Renaultsport Clio 200 – First Impressions
The Renaultsport Clio is dead. The car that sat at the top of the small hot hatch market for so long is gone and we’ll never see its like again. Whether or not you’ll mourn the loss of the car the Clio used to be is going to depend very much on what you look for in a hot hatch.
It only takes a few yards behind the wheel of the Renaultsport Clio 200 to realise just how drastically the formula has changed. The glaringly obvious change is the gearbox – a six-speed automatic dual-clutch ‘box now sits between the front wheels and the engine.
If there’s one thing to polarise opinion, it’s an automatic gearbox in an enthusiast’s car. Porsche have been brave enough to fit one to the new 911 GT3, much to the wrath of the internet, and Renault have received similar levels of flack for making the Clio 200 auto only. Unfortunately it’s a sign of the times.
Renault have done a fair job with the Clio. In full automatic the changes are quick and barely disrupt the delivery of power. Press the Renaultsport button hidden away beneath the handbrake and the ‘box holds onto ratios for longer, making the Clio feel eager and responsive. It’s very similar in feel to a DSG-equipped Volkswagen, the current masters of the dual-clutch setup.
It’s when you want to get involved that things go wrong. The response from the paddles can be rather slow and even in RS mode the gearbox wants to change up when it nears the limiter. Several times it decided to change gear at the same time as I flicked a paddle, resulting in two back-to-back gear changes when I only wanted one. Irritating.
Next we have the engine. The switch to a turbocharged 1.6-litre may have been forced by the onslaught of emission regulations but that doesn’t seem to appease the Renaultsport purists. Some are getting frothy mouthed at the loss of the naturally aspirated and free-revving 2.0-litre but the truth is that the new Clio 200 accelerates more quickly at any speed thanks to a broader spread of torque.
The combination of automatic ‘box and turbocharged engine make it very easy to reach naughty speeds. The Clio piles on speed with alacrity and every rapid upshift is accompanied by a cheeky rasp from the exhaust. It’s a very quick car, make no mistake, and now the performance is more readily available. Surely that’s a good thing?
The Clio I drove didn’t have the Cup chassis and yet it seems like the Renaultsport team have worked their usual magic. It’s sharp and well damped, doesn’t feel overly firm or crashy, and a few laps of roundabouts suggested that the chassis balance is neutral and grip breaks away progressively. Unless you’re serious about track work I don’t think you’d really miss the extra stability or stiffer ride of the Cup chassis. One thing I do know is that you’d need a track to really explore the Clio’s limits and abilities.
Stopping power is very good. Some decried the choice to swap the Brembo setup for Renault’s own system but the Clio feels like it could stop on a sixpence. The steering also deserves praise. It’s very responsive, well weighted and offers good feedback for an electric system.
Fruit Of Your Loins
I haven’t mentioned the five-door problem yet. Well, I say problem, but it’s really only a problem if you view the addition of two extra doors as an affront to your masculinity. If anything, two extra doors should be seen as proof of your virility: If anyone asks just tell them “I need rear doors to easily accommodate the fruit of my loins”. And it’ll help you convince your other half that it’s a sensible family car.
The increase in door count is accompanied by a roomier cabin and one that’s constructed from higher quality materials. There is the odd dash layout to contend with, where the curves of the centre console and the position of some buttons make it obvious that Renault didn’t want to design a separate dash for the right-hand drive market, but it’s a minor gripe.
The seats are worthy of a mention. They’re in-house items, not Recaros or Sparcos as favoured by some rivals, and they’re excellent. They really hug you tight and will not let go in corners. I can even live with the yellow seatbelts.
The new Clio represents a huge shift in philosophy by the Renaultsport team and this is perfectly demonstrated by the R-Link system. This gives number fetishists and tech geeks huge amounts of data to drool over, presented in flashy graphs and tables. Does it make the car faster? No. Does it make you a better driver? Not really. But it does give the salesmen something to show off.
It’s not the only technology that serves as a fleeting distraction. You can make the engine sound different by by piping simluated sounds into the cabin through the speakers. There are a number of choices, including a Clio V6, a classic 8 Gordini and a ’71 Moto GP bike. It’s entertaining for at least ten seconds.
Then there’s the launch control. It allows you to execute a perfect standing start time and time again (or at least until the cluch implodes). It’s incredibly easy to do, too, as the video below demonstrates, but like the silly engine noises it’ll lose its appeal all too quickly.
Flippant technology like this is part of the justification for the £18,995 price tag. The Clio used to be the best value hot hatch in terms of smiles per £. Now it’s one of the most expensive.
A Different Beast
There’s no question that the new Renaultsport Clio 200 is a great hot hatch. It’s faster than the car it replaces and – up to a point – is still great fun. It’s better built, roomier, easier to live with, more economical and cheaper to run. It’s definitely going to appeal to tech lovers and for those looking for a fast and refined hot hatch.
For those of us who adored the raw energy of the old Renaultsport Clio – myself included – it may be too much of a departure. It’s undoubtedly going to cost Renault sales when current Clio RS owners look for a replacement.
Where Renault stand a very good chance in recovering those lost sales, and possibly finding even more, is from the DSG clones – the Fabia vRS, Ibiza Cupra, Polo GTI and Audi A1 TFSI. None of those cars can match the sheer pace of the Clio or the brilliance of its chassis and only the Fabia undercuts the Clio’s price by any significant margin. In this crowd the Clio reigns supreme.
The Clio 200 has left me in a state of uncertainty. I don’t like the gearbox but the new engine is an improvement. The videogame-inspired R-Link system is bordering on silly but the handling and steering are anything but. Can I recommend it? It depends who’s asking.
But where there is uncertainty there is opportunity for others. Le roi est mort, vive le roi!
|Engine:||1,618cc 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|0-62 mph:||6.7 seconds|
|Top Speed:||143 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||144 g/km (Band F)|
|Official Economy:||44 mpg|