It's not often you can compare Renault to a BMW M car, but for possibly the first time ever, the oppportunity arises. You see, there are a lot of terribly upset people out there complaining about the new Clio RS being available only with a dual clutch semi-auto.
This is not how you make a hot Clio, they say. We've got one to see if they're wrong.
Renault Clio RS 200 Overview
The Clio RS 200 is the new hot hatch from Renault's Dieppe-based go-faster division Renaultsport, formerly known as Alpine.
In this new iteration, a number of Clio RS markers have been junked - a naturally aspirated 2.0 litre has made way for a torquier, turbo-charged 1.6 litre. The six-speed manual is gone, replaced by Renault's six-speed EDC.
The three-door bodyshell has also gone the way of the dodo - the five-door is Renault's strongest global seller and it made no sense to continue with the three-door version of the car.
So now we have a five-door hatchback with decent rear space, sporty-but-normal bucket seats up front (the previous model's Recaros were brilliant - as long as you were sitting in and not behind them), a big central screen and what appears to be a sacrilegous shift in philosophy - it's a much easier car to live with from a practical point-of-view.
Most importantly, however, there's been a massive drop in the price - the old 2.0 litre Clio RS 200 was retailing at $34,990 right until its dying day, with some versions reaching up to a Megane RS-sized price in the low $40,000 range.
This base-spec Clio RS is priced just under $29,000 before on-roads. This is more than the manual-only, three-door Ford Fiesta ST and but less than ageing Volkswagen Polo GTI. It's an easy $1000 cheaper than its French rival, the lovely 208 GTI.
Renault Clio RS 200 Interior
The new Clio's interior is pretty good in bog-standard 1.0 litre and 1.2 litre forms, so there hasn't been a lot of action in this basic Sport version. There's plenty of RS badging and red inserts in the upgraded, cloth covered seats and various bits of trim.
The interior isn't exactly let down by some funny detailing, but there are some mild surprises which detract from an otherwise well-executed job.
The central screen looks after sat-nav, stereo and phone functions. There's a USB port right next to the screen which is a fairly annoying place to put it as the cable hangs down to wherever you've put your phone.
Front seating is good, but close together, meaning there's no room for a console (although the Clio Dynamique squeezes one in). There's just two cut-outs for a cup and perhaps a Red Bull-sized can. The door pockets are pretty slim too, but the glove box isn't too bad. There's also space to throw your phone and keys at the base of the central console and there's also a 12V charger there.
The steering wheel is wrapped in leather as is the shift selector, but the button on the lever feels flimsy and you can get a pinch from the selector release button. Given the general quality of the interior, the selector in particular seems out of place.
The unusual dash carries over from the lower models too. A pair of teardrop-shaped dials - tacho on the left, fuel on the right - are intersected by a digital speedo with big easy-to-read numbers along with the gear indicator. Up top is the trip computer, a little less easy to read but extremely useful.
Behind the wheel is a delectable pair of aluminium paddle-shifters, which are a delight to look at and use. Down lower is a paddle for the stereo which takes some getting used to, but will be familiar to anyone who owned the Clio 172 from 2001.
Renault Clio RS 200 Exterior and Styling
The Clio RS isn't immediately recognisable unless it's bought in the tremendously vivid RS-exclusive Liquid Yellow. Our was Flame Red (both are $550 options, along with Mercury Grey) and it looked great. The silver 18-inch wheels are the first indicator, along with daytime running lights and a discreet RS logo on the grille.
The skirts along the sills, diffuser rear bumper and hatch-mounted wing are all reasonably subtle, but hint at the car's abilities. Naturally, it sits lower than the standard car, but the ride height doesn't endanger any of the additions.
Renault Clio RS 200 On the Road
The Clio RS doesn't disappoint and even the hard-bitten enthusiasts from the internet boards will have to begrudingly admit that this is a far better car overall than its predecessor.
While the new car retains the fantastic, pointy front end, it dispenses with the rib-rattling, tiresome ride. Rear passengers especially will approve of a more forgiving, compliant damper and spring combination, while the driver will appreciate not being bounced off the tarmac.
The 1.6 litre turbo pumps out 147kW and 240Nm of torque. That torque figure arrives down low at 1750rpm, meaning an easier drive around town (it's very good in automatic mode).
A little bit of the old chassis' liveliness is lost through the more relaxed nature of the powerplant, it requires a very different style to get the most out of it. The old car needed to be kept bouncing off the limiter because the torque and power maps meant that's where it all happened.
While this new engine will cheerfully - and sometimes annoyingly - headbang the cut-out, you soon learn shifting 500rpm earlier is the better way to keep the turbo spinning and that lovely rush of torque pulling you out of the corners and towards the next one.
The six-speed EDC is a very well-tuned gearbox. In automatic mode it suffers from little of the hesitation of VW's DSG around town and probably behaves better when being thrashed, too. In Sport and Race, the shifts get harder and faster, along with a delicious bark and crackle from the tailpipe.
But, as always, the experience is dominated by the handling. Some will find it a touch too soft and (that's what the Cup chassis is for) there is that nagging perception that it's a family car.
But on the road, all that will melt away. It's enormous fun to drive, even to the shops.
Renault Clio RS 200 Issues
Some of the interior plastics are clacky and flimsy, so there's some questions over the interior's longevity. Some will complain it doesn't look a lot different to the Clio GT, or even the base model Authentique, but that's a matter of taste and how much attention you want.
The engine, too, could do with more torque - it's well behind both the 208's 275Nm and the Fiesta ST's 290Nm on overboost. The torque in both of these cars makes them terrifically fast and useable.
Renault Clio RS 200 Verdict
As a day-to-day proposition, the Clio RS is a genuine contender. It has all the little luxuries of a well-specced European hatchback, looks good and won't cost much to run.
Show it a twisty road, and you can have a lot of fun, even in the wet. It's so good that it's almost as much fun as the basic, grittier Fiesta ST. Show it city traffic and it will dispense with it even better than the excellent Peugeot 208 GTI with its excellent handling and pleasant interior.
And you can fit four six-footers in reasonable comfort while you're doing it. You can't ask for much more than that.
Is it a worthy successor? Of course it is. Like M cars it's getting more civilised as time goes on. And there's nothing wrong with that.
1 Peugeot 208 GTI, developing 147kW priced from $29,990
2 Ford Fiesta ST, developing 147Kw priced from $25,990
3 Volkswagen Polo GTI, developing 132kw, priced from $29,540 (drive away)