The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder

First drive: Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC

F1 aspirations, but is it a front-runner?

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One normally has to part with a great deal more than the £18,995 that Renaultsport is asking for its new Clio 200 Turbo to acquire the services of a super-fast, F1-style dual-clutch gearbox. But that’s precisely what this new pocket rocket from Renault comes with as standard, like it or not, and as a result it will appeal – because it has been designed to appeal – to a much wider market than the Renaultsport Clio of old, which was a driver’s car of the purest kind.

Because this time, claims Renault, you get not just one but three different cars under the same roof; a refined and impressively civilised family hatchback, a more traditional hot hatch with suitably stiffened suspension to match and, finally, a thinly disguised road racer in the extreme. And you can tailor the car’s personality on the move by pressing just one button, hence the three cars under one roof claim.

Is it sincere? Can you honestly transform the new Renaultsport Clio from humble five-door family hatch to screaming road rocket, simply by pressing a button? Inevitably you digest such claims with a decent pinch of salt, but in this case the way the new Clio’s 1.6-litre, 197bhp engine can be tuned – not just in its throttle response but also in the noise it emits via the exhaust – is genuinely impressive, even if the way the suspension and steering alters is less dramatic than Renault would have us believe.

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And the gearbox? While it doesn’t quite shift with the same speed or precision that Lewis Hamilton would demand on a Sunday afternoon, for a £19k hot hatchback it’s quite some piece of equipment. Gearchanges via paddles behind the steering wheel get snappier depending on which of the three drive modes has been selected, but in any mode it takes no more than a flick of the finger to shift gears; you use your right hand to shift up, left to shift down.

Having said that, even in Race mode upshifts seemed slightly ponderous on the move compared with the fastest dual clutch gearboxes we’ve tried. So although the idea of having such trick technology beneath your fingertips for such a relatively small price is an enticing one in theory, in reality it doesn’t work quite as well as it could. There will be some drivers, no doubt, who will miss the ability to shift gear manually; only time will tell whether Renaultsport’s sales will suffer as a result.

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However, so capable and so rounded is the car at just about everything else it does, it’s hard to see it being a flop commercially. Especially when its economy has improved to a useful 44.8mpg while the 0-62mph time has fallen to just 6.7sec.

The die-hard driving enthusiasts will miss the manual gearbox of old, and probably accuse Renaultsport of making a softer, less ‘pure’ car in the process. And they will have a point, up to a point. But in broadening the hot Clio’s appeal, Renault will also be opening the car up to a far bigger market globally. And right now, that’s just about all that counts.

 

Verdict ★★★★☆

A softer but more complete hot Clio

Factfile

Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC

Engine:
1618cc, 4-cylinders, turbocharged
Power:
197bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque:
177lb ft @ 1750rpm
Transmission:
6-speed paddle shift
Acceleration:
0-62mph in 6.7sec
Top speed:
143mph
Fuel:
44.8mpg (combined)
CO2:
144g/km
Road tax band:
F
Dimensions:
L 4090mm, W 1732mm, H 1432mm