You see, I am the owner of a previous-generation Clio RS, so when I heard how the DNA of the new version had been altered, I began to worry. But I came into the test with an open mind; I had driven all of its rivals enough to make an informed decision.
The most fuss was about the free-revving 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine being replaced by a 1.6-litre turbocharged unit. It has the same claimed output figure as its predecessor (147kW), albeit now with 240Nm of torque. The six-speed manual gearbox is gone and in its place is a six-speed twin-clutch automatic. There is also only a five-door option now, whereas the third generation was a three-door. The Brembo brakes have also been done away with.
Why would a manufacturer famed for its pure performance hatches do this? Sales. Some of the best-selling hot hatches on the market are the Volkswagen Golf and Polo GTI models, which are mostly also double-clutch automatics. The other thing is that they are locally also five-door-only models. The Clio has taken this recipe for sales success by downsizing in terms of mechanicals and upsizing in terms of practicality.
The gearbox is not very impressive in normal mode - it holds gears for too long and then drones as it changes, but RS Sport mode remedies this problem. The sport setting means that the traction and stability programmes are still on, but they are progressive and only intervene when it is absolutely necessary.
For those who want the pure driving experience, race mode means no traction control and manual shifts via the steering-mounted paddles. The upshifts are truly very quick, but on downshifts the gearbox hesitates to respond to your inputs, which in a track situation could prove frustrating.
We had the Cup spec, which does what it says on the box: the car is lower and can corner better than its Lux sibling, but does sacrifice in terms of comfort.
The straight-line stuff is where the Clio RS is very impressive. A 0-100km/h time of 6.7 seconds is achievable thanks to a brutal launch-control system. I found the claimed fuel consumption of 6.3 litres/100km difficult to replicate. On a mixed cycle, I could only muster a figure north of 8.0 litres/100km, which is still more efficient than the model it replaces.
Overall I have to say that I liked the new Clio RS quite a bit more than I thought I would. You get the sense that this vehicle was well thought out from a marketing perspective. It has all of the necessary ingredients to appeal to the boy racer market, yet is also something that anyone would be happy to drive as a daily.
The Clio Renault Sport 200 EDC Cup retails for R314 900, which is a fair deal more expensive than its rivals, the Peugeot 208 GTi and Ford Fiesta ST. It does, however, compare to the Polo GTI, especially when all the options are thrown in.
I think that its only real rival is the Polo GTI, as it’s the only auto-only model in this class and therefore appeals to a different market. It would still be the Fiesta ST for me as the best hot hatch, but as a daily driver I can’t say that I wouldn’t prefer the Renault with a newly found maturity.