steering rack, 18-inch gloss black wheels with Dunlop Sport Maxx TT tyres and red painted brake callipers.
Rather underlining the slight shift in the Renaultsport paradigm is the inclusion in the specification of the R-Link multimedia system of an app that allows owners to play back engine noises through the car's speakers. Seven sounds are available, three being specific to the Renaultsport 200, these being the Alpine A110, R8 Gordini and Nissan GT-R. Yes, really...
Renault is definitely taking the 200 Turbo to a different place with this new car, and it's likely that it'll alienate a number of its hardcore followers in the process. Key to that is the inclusion of the paddle-shift auto, which needn't necessarily rob the car of its appeal (we're not complete luddites here), but it's not particularly well integrated and ultimately frustrates. We'd take a slower car if it were more fun, and, crucially, engaging. The rest of the package is unquestionably very sophisticated, the new Clio 200 Turbo looking sensational, riding with fantastic composure and gripping determinedly. However, the raucous, old-school appeal of the previous RS Clio has unquestionably been lost - and that's sad for those out there who love their hot hatchbacks a little bit unruly, particularly as Renaultsport was arguably the last brand fighting the hardcore, purist corner.