Short changed: Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo

The Renaultsport brochure features a hall of fame. The ten cars spanning 50 years, each one worthy of a place in the ultimate fantasy garage. Really, if the likes of the Renault 8 Gordini, Clio Williams, Clio 182 Trophy, Mégane R26.R and Clip 200 Cup fail to stir your soul, this isn’t the motoring blog for you.

The 2013 Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo needs pretty strong shoulders then. For as long as I can remember, Renault has been the default choice for those in search of lightweight, low cost hatches offering maximum involvement. Other manufacturers became mere bystanders. Heck, Peugeot pretty much gave up.

But the winds of change are blowing through the hot hatch sector and Renault no longer has things its own way. Over the Renaultsport Clio’s right shoulder sits the pesky upstart with the blue oval – the Ford Fiesta ST. Whilst on the left is the Peugeot 208 GTi – a hardcore hot hatch in soft focus. Yet this is no group test – the question we have to ask here is, does the new Renaultsport Clio 200 pick up where the old Clios left off?

In short, no.

But how could it? You’ll know already that the Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo is an altogether different animal. The clue’s in the name – this a turbocharged Clio. Surely we can look beyond this – after all, the Renault 5 GT Turbo remains a hero of 1980s hot hatch revelry.

New 2013 Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo

Then there’s the issue of doors. By insisting you order your Renaultsport Clio in five-door format, Renault has – to some people at least – committed a cardinal sin. An unforgivable act from which the brand can never recover. Again, surely it’s not an insurmountable obstacle?

Finally we get to the big one – the new Renaultsport Clio’s transmission. Once again, there are no choices here. You either take the Clio with the Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) six-speed transmission, or you don’t. There’s no manual option – none of that old school, backward-thinking malarkey. Tsch, get with the programme, lad. This is 2013, don’t you know?

But here’s the thing. Had Renault given the Renaultsport Clio an engaging transmission with a delightful pair of paddle shifters, it wouldn’t be a problem. I need only to think back to the delightful ’box in the BMW M135i as a reminder that an auto transmission can add to, rather than detract from, a driving experience. Sadly, in the Renaultsport Clio it just isn’t good enough.

The problems start as soon as you’ve plonked yourself in the Renaultsport driver’s seat. The interior looks and feels great and the leather steering wheel provides a strong initial feeling of intent. Then you reach for the transmission lever. At which point the rot starts to set in. The lever is unforgivably flimsy and has an action which is about as precise as a spade in a bucket. Seriously, it’s like something from Proton GEN-2 automatic, circa 2004.

Interior of Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo

Sadly the problems don’t end there. The temptation is to immediately switch the lever across to manual mode and make use of the flappy paddles. Only they feel similarly disappointing to use and, perhaps more importantly, are fixed to the steering column. Fine if the paddles are big enough to cover the entire steering wheel, not so good when they’re not.

You may argue that a cheap feeling lever and equally low-rent paddles is a small point and not worthy of four paragraphs of text. But changing gear is so imbedded in the hot hatch experience, it simply can’t be ignored. Changing cogs gives you a sense of involvement, a feeling that you and the car are working together. That feeling of changing down gears into a corner – it’s a central part of hot hatchery. And it doesn’t necessarily rest on a manual ’box. A brilliantly executed dual clutch transmission can be just as enthralling. Witness the Skoda Fabia vRS, Porsche Panamera and BMW M135i as strong evidence.

And if every time you reach for the lever or paddles you’re left disappointed, then the hot hatch has failed.

It’s not as though the transmission is any good either. The changes are too delayed, especially in standard ‘non-Renaultsport’ mode. Things start to improve when you press the little R.S.DRIVE button. The whole car feels more taught. More alive. The steering sharpens up, as does the responsiveness of the transmission.

Rear of Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo

But it’s not until you hold down the R.S.DRIVE button for a little longer that the Renaultsport Clio reaches anywhere near its full potential. At this point ‘Race’ mode is engaged and the Clio finally hints at its true potential, transforming from worrying to warrior. Suddenly you can take full advantage of gear changes of just 150 milliseconds.

