It’s becoming clearer and clearer with each generation that Renault is perfecting the art of creating a thrilling hot hatch that punches above their weight. This is something they’ve proven most decisively with the third-generation Megane RS, a world-beating front-wheel drive rocketship that used mediocre ingredients massaged into brilliance: front-wheel drive, a 2.0-litre turbo-four, torsion-beam rear suspension.
This time around, RenaultSport had the task of translating their hit into a smaller package when the new Clio RS was due to be introduced. It’s spec sheet doesn’t read like a normal hot hatch from them might, and at first enthusiast gawked at a smaller turbocharged engine replacing the naturally aspirated units of yore, and gasped at the decision to fit a dual-clutch automatic with no option for a conventional manual.
Soon, though, the car proved it be a more than worthy addition to the RS history books. They introduced a hot Clio that was as adept at twisty mountain roads as it was zipping off the grocery store. More than anything, this was a Clio RS for more than the enthusiasts.
With it’s family-friendly five-door body, practical boot, long list of creature comforts, fuss-free transmission, and more mature styling with only subtle hints at its status as a hot Renault, the Clio RS had grown up to be a more accessible car but still as capable.
Renault updated the Clio and Clio RS line-up in 2016 with some minor visual alterations. It still goes up against other smaller hot hatches from other marques like the Peugeot 208 GTi and Ford Fiesta ST. The Clio RS in Australia is offered in base Sport trim, followed by the sportier Cup, better equipped Sport Premium, Cup Premium, and finally the track-oriented Trophy.
“The basics are same, from its four-door body to class-leading European safety score, but the mechanical package has had a significant tweak.” - CarsGuide
The Clio’s new shape is a more provocative shape than the model it replaces, introducing Renault’s new corporate face and flowing aerodynamically informed lines blended with shapely hip lines that give the Clio uncommonly flattering angles.
Renault even obscured the rear door handles on every Clio variant to give the car a more coupe-like window line, and the effect executed better than most automakers attempts, resulting in a base shell that’s already quite sporty. It’s one of the best looking small hatches on the road today and, at 4,062mm long, is one of the largest in its class.
Unlike the older car too is how tastefully mature it looks, eschewing the exclusively ‘boy racer’ vibe that might have pigeonholed the Clio RS owners demographic somewhat. That said, the visual indicators might have been reduced, but mistaking it for a non-RS Clio is unlikely thanks to the lowered front spoiler, twin exhaust pipes, and rear diffuser. There’s also LED headlights, an front blade element that was inspired by Formula 1.
Engine and Drivetrain
“There was no shortage of power from this engine, with a tug at the wheel betraying significant torque steer once the turbo was on boost.” - Motoring.com.au
Where before the Clio RenaultSport used an atmospheric 2.0-litre motor that would only serve up its 147kW power peak at a lofty 7,250rpm and its full serving of torque at the upper edges of the mid-band, this fourth-generation Clio RS’ turbocharged engine means both metrics are handed over much sooner.
To be precise, 240Nm is delivered at 1,750rpm and peak power at 6,000rpm, giving the car a wholly new character. Speaking of power, choosing the Clio RS Trophy also bags you an extra 15kW and 20Nm from the 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol. In either tune, this engine can really pull the front-driven hot Clio along rapidly, often without requiring a downshift.
The way it’s delivered indicates that RenaultSport intended to replicate the linear progression of a naturally aspirated motor rather than making the rise in boost pressure give away the car’s forced inducted nature.
From a standstill, the car in standard tune takes 6.7 seconds to reach 100km/h while the Trophy is quicker by a hair (0.1 seconds). Mating this engine to the 6-speed dual-clutch EDC transmission not only improves acceleration by way of quick gear shifts - though it’s more ponderous than, say, Volkswagen’s equivalent DSG - but also improves fuel economy. As a result, Renault claims that it can sip as little as 5.9-litres/100km on a combined cycle.
“It's a shame the interior plastics are mostly hard and cheap feeling, but Renault's efforts to liven things up makes this more forgivable.” - What Car
Just as some returning Clio RS owners will have to come to accept the new car’s change in trajectory in terms of styling and powertrain, so too will they have to come to terms with this new interior.
First of all, there’s only two pedals in the driver foot well and these strange paddles behind the steering wheel. The centre stack has a large-ish LCD screen with navigation, and there’s even air conditioning!
However, those familiar with the non-RS 4th-gen Clio will feel right at home here as just about nothing has been changed apart from the red stitching and panel accents. Creature comforts play heavily into the car’s appeal to broaden its audience and Renault has done a good job including them as standard at an attractive price - we’ll cover more of this later on.
