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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Many a marketing department, monthly sales charts in hand, will disagree with me, but I genuinely believe there is still a place for a well-sorted manual transmission within most modern product portfolios; a perfect case in point, as confirmed after a recent extended launch drive, being the current Renault Clio range.
As quirky as it is distinctive, the Clio 4 has, since its 2013 local introduction, continued to build on the solid sales platform its predecessors (the Clio 2 arrived in SA in 1999) have managed to establish.
Lightly facelifted in 2016 to introduce a fresh headlamp design, with updated grille and bumper treatments throughout, the local Clio range currently consists of a three 898 cc-powered derivatives (Authentique, Expression and Dynamique), as well as a turbocharged 1,2-litre Expression model offered exclusively with Renault’s dual-clutch EDC transmission.
Neatly packaged and generally well specced, it’s a range that caters to a broad audience of buyers looking for comfort and value, as well as something a little bit different to the (Volkswagen Polo) norm.
With an equally proud and notably distinguished reputation for building hugely capable performance derivatives – and, accordingly, ahead of the imminent introduction of a full-blown RS model – Renault South Africa has introduced a Clio GT-Line aimed at both adding some zeal to the current range and acting as a capable introduction to the vaunted Renault Sport family.
And what an enticing package it is.
Fitted with the same 88 kW/205 N.m turbocharged 1,2-litre engine as already available in Expression spec, the GT Line’s party trick, along with some neat cosmetic touches (including 17-inch alloy wheels), is the inclusion of an impressively precise and pleasingly workable six-speed manual transmission.
Protruding tall from within its leather-covered housing, it’s a gearlever that is not only positive (slick and accurate) in its workings, but is also great to touch thanks to its “old school” alloy handle.
Combined with an aggressively bolstered RS-derived driver’s seat and a neatly finished, thick-rim steering wheel, the GT-Line has all the makings of a very accomplished Clio RS understudy. Even if the actual figures suggest otherwise (0-100 km in 9,0 seconds), it’s nevertheless an ever-lively package that always feels eager to compete in a heavier weight division.
Especially pleasing is the fact that 90% of available torque is available from as low as 1 500 r/min. This means, while things can get a little breathless nearing the top of the rev limit, there’s still welcome shove to be enjoyed at the biting point of especially third and fourth gear.
While in an ever-congested urban environment there are undoubted advantages to owning a well packaged, lightweight hatchback filled with many of the most modern safety and convenience features, and fitted with an automatic transmission. To this end, I understand why monthly sales figures suggest a preference towards self-shifting drivetrains as opposed to manual ‘boxes mated with a spring-loaded clutch pedal.
What models like the Clio GT-Line do is remind people that once the traffic clears there is still way too much fun to be had behind the wheel of a relatively powerful, nimble hatch with three pedals in its footwell for the world to write off manual gearboxes just yet…
Fast factsModel: Renault Clio 88kW Turbo GT-Line
Price: R264 900
Engine: 1,2-litre turbopetrol
Power: 88 kW @ 5 500 r/min
Torque: 205 N.m @ 2 000 R/min
0-100 km/h: 9,0 seconds
Top Speed: 199
Fuel Consumption: 5,3 L/100 km
CO2: 118 g/km
Transmission: six-speed manual
3 year/45 000 km service plan