This is where the fun begins and the Clio’s true potential starts to shine through. There’s a cracking car in there somewhere, it’s just a shame that you have to work so bleeding hard to find it.

Ah, I hear you cry, surely a little involvement is a prerequisite for any wannabe hot hatch? Well yes, but not to the extent that you need to disengage traction and stability control to achieve it. In my book at least, a hot hatch should immediately grab you by the shirt colours and not let go until you’re screaming for mercy. At which point you simply can’t resist another drive.

The new Clio simply doesn’t achieve this. An hour was enough for me, which is in stark contrast to the last time I drove a couple of hot Clios. The Silverstone and Raider were so damn good, I went out for another late drive and kept the transporter truck waiting. I could have driven the Raider all night had I been allowed.

Not so in the new Clio. It feels too grown up – too big. The intimacy and immediacy has been lost. I had similar thoughts about the diesel Clio on the international launch last year. This contrasted wildly with the peppiness and the zest of the 3-cylinder version. Sadly, the RS Clio has too much in common with the diesel and not the little petrol number.

Renault badge on front of Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo

Look, I’ll stop labouring the point now. I’m as disappointed as the next person that I’m so underwhelmed by the new Renaultsport Clio. Especially as it follows a similar conclusion following the Peugeot 208 GTi launch.

It’s not as though the Renaultsport Clio is a terrible car – far from it in fact. But when judged against its predecessors and knowing what Renaultsport could have done with the car, it must go down as a major disappointment. Is it a lost cause?

I don’t think so – there are many reasons to be cheerful. Take the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, which isn’t the big issue some people predicted. Whilst it lacks any real aural character, it offers a huge amount of pace and is delightfully free of lag. And – on the evidence of my hour with the car – I reckon the handling is pretty good. It’s a Renaultsport product that demands a different approach. It’s more grown-up, both physically and mentally. And the more you drive it, the more appealing it becomes.

And I’m not saying it necessarily needs a manual gearbox. Do away with the pointless ‘Normal’ setting, fit a pair of decent paddle shifters and perhaps offer a good six-speed manual ‘box and the Clio will be an altogether different proposition. Still too big and still lacking the charm of its forebears, but maybe we can look to the all-new Twingo to pick up where the old Clios left off?

Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo on PetrolBlog

What else can I say? It will accelerate to 62mph in 6.7 seconds, go on to a top speed of 143mph and emit just 144g/km in the process. Quite remarkable really, especially when you throw in a theoretical 44.8mpg on a combined cycle.

And as I much as I bemoan the loss of intimacy on the inside, the new Renaultsport Clio’s interior is a gigantic leap forward in terms of quality and ergonomics. And to some people, the increased size, two extra doors and 300 litres of boot space will be a bonus.

The Renaultsport seats are nowhere near as supportive as say the Recaros in the Fiesta ST and R-Sound – which allows you to change the noise of the engine to anything from a spaceship to a Nissan GT-R – is no more than a gimmick. Use it once, have a giggle and then never use it again.

Headlight and alloy wheel - Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo

Look, I’m going to reserve judgement on the Renaultsport Clio until I’ve had a proper drive. I’ve had a day in the Peugeot 208 GTi and am currently enjoying a week with the Ford Fiesta ST.

On the evidence of my first few days with the ST, there’s no contest – the Fiesta is simply brilliant. There’s no point in debating what’s second or third, because the ST is just so far ahead, it almost renders the French contenders null and void.

As for the Clio, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of it yet. The team at Renaultsport are magicians and they won’t take too kindly to a blue-collar upstart with a blue oval badge knocking the king off its throne.

In short – don’t write off the Renaultsport Clio.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

5 comments

  1. June 24, 2014
    Mike Owen

    What! no comments!! apathy for this car really that great!!!

    While I can appreciate a lot of peoples disappointment here. As it’s not the hard core hot hatch that a lot of folks had hoped for. In my opinion it’s still a pretty decent motor, just taking a different tack.

