This Clio RS is a notch up in terms of performance and handling, but does that translate into an exciting experience behind the wheel?
Hot hatches have gone through a massive development phase over the past decade. There is now a clear division between the usual posse and the level above them, the so-called super hatches such as the Mercedes-AMG A45, Ford Focus RS, BMW M140i and Audi RS3 Sportback.
The rise of these über hatches has also impacted the smaller segment, with this Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy a case in point. Compared with the likes of the Fiesta ST and Polo GTI, Renault has – at least on paper – moved the Clio RS ahead in terms of performance. This is hardly surprising; for decades, this French brand has been one of the leaders in the development and manufacturing of hot hatches. You only have to think back to the great little Clio 3 RS and the mid-engined Clio V6.
This Clio RS Trophy is a tweaked version of the standard RS and that means more power and torque – up by 15 kW and 40 N.m (the latter when overboost is engaged) – for total outputs of 162 kW and 260 N.m. A minor part of this gain comes courtesy of the Akrapovič exhaust system with its signature carbon-fibre tips.
The Trophy also sits a little lower to the ground, 20 mm at the front and 10 mm at the rear, and features new 18-inch wheels wrapped in high-grip Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. The front brake discs have increased in size from 312 mm to 320 mm, while Renault also claims a reduction in the brake-pedal travel. Other notable upgrades include the triple foglamp system that integrates cornering and longer-range lighting.
Behind the wheel, you’re supported by comfortable sports seats and have a thick-rimmed steering wheel to wrap your hands round. But the main highlight of the cockpit is the RS Monitor II infotainment system, one of the most informative and interesting of its kind on any road car we’ve tested. In fact, it’s very similar to the type of information you can call up in a Nissan GT-R, the latter being Renault’s alliance partner.
This system displays the Trophy’s vital stats: engine temperature, transmission oil, lap timer, wheel slippage, power and torque graph, boost gauge and brake-pedal pressure, as well as offers you a G-meter reading. This data can be recorded on the car’s system and then downloaded and analysed on your own computer. We won’t, however, comment on the various digitised engine-sound options…
After you’ve pushed the starter button, it’s prudent to immediately press the RS button situated below the gear lever. This releases a more intense exhaust note, makes the drivetrain more alert in terms of gear changes, and allows for more slip from the ESP system. Once on the go, even employing only mid-range revs, it is evident that this 1,6-litre engine delivers more punch than the standard RS. Use the throttle pedal with intent and the rev needle races to a 6 500 r/min cut-off; pull the right-hand paddle and a harsh blowing sound from the exhaust continues as the torque pushes you down the road.
Small Renault hatches, however, are never just about straight-line speed and, instead corners unearth a near-perfect balance offered by this superb chassis. The nose grips hard as you direct the car into a turn, while the lowered body and tyres work in tandem to maintain composure through turns. The electronic differential allows you to put the power down efficiently, but press the throttle pedal too soon and the stability system will intervene. Keep a constant throttle and the front axle will pull you cleanly out of the corner. Switch off the stability control and the rear axle comes into play. Few hatchbacks are this adjustable.
The Trophy feels light on its feet and you can confidently chuck it in before changing direction for the next bend. It feels supremely stable and resistant to body roll. Unfortunately, though, its old Achilles’ heel remains: the EDC transmission. Apart from when it’s in full attack mode, it can be both slow in deciding on the optimum gear and tardy in making that change, most noticeably on downshifts.