The seats are comfortable and modestly bolstered without being too restrictive. Meanwhile, there’s quite an impressive amount of space for rear passengers, even trouncing the 5-door Fiesta for sheer roominess in the second row. Speaking of which, the fact that its 2 main rivals are only offered in a 3-door body style, the family man looking for a hot hatch will invariably favour the Clio RS.
Boot space, too, is impressive for a car of this type, with a very usable 300-litre boot that can expand to accommodate 1,146-litres of cargo should the rear seats be folded down.
Behind The Wheel
“It is tenaciously grippy, diving for a corner like a professional footballer. It is the most enjoyable part of the car.” - Motoring.com.au
To those sensing that this newer, more broadly appealing theme to the new Clio RS might result in some compromises that manifest in the drive, you’d be right, but only they’re rather minor only to be discernible to those driving the older car with this one back to back.
In more concise words, the Clio RS remains one of the most involving and dynamically capable hot hatches on sale. Front axle grip is rather mega thanks to the clever partitioning of power by the electronic front differential while the suspension tune is decidedly more forgiving than it was before. Having said that, line it up at a proper angle and it doesn’t take that much prodding for the car to let its tail step out of line.
It’s true that the dual-clutch transmission results in a less engaging overall experience due to the lack of a key interface point between driver and car, but the convenience of having the gears shift themselves by pulling a paddle means more time can be spent hooning around.
The more focused Clio RS Trophy is sharper still as a result of its lowered suspension, firmer setup and larger 18-inch wheels, although the engine didn’t feel any more powerful than the standard Clio RS tune.
It gets quite close to matching the benchmark mini hot hatch, the Fiesta ST, for sheer front-drive effervescence, but ultimately can’t match it for driver involvement. Be in no doubt, though, that the Clio RS is still a very accomplished package, and of the two cars will be the one you’d rather sit in after the time for irresponsible driving stops.
Safety and Technology
“The RS Monitor, meanwhile, is a kind of on-board telemetry system that can monitor temperatures, amounts of wheelspin, performance data, g-forces and lap times.” - Autocar
Renaults have always shone in crash and safety tests. The RS inherits the 5-star ANCAP score that the regular car received in 2013, with a total of 35.87 points out of 37. Four airbags are standard though there aren’t curtain airbags to protect against side impacts, but scored a full score for its side protection tests.
Autonomous emergency braking, an active safety feature fast becoming a standard feature in all cars, isn’t currently available on any Clio.
There’s also standard electronic stability control, dusk-sensing headlights, a rear view camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control, and automatic wipers. A 7-inch central touchscreen houses the infotainment system, though the base Sport grade misses out on niceties such as satelite navigation and the Arkamys sound system.
Better smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support would have been a nice touch too, but then again, neither of its two main rivals offer them, and the Clio has the most user-friendly of infotainment interfaces here.
The Clio RS may have taken an unconventional route to establishing itself as a top-shelf hot hatch contender, but the changes instituted at the beginning of its development were clearly made with care and consideration.
What has formed through this is a car that not only proves itself worthy of the RS name, but more broadly appeals to more customers than the spartan, track-day focused offerings of past hot Clios.
More than that, it has turned this version in an everyday hot hatch that may actually be the best version of the Clio, period, just because of its expanded spread of abilities. Couple that with low running costs, plenty of standard kit, and a pretty body, there’s certainly many things to tempt any buyer.
What Car - 4/5 - “The Renault Clio RS is a fast and grippy hot hatch, but it’s not as much fun to drive as the best in the class.”
Motoring.com.au - 81/100 - “Fob-pocket rocket offers plenty of dash for little cash – and the convenience of a dual-clutch gearbox”
Wheels - “…the Clio IV’s sensational styling never fails to delight with its stance and aggression. It’s difficult not to fall for the Trophy’s exceptional balance and adhesion, despite an unyielding low-speed ride.”
Carbuyer.co.uk - 3.5/5 - “The Renaultsport Clio RS has toned down and grown up, so will appeal to more buyers but fans of previous models may be disappointed.”
Autocar - 4/5 - “…we must get used to a different breed of Clio – one as quilted for your comfort as it is honed for your enjoyment. That it is still good keeps Renaultsport in our good books.”
Top Gear - 7/10 - “It's not the car it was, the Renaultsport Clio. Still fast, with a nice chassis, but not a patch on before.”
EVO - 4/5 - “…despite the enthusiastic chassis, the Trophy feels like a normal Clio with in a sporty trim rather than a dedicated hot hatch. There is a great car underneath, but the lacklustre controls and drivetrain don’t allow access to that often enough.”
CarsGuide - 3/5 - “I’m expecting a car that really cracks and this one does not. It is a nice step in the Renault range, which takes buyers from standard to GT and then on to the RS cars, but I’ve been spoiled by the Megane and I’m left a bit deflated.”