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PRETORIA, Gauteng – Renault has a habit of referencing its Formula 1 heritage in its press material, even if it's seemingly not always relevant. This time, however, the reference is about as applicable as they come. Yes, the limited edition Clio RS 18 you see here was named after the French automaker’s 2018 Formula One challenger, echoing the black-and-yellow livery of the F1 car.

Truth be told, though, it's just a Clio 220 Trophy underneath, which is a vehicle we've already tested. But the advantage of this particular launch, which took place at Zwarktops, was that we had the opportunity to experience the little hot hatch on track, too.

In our 2017 road test of the Clio 220 Trophy, we appreciated its sharp chassis as well as its ability to excite driving enthusiasts, but ultimately deemed it flawed due to the sluggish dual-clutch transmission and overly firm ride. Still, if you can overlook these foibles, the Clio RS won't fail to put a smile on your face. And, after experiencing the RS 18 on track, I can report that this is still very much the case. Perhaps even more so, if you plan on spending plenty of time out on a circuit.

Zwartkop’s C-shaped layout renders it one of South Africa's less complicated tracks to navigate, which made it the perfect place to test the limits of the Clio RS 18. Standard on this hot hatch is the Cup chassis and an electronic front differential, as well as a set of sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. These items combine with the 1,6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine to make the Clio RS a compelling track day hot hatch.

That said, it's still a comparatively simple car to pilot in anger. With a sensible approach angle and entry speed, understeer can easily be kept in check. The punchy engine and dual-clutch transmission (the latter is at its best in full attack mode; it struggles somewhat in everyday driving conditions) facilitate a swift corner exit, sometimes even at full throttle, depending on the angle.

The Michelin rubber only adds to the experience. While not quite as effective as the Pilot Sport 4, the Super Sport provides a suitable level of grip with little to no tyre squeal. I was also impressed by the minimal and even wear across each tyre despite the test units being subjected to several hard laps by a variety of drivers. The downside, however, is that these tyres costs R2 457 a pop.

Rapidly reducing speed in the RS can be a challenge as the rear tends to go a little light under hard braking into corners. While this can be somewhat unsettling the first few times, it becomes more manageable as you become used to it. Still, it does make setting up each corner more of a challenge than it otherwise might be.

With 162 kW and 260 N.m of torque (280 N.m in fourth and fifth gears on overboost) sent to the front wheels, the Clio RS 18 has enough grunt to make it a properly fun machine on track. Indeed, it punches well above its weight in the segment, and when combined with this chassis setup, makes for a hot hatch that is capable of lapping fairly quickly.

Summary

What’s perhaps most revealing about piloting the Clio RS 18 on track is the fact that it doesn’t physically or mentally drain you. With a variety of driver aids and a no-nonsense chassis, it's true point-and-squirt stuff ... and that makes for repeatable lap times.

At R449 900, however, it's tough to justify the R11 000 premium this latest model holds over the 220 Trophy. Unless you really crave the exclusivity (or happen to be an F1 nut), it'd make more sense to opt for the standard model. Renault South Africa says just 65 examples of the Clio RS 18 will be offered locally, although if demand is high enough, it’ll make a plan to ship in a handful more...

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