- Published: Monday, 30 June 2014 06:00
Renault's attitude when it comes to hot hatchbacks is pretty well-known to most automotive enthusiasts. While other manufacturers have gone down the practicality route by offering five-door variants and dual-clutch automatic gearboxes with their recent hot hatches, Renault has steadfastly stuck to their guns by making their RenaultSport cars (as their hottest models are thus branded) three-door and manual only. This makes them a firm favourite among hardcore enthusiasts, who insist that such a 'pure' configuration is the only way to go for the ultimate driving pleasure.
So, you could just about imagine the shock when Renault unveiled the latest Clio RS back at the 2012 Paris Motor Show, and announced that this car will only be offered in five-door guise, and, shock horror, a dual-clutch automatic transmission, only. It was almost as though Renault committed an act of treason, and hardcore purists lamented that the French carmaker has lost its marbles by selling themselves out.
READ MORE: Return of the Clio RS
To be fair, Renault did have good reason for its decision. The RenaultSport cars were undoubtedly excellent hot hatches that ranked top of the class for their driving purity, but they found little favour outside the enthusiast circle, thanks to their relative impracticality. While brands like Volkswagen mopped up sales with their five-door, DSG-equipped Golf GTI, Renault found their buyers limited to those who could live with just three doors and shifting gears themselves. Long term, it wouldn't have made for a strong business case.
But is the new Clio RS all that bad though? Looking at it, one might get the impression that Renault would at least have tried to keep up appearances, by bathing the car in the signature RenaultSport yellow paintwork (this particular shade, dubbed Liquid Yellow, is a $3,000 option though), and decked it out with black trimmings everywhere. On the whole, the car actually looks quite restrained, with only the rear diffuser and Cup-spec black alloy wheels giving away any semblance of aggression about this car.
The more important bits lie under the skin though, and this new Clio RS comes with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine lifted from the Nissan Juke, and tuned to produce 200bhp. It certainly boasts of a different characteristic to the 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated unit that has underpinned all previous Clio RS to date, with the smaller engine feeling a touch less lively then before, but performance is certainly not lacking. 0-100km/h comes up in 6.7 seconds, and the car certainly makes full use of its 240Nm of torque, offering plenty of pulling power starting from lower down the rev range. It makes overtaking manoeuvres a joy, as you only need a tiny bit of room to blast past slower traffic.
There are three driving modes, with Normal feeling, well, normal. Push the RS Drive button down by the centre console, beside the parking brake, and you engage Sport mode, which sharpens throttle response, quickens gearshifts, and weightens up the steering, as well as piping in more noise into the cabin via what Renault calls the 'RS Sport Pipe' system. There is a third mode which we did not get to try, which is Race, activated by putting the gearbox into manual mode and holding down the RS Drive button. Race mode switches off all electronic assistance programs like ESP and traction control, and makes launch control available, and our advice is to use Race mode only on a racetrack, when you are absolutely sure of yourself and driving skills.
This particular car we have is the Clio RS Cup, which offers a 15 per cent stiffer chassis, 5mm lower suspension, and aesthetic enhancements such as the red brake callipers and 18-inch black alloy rims. For the most part, the Clio RS proves to be a fairly adept handler, with an extremely quick and responsive steering, and fairly impressive levels of grip. But it's not completely flawless however. There is slight but noticeable torque steer when you put the power down suddenly, and the twin-clutch gearbox, while quick and purposeful in its shifts, does get a bit confused when left to its own devices. You get the sense that, deep down, this car is still yearning to have a manual transmission, and we're not surprised really. The suspension is also pretty firm and rock hard, even in Normal mode, although not to the point of being undrivable.
On the whole, the new Clio RS does prove to be a capable little compact hot hatch indeed, although it has indeed lost that little bit of purity that has made the car such an enthusiast favourite over the years. But as a value-for-money performance proposition, it certainly is hard to beat, especially given that in Singapore, its only real rivals for its price are turbocharged Korean coupes, or the humble little Suzuki Swift Sport, which is nowhere near as powerful but offers plenty of driving fun in a same simple small hatchback package. But if having a practical five-door automatic 200bhp hatchback for less than $150,000 appeals to you, then the Clio RS certainly wouldn't disappoint.
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,618cc, turbocharged 16V, in-line 4
Power 200bhp at 6000rpm
Torque 240Nm at 1750rpm
Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Top Speed 230km/h
0-100kmh 6.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.3L/100km
Price $147,999 with COE
Also Consider: Kia Cerato Koup, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Suzuki Swift Sport