Renault Clio RS review
Renault has taken its latest Renault Clio RS hot hatch in a different direction, with a turbocharged engine and five-door body
Renault has a reputation for building lively, effervescent hot hatchbacks that are great to drive, so its current downsized Clio RS represented a departure from the familiar recipe when it hit the market in 2013.
That’s because Renaultsport focused on emissions, cutting the Clio’s capacity and adding a turbo, while opting for a dual-clutch auto gearbox only.
Buyers can choose from the £18,995 entry-level car tested here or the £19,995 Lux model, which comes with extra kit, including the brand’s novel R-Link infotainment system. As before, there’s the option of a Cup chassis that features uprated suspension for a sharper drive.
Both rivals had the edge as they were cheaper and more fun to drive. Yet with its hi-tech twin-clutch gearbox and turbocharged engine, the new Renault Clio RS is a more grown-up package than its hardcore predecessor. Plus, the roomy cabin and five-door layout make it a practical everyday proposition. It also boasts head-turning looks and an equally stylish interior.
Our choice: Clio Renaultsport 200 EDC Cup
There’s no mistaking the Renaultsport Clio for one of its lesser stablemates. There are performance-focused design touches everywhere, from the gaping twin tailpipes and rear diffuser to the distinctive front end, featuring an F1-style silver front blade specific to the RS. There are bulging wheelarches, plus you can spec optional 18-inch gloss- black alloys (17-inchers come as standard) and £1,300 Liquid Yellow metallic paint.
From all angles the Renault looks every inch the aggressive hot hatch, with a boot spoiler, deep front bumper and RS badging transforming the curvy, regular Clio into something much more hardcore.
Inside, Renault has been less adventurous with the styling changes, however. The RS gets a pair of more supportive sports seats, grey-faced RS dials and some red flashes on the gearlever, doors and air vents. Other than that, though, much of the cabin is carried over from the rest of the Clio range.
That’s no bad thing, as apart from some budget plastics, the Clio’s interior is functional and loaded with equipment. Everything is controlled from the central seven-inch touchscreen tablet, with sat-nav, Bluetooth, cruise control and USB connectivity all fitted as standard. Large icons and clear graphics mean the infotainment system is intuitive.
The £295 Renaultsport Monitor can be specced, which gives real-time performance data on the colour screen. You can download your fastest laps from your favourite race tracks, and view different engine and gearbox parameters. It’s a touch gimmicky, but is aimed at the younger audience Renault is trying to attract with its raciest Clio.
The Renault shares its 1.6-litre turbo engine with the Nissan Juke Nismo RS, although it produces a slightly less powerful 197bhp in the Clio. It feels willing and urgent low-down, but the Clio’s power delivery feels strangled higher up the rev range. It’s not helped by the whooshing exhaust note or the sluggish gearbox.
Pull the ‘up’ paddle and the Clio pauses before engaging the next gear – it’s faster in Race mode, but the shift times still aren’t that quick. A long throw to the paddle’s action means you’re never quite sure if your request for another ratio has registered, either.
Despite this, the RS will sprint from 0-60mph in 7.1 seconds thanks to Renault’s launch control system, which manages engine revs for you to make the best getaway possible. It’s explosive off the line, but the anodyne engine loses out when it comes to in-gear acceleration.
Unlike lesser Clios, the RS allows you to fully disengage the stability control to explore the tuned chassis’ capability on track. A £650 Cup pack can be fitted, adding 15 per cent stiffer springs and dampers, bigger 18-inch wheels with grippier Dunlop tyres and lowered ride height by 3mm – the result is plenty of grip to lean on in quick corners, although if you do push past the limit, the Clio isn’t as progressive or communicative as, say, a Ford Fiesta ST.
Instead, the Renault responds better to a neat and tidy driving style, preferring you to place the car accurately with the well weighted steering. It’s an impressive performer, yet it can’t match the Fiesta ST for composure on the track or road. The ride strikes a good balance between control and comfort for a sporty hatchback, but big potholes do send thumps and rattles through the car’s structure.
French manufacturers have traditionally been criticised for poor reliability and flimsy build quality, but Renault has dramatically improved in these areas over recent years.
It was still only the 19th best manufacturer for reliability in our Driver Power 2014 survey, but it scored reasonably well for dealer service, taking 14th spot.
Renault’s fourth-generation Clio boasts plenty of safety kit, including six airbags and a tyre pressure monitoring system that helped it score a maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP’s crash tests. However, it isn’t available with any autonomous braking safety aids.
Making a five-door look like a sportier three-door hatch is a clever trick. At a glance, it’s easy to mistake the current Clio for the former, but Renault’s designers have neatly hidden the rear door handles with a rising beltline, keeping a rakish profile, but adding practicality.
It means access to the rear is easy, and the RS’s width at the back means the interior is roomy. The boot is big, at 300 litres – it’s a deep, usable, square shape, and the seats fold easily so it’s simple to enlarge the load bay to the maximum 1,146 litres. When stowed, the rear seats sit almost flat, too.
There are drawbacks, however, and storage space is one of them. It’s fairly limited – for example, the glovebox is tiny as right-hand-drive Clios have to accommodate the fusebox.
The Clio is predicted to retain only 45.8 per cent of its new price after three years. In mixed driving conditions, the RS returned 27.0mpg, but it emits 144g/km of CO2, and that means a 21 per cent Benefit in Kind rate. As a result, company car buyers pay £926 per year at the lower rate and £1,851 at the higher rate.
Still, the Renaultsport is rated in insurance group 29E, which means a year’s cover will cost £376 for our sample driver.