£20,300 - £23,000 Price range
Any fast Renault Clio will make enthusiasts weak at the knees – and we reckon they’re going to love this one. It’s the Renault Clio Renault Sport – a car that’s as happy nipping to the shops as it is charging around a track.
It comes fitted with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, producing either 200hp in standard form or 220hp if you decide to go for the full-fat Trophy model. All come with a six-speed twin-clutch gearbox that lets you play out your Formula 1 fantasies (sort of) from the comfort of the Clio’s body-hugging driver’s seat.
But it’s practical, right? Course it is. The Clio Renault Sport gets the five-door Clio bodyshell, so there’s decent passenger space and a practical hatchback boot.
You’re unlikely to confuse the Clio Renault Sport with a normal Clio either, thanks to a ground-hugging front spoiler, a rear diffuser, a roof-mounted wing and twin exhaust pipes. The latter can be upgraded to a louder system from motorsport specialists Akrapovic, and you can also choose between 17 and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The multi-faceted lighting system is new for 2016 and co-ordinates the vehicle’s fog lights (which, by the way, look like a chequered flag) cornering lights, plus the side lights and headlights to improve night-time visibility.
In driving terms, our exposure to the car has been limited to a few laps of the Haute Saintonge circuit, in South West France, driving a fully kitted out Trophy model. Hardly a test of the car’s real-world abilities, but an experience we willingly sampled nevertheless.
So what did we learn? Well, for a front-wheel drive car, the Clio is extremely happy to let its tail slide, but not in a way that feels uncontrolled. In fact, it’s a measure of the car’s abilities that it seemed completely at home on the track’s off-camber bends.
The standard Clio Renault Sport’s pointy steering setup is amplified in the Trophy, but then it does come with larger 18-inch alloy wheels and a suspension setup that’s lowered by 20mm at the front and 10mm at the back. It’s the hardest of three incremental setups that include softer Sport and mildly firm Cup. All models get Renault’s R.S. Drive system, which can alter the responsiveness of the engine and gearbox, and reduces intervention from the car’s traction and stability control systems.
The six-speed twin-clutch gearbox has come in for criticism in the past, and it remains slower to change than others of its type, and also makes the driver feel less involved in the whole experience. On track, though, the biggest bugbear remains the fixed steering-wheel mounted paddles that fall out of reach of your fingers during fast cornering.
While it might be the perfect choice for track-day disciples, the Clio doesn’t have the same frenetic appeal that’s bread and butter to a Fiesta ST. That’s despite the car we tested having the optional Akrapovic exhaust, which sounds nice from the outside, but from inside lacks the fruity tones that make you want to drive it like you hired it.
If you’re going to buy a hot hatch, it makes sense to fit it with the most powerful engine available. In the hot Clio that’s a 1.6-litre petrol with 217hp, the power hike over the regular model coming via changes including an engine re-map and a slightly bigger turbo. It’s enough to get it from 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds and pushes it on to a top speed of 146mph.
That deals with the performance side of things, but how about running costs? Well, drive with care and the Clio will reward you with official fuel economy of 50mpg, or closer to 40mpg in the real world.
Running costs for the 197hp model are exactly the same, but performance slips slightly on paper, 0-62mph taking 6.7 seconds and the top speed dropping to 143mph. Not a significant change we’ll grant you, but it’s evident when overtaking mostly because the 200 model does without the 220’s ‘torque boost’ function. It raises pulling power in fourth and fifth gear, from 192Ib ft to 207Ib ft.
That's both a good and bad thing, according to reviewers. It has the same power as before, but more torque. At under 7 seconds to 60 mph it's still quick and still makes a sporty parp. If anything harms it though, it's the new dual-clutch gearbox. For some it means less involvement, and it's not as quick to shift as others. For others it's a more positive thing - "[maintaining] your forward momentum in a way you’d struggle to match with a manual".
If there's another less exciting but still relevant upside, it's the possibility for mid-40s fuel economy - the real reason Renault has gone turbocharged.
The new Clio R.S was awarded five stars during Euro NCAP crash tests and is considered very safe. It has six airbags and tyre pressure monitoring as standard. There are advanced traction and stability control systems that correct any errors made by the driver, but can also be completely switched off to give full control. What is missing from this safety line up is automatic city braking that is making its way into more and more cars.
Whether you go for the standard Clio Renault Sport 200 or the Trophy, you get a hatchback that looks the business – thanks to a body kit and big alloy wheels. It also gets plenty of kit, covering everything from four electric windows, to cruise control, air conditioning and satellite navigation.
Renault Clio Renault Sport 220 Trophy
Trophy models are primed for the track, so get quicker steering, a faster-shifting gearbox, a lowered ride height, plus stiffer suspension and dampers. The looks are also racier, courtesy of an R.S specific body kit, 18-inch alloy wheels and, inside, carbon-look trim pieces and an embossed leather-bound steering wheel.
Although Renault’s conventional cars have been lacklustre in the past, Renault Sport models have rightfully developed a following amongst enthusiasts looking for cars that are suitable for everyday use, but can also perform admirably on track. The Clio Renault Sport hits this brief with ease – it’s not the most engaging of hot hatches to drive, but it’s definitely one of the quickest around a circuit.