    Just had a pretty decent test drive in one and have decided to PX my Swift sport (new shape) in for one. Only down side, is the 3/4 month waiting list (honestly). While apparently only some 500 found homes in the UK last year, they are by all accounts selling like hot cakes on the continent.

    Good points in my opinion.
    – Looks decent enough and 5 doors is pretty useful at times. Recessed rear door handles a nice touch.
    – Interior a BIG step up from previous RS Clio’s.
    – Seems to handle pretty well.
    – Has a decent turn of speed.

    Bad points (sort of).
    – The DSG box. To be totally honest, I did not find myself hating this as much as I thought I would. Sort of agree that they maybe should have cut down and made just a normal and race mode. The only difference being that in race mode, all the stability aids are fully switched off. And also ditch the pseudo gear lever (an unnecessary complication in my opinion). Just giving you either fully auto, or the ability to take full manual control. But even as it is, I found it was workable / liveable with.

    As to the flappy paddle (from a Nissan GT-R I believe) I did not find them flimsy at all. Though I’m the first to admit that I’ve not driver too many cars with a DSG box).

    Not knocking your comments / review one little bit. As I can see why you are disappointment. Renault (for good or bad) have decided to take a different path with the latest RS Clio. Not a perfect car but I personally don’t think it’s the nightmare that it’s getting painted.

    Horses for courses, as they say.

    As an example. I’ve been lusting for a Fiesta ST for a few months now (like a lot of folks). But had a car for an afternoon a while back and got to say that I did not really like it. Not knocking the car, as on the right road, it’s a potent machine. But on a rough bit of tarmac, the ride is bordering on the harsh. And pretty noisy at motorway speeds as well. Once again… what suits one person, does not suit another.

    Keep up the good work. Your articles, even if I don’t always totally agree with them, always make a damn good read.

    Reply
    • July 2, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Thanks for posting such a well-reasoned and informed comment. Such intellect has no place on PetrolBlog! 😉

      Seriously though, this just goes to prove that variety is the spice of life. I’ve driven the RS Clio three times now, including some track time in France. Sadly, I still can’t love it. Just feels too big, too heavy and strangled by the wrong gearbox.

      Have driven the Fiesta ST three times, and I still adore that. And it looks like the 208 GTi may become the car we always hoped it would be: http://petrolblog.com/2014/06/peugeot-208-gti-30th-anniversary/

      Shame the Swift Sport has to go. What was it like to live with?

      Thanks for your positive feedback on the site.

      Reply
      • July 3, 2014
        Mike Owen

        As to to Swift sport…

        What can I say but… It’s got to be the best little motor out there at this price point (and “yes” I include the new mini cooper here). Nothing has gone wrong in some 18 months and if it’s not bouncing off the rev limiter, then you aint driving it right. Think it says it all when the only thing that I can think to complain of, is a slightly notchy gearbox when the oil is cold.

        Still reminds me of that little brown (yes… brown) Alfasud that I owned back in the 80’s (yep.. I’m that old). So easy to throw it around, but you never felt that it was going to go pear shaped (OK I do seem to remember spinning it a couple of times. No stability control in those days… how did we manage!?). This was one of the earlier alfasuds, not one of the later ones with too much power and fat tyres, that subsequently invented the term “torque steer”

        Back to the swift. But when not in the mood to party, the swift is a more than capable every day car. Even the odd motorway trip does not throw it. Just don’t try and get anyone other than a dwarf to sit in the back! and even then, they will need an assistant to get them in / out!! And make sure you don’t pack too much luggage!

        Be sorry to see the swift go. But I really need 4-doors now and I quite like the idea of owning a car that everyone else seems to hate. If you want a good laugh, read some of the ludicrous posts on PistonHeads about the new RS Clio. It’s almost like the very existence of this car threatens their manhood.

        Now will I get as much enjoyment out of the RS Clio? Only time will tell I suspect. But I like a challenge.

