Just because the Renault Clio Sport 2,0’s
go-faster addenda stop demurely short of in-your-face outrageous doesn’t mean
that it lacks serious intent. If you think that a skirt here and slightly wider
rubber there add up to just another poser with a French accent…well,
we did warn you.
Due to Renault’s extended absence from the South African scene, locals have
been unable to sample the French manufacturer’s performance models. Until recently,
Formula One was as hot as it got for Renault fans, with the likes of the limited
production Clio Williams appreciated only by reputation. Further back, of course,
there was the fearsome R5 turbo, which never did make it here. You’d have to
go back virtually to the era of the hot rear-engined 8s locally to find the
kind of genuine high performance that the Sport 2,0 promises.
Somehow managing to remain an upright citizen while hinting at the potential
of being an outright hooligan, this Clio follows the well-worn hot hatch path.
That is to say, it starts off as essentially a little city car transformed by
an engine upgrade that goes beyond the bounds of reasonableness, as least as
far as rivals are concerned.
In standard form, the Clio’s impeccable manners seemed well capable of standing
up to oodles more power than the cooking regular-engined models were endowed
with. So, as if it wasn’t daring enough hijacking the two-litre powertrain from
a car two steps up the Renault pecking order – the Laguna – the engineers decided
to go for broke. Squeezing out nearly 20 per cent more power, they have created
a unit that, seemingly docile at low and mid engine speeds, positively takes
off from about 4 000 r/min to scream to its red line well past 7 000. With peak
power of 124 kW at 6 250 r/min and peak torque of 200 N.m at 5 400, wrapped
in a compact body, the Sport 2,0 doesn’t lack for motive force. For the terminally
adrenalin-hungry, of course, there is always the completely daft Sport V6, not
yet available on this market, which chucks out the rear accommodation and replaces
it with the three-litre V6 from the Safrane…
But back to relative sanity and the Sport 2,0. Naturally, its running gear
has had to be uprated, with stiffer springs and wider rubber, and bigger 280
mm brake discs. However, it’s not just mechanically that the Sport 2,0 has been given the treatment.
Admittedly, the most visible evidence hardly screams boy racer – a front
airdam housing auxiliary driving lights, and substantial but comparatively (by
modern hot-car standards) modest rubber. Even if, as delivered in bright yellow,
it draws the kind of attention normally enjoyed by emergency vehicles…
Look closer and you’ll see more evidence, like those projector-beam headlights
clearly intended for lighting up more than supermarket parking areas.
Interior trim and fittings are more in keeping with the Sport 2,0’s exalted
price level than with the runabout it is based on. The striking sports seats
are snug and grippy, and are clad in a blend of leather and Alcantara that looks
and feels quite special. That suedelike finish is echoed in the soft-grip steering
wheel, apart from one small section at the six o’clock position that, by the
way, can lead to a momentary loss of grip. Even the aluminium surrounds to the
doorhandles, electric windows and central hangdown section of the facia have
a velvety sheen rather than a brash metallic look.
While you’re drinking all this in, drop your eyes from the thoroughly boy racerish
instruments to floor level, where, omigosh, there IS some brightwork: polished,
drilled alloy pedals that unambiguously announce sporting intent. Note the way
the brake and the shaped accelerator pedal are cunningly positioned so you can
show off your cultured blipping on heel-and-toe downshifts. You might take a
little time getting to feel completely at home – driving position in this
Clio is, for some, not an instant feel-at-home thing, but a process that takes
a little time. But like initially unyielding hard leather, over time the whole
gradually eases into a glovelike fit.
In one or two areas the Clio does betray its humbler origins, though. The plastics
on the facia don’t quite match what you would expect at this price level, and
the velvet-finish alloy gearknob doesn’t have the classy tactile or aesthetic
appeal of, say, the polished equivalent in Honda’s R range. We are, after all,
talking about a R159 316 price tag, which puts the Sport 2,0 in among some formidable
minor exec-class rivals.
What we can say is that, like the exterior, the inside is not overdone, and
is sporty in a restrained way. There are the usual creature comforts, such as
sound system, air-conditioning and power windows. Rear accommodation isn’t the
greatest, although it is acceptable in this class. But these considerations
are incidental to the Sport 2,0’s main purpose. With a power to weight ratio
considerably better than 100, there is ample potential for the driver to start
Rev it up too much and you’ll get burnouts on demand, though, as massive wheelspin
inhibits forward motion. You’ll also notice a distinct tugging at the steering
wheel as a hint of torque steer intrudes. But, keeping the rev counter needle
hovering around 4 500 before dumping the clutch, we were able to slingshot off
the line to a hugely impressive 0-100 km/h time of 7,78 seconds. The kilometre
sprint benchmark of 30 seconds is also comprehensively demolished, though with
aerodynamics now beginning to intrude the urge drops off, and top speed is just
above the 200 mark. It’s all accompanied by a terrific ensemble of race-car
snarls and crackles.
With the engine seemingly gaining pace from about 4 000 r/min on, the rev limit
seems to arrive with alarming rapidity, and to remind you to change up Renault
has incorporated another boy racerish touch, a gearchange indicator that flashes
green near the 7 000 r/min. It’s a pity that, having gone to the trouble of
putting in an indicator, they almost hide it away.
For the record, the Sport is economical, too. Our fuel index of 8,45 litres/100
km predicts a range of nearly 600 km on a 50-litre tankful.
The Clio range has impressed us as the blend of ride and handling in its class.
Cossetting and absorbent in the French manner, it nevertheless talks back to
the driver through the steering wheel and chassis in the kind of unadulterated
communication that enthusiasts love. Often this kind of thing is the first to
go with the usual hot hatch scenario of turning up the wick on everything from
performance to grip, obliterating much of the base model’s charm and responsiveness
at non-loony speeds. So we were, to put it mildly, pleasantly surprised by the
Of course the ride is firmer, courtesy of the tyres and suspension settings.
But it’s not so harsh that it will jar your fillings loose, and on smooth tar
it’s sublime. We noted some jinking around – we wouldn’t exactly call it tramlining
– on bumpy surfaces.
The steering provides ample feedback without excessive kickback; turn-in, although
not sharp, is precise and crisp. Grip is stupendous, yet the cornering line
can be easily and predictably adapted by powering on or moderate lifting off.
As one of our team commented in his test notes, “If ever there was a car
to justify track days, this is it.” As mentioned earlier, braking has been
upgraded, and it shows in the combination of superb stopping ability and general
pedal feel and modulation in normal and all-out use.
One area of the dynamics that could trouble some is the Sport 2,0’s buzzy character.
Blasting through the gears when tackling the twisties, it’s all too easy to
revel in the sizzling engine note and imagine it as a pukka racer. After a couple
of hours on the long haul it might just pall, though. You have to be a little
masochistic – or young and carefree! – to make this your daily driver.