First drive: Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo
The fire breathing brother of the recently rejuvenated Clio. A race-ready hot hatch that proudly boasts 200hp (197bhp) underneath the bonnet and years of motorsport success in its DNA. But unlike previous hot Clio offerings, the latest model aims to provide enthusiasts with greater practicality, a more pliant ride and improved efficiency. So now owners can happily drive to the track, complete a few hot laps and pick up some shopping on the way home without destroying their spine, spinning into a hedge or requiring ear plugs. Track day enthusiasts need not fret too much as this iteration is packed with race technology including launch control and a clever RS differential that brakes a wheel before traction control needs to kick in.
What's under the bonnet?
The 1.6 litre engine receives direct injection turbo charging for the first time but despite the unit being smaller than its predecessor, it still manages to equal the fabled 200bhp that previous potent Clios knocked out. The introduction of a turbo means an increase of torque (25Nm to be precise) and a much flatter delivery, allowing performance junkies to access power lower down in the rev range. Fuel economy has also been improved thanks to some clever engine management - 44mpg is now achievable on the combined cycle and emissions have been slashed by almost a quarter, with the new Renaultsport Clio producing just 144g/km, saving potential buyers £325 in VED.
What's the spec like?
Not too shabby. Two trim levels will be on offer; standard and Lux. The latter adds a beefier sound system, auto lights and wipers, electrically-folding mirrors and a R-Link system that can record lap times, monitor G-forces and download it all onto a USB stick for nerdy perusal later. Standard trim level includes all the RS badging, 17-inch alloys and the aforementioned R.S Drive mode selector. The interior can't really be described as luxurious and despite the addition of soft touch plastics, it still feels a little cheap. The touch-screen display feels awkwardly bolted on, the highlighted trim doesn't properly match the exterior paint and the stereo in standard spec is no way near loud nor bassy enough. That said, the general cockpit layout - and especially the seats -in the new Renaultsport Clio are much more comfortable than previous generations, meaning long or frequent journeys are no longer a painful chore.
There is a whole swathe of new hot hatches hitting the market, with the new Fiesta ST currently spearheading the positive praise (and costing two grand less). Renault doesn't see the fiery Ford as a rival, instead they are focussing on DSG equipped models such a style VW Polo GTI and the upcoming Peugeot 208 GTi - both are more expensive.
What's it like to drive?
There is a lot to love about the hot Clio, including the incredible engine note that is cleverly piped into the cabin via a tube connected to the bulkhead. A mix of throaty roar, burbling overrun and popping gear shifts fill the interior when the right foot is planted - but the drive isn't quite as ferocious as the soundtrack makes out. This is a quick car, but not neck-snappingly quick. The chassis is well judged though, firm enough in Race mode to allow for superbly flat cornering but forgiving enough in Comfort not to put off less enthusiastic drivers.
However, this does mean the hardcore edge of previous models has undoubtedly been lost. Even with the Cup chassis specified, it is no where near as rough and ready as its predecessor. Plus, that flappy paddle gear box is lacking precision. The shifts are fast (150ms in race mode) but second gear is over way too fast, but the jump from third to fourth is enormous. It can call get a bid fumblesome on really challenging roads.
The AOL Cars verdict
This is a great car and it will not fail to put a smile on owner's faces but it is sure to upset diehard fans of Renaultsport models. It's not quite aggressive enough to achieve truly legendary status but what it lacks in performance prowess it more than make up for with comfort and bags of practicality. This is definitely the five-door family car that can cart the kids around during the week yet reveal its darker side at weekends. Essential if Renault is to compete in the busy hot hatch market.
Model: Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo
Engine: 1.6 litre 4-cylinder turbo
Power: 200hp (197bhp)
Max speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 6.7 seconds
MPG: 44.8mpg combined
Emissions: 144 g/km CO2