        Reply
        • December 9, 2014
          Mike Owen

          Well… things have moved on. In the end I cancelled my order for a new car, as I got fed up of waiting. Six month to deliver a car!!! Come on Renault, get your act together. And even then they would not guarantee it for Christmas! Does Renault actually want to sell cars in this country? So ended up travelling a fair few miles to get the right car, several hundred actually (I jest not). Three months old and saved £4.5k. Liquid yellow lux (easy to spot in a car park) on stock suspension.

          Had it a couple of months now and must admit that I actually like it. Pretty silly to buy one if I didn’t I suppose. After almost four decades as a “stick shift” man, I had wondered how I would take to an auto box. Simple answer is “like a duck to water”.

          Certainly can’t fault the balance between handling and ride quality in my opinion. Steering maybe a bit dead around the centre, but who’s got electric power steering totally right yet (can they even?). Could do with a bit more torque, don’t know if they’ve been very conservative with this to protect the gear box!? Surprised I’ve not seen other comments about this, as I think 177ft lb is not quite enough for this weight of car. Or that’s how it feels to me in 6th gear at times.

          Quite like the subdued looks, though I suppose the paint job does sort of make it stand out. The cabin isn’t too bad a place to be either. Though on this price of car I think the omission of HIDs is unforgivable. Actually got out at one point the first time I took it out at night and checked that one bulb was not blown. Needs reversing sensors as well due to that tiny back window. Cabin plastics a bit hard in places but looks like they should wear OK.

          Performance in a straight line is pretty decent, funny how the first thing anyone asks about is the launch control . In gear acceleration is where I think that extra torque would come in handy. Though still no slouch in either kick down, or manual. Though the change up buzzer does start to annoy after a while.

          Now the dreaded EDC box. I’ve started to hesitate these days commenting on this. As it’s quite easy to end up making it sound awful, which it isn’t (honest). Just takes a bit of getting used to and finding the best way to extract the maximum from it. Not perfect…
          – Make it a 7-speed (space gears better)
          – Get rid of the pointless race mode. Lets be honest… how many hot hatch drivers ever take their car on a track? If it’s more than 5% I would be genuinely surprised. They could still add a separate switch to disable stability / ABS etc. for those that want to.
          – Sharpen up the remaining two modes (normal/sport). Especially gear speed changes (which in themselves are already not too bad) and make the EPC a lot more aggressive.

          All told a pretty decent car to live with day-to-day. Though as usual, always comes down to what you want from a car. Quite aware that it wont be everyone’s cup of tea. Selling well in France and Australia by all accounts. Though sales in the UK still a bit thin on the ground. Might help if they could actually deliver new cars in a timely manner.

          I for one shall be interested to see where Renault goes from this.

          PS. And in the name of God Renault… offer a manual box as an option.

          Reply
  2. April 20, 2016
    Mike Owen

    O’well.

    Time to say goodbye to the RS Clio.
    It’s been a reliable little motor for 18 months. And at times the potential does sort of shine through. But some times it misses the mark by a big distance. While I can see what Renault have tried to do… they have maybe diluted the experience a bit too much.

    The latest models have a bit more torque and the sharper paddles / faster gearbox map from the Trophy edition (something Renault slipped in with little or no fanfare). Latest “tweak” is to replace the overly large (rather phallic) looking auto selector with something a bit more subdued. So at least it looks like Renault are maybe listening (sort of) to it’s fan base.. Some further tweaks coming up in Autumn. Maybe at last going to offer HIDs to replace the stock halogen headlights that pass a bearing resemblance to candles.

    But they still can’t get away from the rather weak starting point of the EDC box (now that’s honesty coming from an owner). Be interested to see if they stick with the EDC box, or start offering a manual at some point. Already rumors that the new RS Megane will come with a manual shift. TBC

    So what is replacing it? I think PetrolBlog will approve me thinks… Managed to drop on a cancelled order for a new Focus ST3 in Race red with the optional black 19in rims. Roll on the next couple of weeks. Tick, tock.

    Reply

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