By any logical measure the new Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo is an exciting and accomplished hot hatch, and more of an all-rounder than ever before. However, the lack of a manual gearbox option and a high purchase price mean it's no longer the best of the breed.
In the Metal:
No doubt Renault will sell you more subtle hues than the signature Liquid Yellow finish on our test car, but we wouldn't want it any other way, as the paint colour helps bring the Renaultsport add-ons to light and it suits the car's extrovert personality. The black-painted alloy wheels enhance the menacing appearance, though the body kit is relatively restrained - other than the diffuser-like rear end with its exhaust outlet on each side.
To our eyes the interior is less successful, mainly because of the garish orange finish found around the air vents and the gear selector, plus the same colour on the seat belts. The sports seats are great though, as is the leather-rimmed RS steering wheel with its 'straight ahead' marker. In fairness, it feels more luxurious than any hot hatch deserves to be and the colour scheme may be what the target buyer wants.
I'm not going to beat about the bush here; the gearbox detracts from this car for me. Renault is adamant that there will be no manual transmission for this Clio Renaultsport, which is surprising, but that the alternative is so unsatisfying to use is just plain disappointing. It shifts quickly and smoothly enough, as you'd expect of a dual-clutch automatic, but I never felt it was working with how I wanted to drive, no matter which mode I put it and the car in. And it needs to be in the extreme Race mode (with no ESC) to prevent automatic upshifts. At least the gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel are quite tactile - if mounted a little high.
Now that's out of the way, we can get on with enjoying the rest of the car. Purists are still grumbling about the replacement of the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine of old with a 1.6-litre turbocharged unit, but we have no problem with that, as the new 200hp engine feels like a bigger engine such is the lack of turbo lag. It's more refined than the Fiesta ST's, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your outlook. And there's no doubting the speed of this Clio.
The chassis is more than up to the job, even on properly challenging Irish roads in the wet. The tyres may appear to be suited only to a dry track, but somehow they find grip and the car just hunkers down and gets around any corner you dare throw it at. Direction changes are electric and there's plenty of feel through the steering wheel - and seat of your pants. Despite all that, it's not uncompromisingly firm in the damping department either, making it suitable for decent cross-country jaunts, as well as a few kilometres on the motorway when needs be. It gets its power down well with little in the way of torque steer or wheel spin.
What you get for your Money:
The Clio Renaultsport is quite well equipped, but that matters little when its starting price is just a few hundred Euros less than the equally new Volkswagen Golf GTI. The Golf is not a natural rival, whereas the Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi and SEAT Ibiza Cupra all are. The latter undercuts the Renault by well over €10,000, and yes, the Renault is still better to drive, but probably not €10,000 better to most people.
Our test car was equipped with the optional Cup chassis, which lowers the ride height a further 3mm, stiffens up the chassis by 15 per cent, adds red brake callipers and gloss black 18-inch alloy wheels, shod in Dunlop Sport Maxx TT tyres. There are plenty of other tempting options too, including an on-board telemetry system that's fully downloadable onto USB.
When Renault announced that this Clio Renaultsport would come with a turbocharged engine, an automatic gearbox and a five-door body shell we assumed, nervously, that the French company knew what it was doing, but we're gutted to say that the transmission detracts from what it otherwise a great car - if a rather expensive one.