FIRST DRIVE: Renaultsport Clio 200

The hot little Renaultsport Clio is back, and it's all grown up with a turbocharged engine and dual-clutch gearbox. Does the magic still exist?

AUSSIES LOVE their hot Clios – so much so that Renault Oz is offering a four-model range with the fourth-generation car, based on the Renault Clio, which hits Renault’s 37 showrooms across the country today. And unlike before, the new hot Clio is five-door, dual-clutch, and all-turbo. Yep, she’s all grown up, kinda like a Polo GTI, but still with a mad-bastard streak.

Starting at $28,790, the entry-level Renaultsport Clio 200 Sport is thousands of dollars below what the first one cost back in 2001, and is most obviously identified by its silver 17-inch alloys with 205/45R17 rubber. Step up to the $31,290 Cup version and those wheels swap for beautiful gloss-black 18s with 205/40R18 rubber, the ride height drops by a scant 3mm, the dampers are firmed up, and the front and rear springs are stiffened by 27 percent up front, 20 percent at the rear.

Two Trophy versions sit above that – the Sport Trophy for $34,290 and the Cup Trophy for $36,790. Besides red brake calipers, outside the difference is zero – the Sport Trophy still on silver 17s, the Cup version on black 18s – though you can option a silver-finished version of the 18-inch wheel on either Sport variant. What the Trophy cars get is extra luxury and more tech – leather trim with front-seat heaters, seatback storage pockets, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera (only the sensors are optional on base cars), climate control, Renault’s R-Link multimedia system with additional speakers, and a Renaultsport Monitor 2.0 that displays stuff like acceleration times and circuit telemetry, and allows you to record it onto a USB stick, which you can then upload onto a dedicated Renaultsport website.

By the sounds of it, Renault is really pushing the track capabilities of this car, and rightly so. The launch of the new-generation Clio RS traced some brilliant mountain roads in Victoria out to the Haunted Hills hillclimb track in Gippsland – a tight, treacherous (if you’re a clown), very hilly little circuit that proved the Clio Cup is as sharp, tight and manoeuvrable as it ever was.

In the RS Drive’s Race mode, which switches ESP off and ramps the gearshifts down to 150 milliseconds, the Clio Cup was edgy and chuckable, while retaining enough inherent stability to prevent you from heading arse-backwards into the mulga when you lifted off or provoked it. Excellent brakes too – 320mm ventilated front discs from the much-heavier Laguna V6 that showed no signs of fade, even after 10 flat-out laps of the circuit with rally ace Brendon Reeves behind the wheel.

Equally impressive, though, is the new Clio’s road-going ability. In the Sport’s case, it blends all the balance and agility that pretty much anyone could want with a remarkably comfortable and quiet ride. The Cup is clearly firmer, and more precise steering-wise, but even it manages to ride well; like all of Renaultsport’s best work.

What’s missing from the whole package is the sort of acoustic tuning that makes the Megane’s 2.0-litre turbo such a growly bundle of lushness. Clio’s direct-injection 1618cc turbo four is shared with Nissan’s Juke, and while the Renaultsport version produces a bit more power (7kW), its aural improvement doesn’t go far enough.

There’s some induction growl, but only at low revs. Flat-out, it’s all a bit turbo-wooshy, without the addictive ignition-cut blurting from the twin rear exhausts that makes a Golf GTI DSG so satisfying. Still, the 1.6 turbo is a really strong engine, with Renault claiming 0-100km/h in 6.73sec and a standing 400m time of 14.87. The six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, developed by Getrag but honed by Renaultsport, is highly effective, although clacking away on the column-mounted shift paddles sounds like you’re smashing space-bar on an old typewriter. If you pulse them, though, you can dial the ‘clack’ down.

Undoubtedly what will sell more Renaultsport Clios than anything is the way the thing looks. It’s like a tattooed, gym-junkie bouncer with a tertiary education in sociology. Renault reckons it can sell 500 in a full year, which might be a little on the conservative side. One thing that’s far from that, though, is the new Clio’s dynamics. If punters wanted a handling hero, they’ve got one.

If there’s one hot-hatch to steal the Clio’s thunder, it’s Ford’s brilliant new Fiesta ST. To find out how Renault’s new star fares against Ford’s little champion, check out Wheels February 2014 issue, on-sale in newsagents or for download on iPad January 16.

Model: Renaultsport Clio 200
Engine:  1618cc in-line 4, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 147kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 240Nm @ 1750rpm
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch
Weight: 1218kg
0-100km/h: 6.7sec (claimed)
Price: $28,790-$36,790
On sale: Now

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