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We test the latest RS hot hatch

2009-12-18 10:25
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Renault
Model Clio RS
Engine 2l four-cylinder
Power 147.5kW @ 7 100r/min
Torque 215Nm @ 5 400r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 6.9 sec
Top Speed 225km/h
Fuel Tank 55l
Fuel Consumption 8.2l/100km
Weight 1 240kg
ABS Yes, Bosch 8.0 with EBD, ESP
Tyres 215/45R17 Continental Sport Contact 3
Front Suspension Double-axis struts
Rear Suspension Torsion beam with coils
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 3 year/45 000KM
Warranty 3 year/100 000km
Price R249 000

Lance Branquinho

Renaultsport, though lately tainted by controversy, has not built anything but class leading hot hatchbacks since, well, forever…

Can the latest Clio III RS continue to build on this proud heritage? After a week on the road (and track) we've come to some surprisingly conclusions.

The not-so magic formula

For 2009, the latest Clio RS cues familiar engineering characteristics, which on paper do not make for awfully compelling reading.

The engine is naturally aspirated and conceivably devoid of low-speed verve. It also sports a decidedly undersquare internal architecture (bore of 82.7mm versus stroke at 93mm) which hardly bodes well for operational engine speed parameters.

Suspension is not independent at all four wheel corners either, the Clio RS boasting a cheap torsion beam at the rear.

To round off the specification sheet embarrassment, there is no clever slippy diff managing torque distribution at the front axle drive wheels either.

Third generation Clio styling is angular and suits the boy-racer Clio RS image perfectly.

Ostensibly then, navigating the forbidding OPC and VTec infested suburbs of South Africa’s cities in a third generation Clio RS is akin to bringing chicken fillets to a braai, it’s just a question of time before you get bliksemed

If one delves a touch deeper into the car’s specification there are a few trace details which might be of consequence, or not. Perhaps, in fact, they make things even worse?

Too soft?

For a start the new car’s damper settings are 15% softer, which makes me think it must be like a runway model or rugby player who returns from the off-season 15% fatter. All things considered, not a good thing.

Whilst the Clio III RS sports 10mm greater axle spacing it does counter this with front and rear wheel spacing tracked 48- and 50mm wider, which theoretically should shore up agility. The anti-roll bar diameter is up by one millimetre. Yes, a whole millimetre. Wow.

Concerning the front suspension set-up, Renault would like you to believe its independent steering axis layout quells any probable torque steer - without ABS assisted torque vectoring or a customary limited-slip differential.

They say thanks to a separation of the steering axis from any damping function all is well in terms of traction and power delivery. It sounds far too much like Flavio Briatore double-speak to me.

Not just for show. Aft diffuser actually works properly, keeping the torsion beam rear in check. Dual exhausts look good, though acoustics are indifferent.

At least the aft diffuser allegedly converts airflow to 40kg worth of downforce at speed – and yes, it’s not worth explaining to the wife, as she’ll simply say some groceries in the boot would do the same thing…

I must say at this stage, thumbing through the paperback brochure, I was feeling much like you are now, scrolling through the digital road test report – disappointed and frustrated at a loosely collated collection of underwhelming numbers and lukewarm technical details.

The worst though, is still to come…

Torque deficiency

Renault’s third generation Clio RS is powered by an engine which is devoid of any hot hatch credibility. The 2l powerplant produces 147.5kW at 7 100r/min, which is a scant 2.5kW worth of additional power over the RS it replaces.

In all fairness nearly 148kW from a naturally aspirated 2l engine is hardly rubbish, and the mere fact that this long-stroke engine actually spins to 7 100r/min is quite remarkable.

The issue is the Clio RS rotational force spread, and more pointedly, the engine speeds concerned.

Although there is a new cylinder head on top, the Clio III RS only has 215Nm of peak rotational force available at a rather lofty 5 400r/min. This, in theory, would dictate a daily commute of rather frantic gear changing to keep up with other forced induction hot hatchbacks.

A Yellow engine-speed dial with red numbering, now where have we seen that before?

Track certified?

I spent an agonising night staring at the ceiling in bed and fretting about the Clio III RS and its apparently underwhelming suite of technical inadequacy. I decided to cure my pessimistic curiosity by taking it to Killarney racetrack at dawn the next morning, before going to work.

Here, in a track environment, it would either reveal its hand as something worthy of the Renaultsport moniker or finally be anointed as a notorious first – the first lukewarm performance hatchback Renault’s ever badged…

On my way to the track Clio’s embellished cabin did not sooth my mood. The yellow Ferrariesque engine-speed dial especially, borders on sacrilege and turns a peculiar hue of lime green at right angles to the sun…

The aluminium pedal set is a neat touch, as is the rather pointless yellow stitched centre marker on the steering wheel rim.

Renaultsport logos are liberally scattered across the cabin just in case you forget what you are driving, but, as a whole the interior is particularly average. I’ve operated microwaves with more fetching control consoles than the Clio RS centre hangdown section…

Cabin not pretty but plenty safe with front, side, curtain and knee airbag restraints.

Track focused, surely?

As I buzzed my way through the deserted Cape Town road network to Killarney in the predawn nothingness, two things became very apparent concerning the Clio III RS.

Firstly, it does ride with a sense of decorum completely at odds with its hot hatch billing – no doubt due to the 15% slackening in damper rebound.

Secondly, the transmission, although quick witted and operating through a very short-throw H-gate, lacks a genuinely keen and tactile feel - probably due to its elongated shifter.

After trundling past security, checking with the marshals and lifting the track access boom, I set out for some explorative laps. It was serenely quiet and I was filled with dread.

I hoped (fervently) some technician in Dieppe, France (where Renaultsport’s Clios are assembled) had spilt some Gummy-berry juice on the car’s components during assembly. Anything to offset the apparent lack of torque and the absence of a proper front axle torque distribution system.

No slippy diff. No independent rear suspension. No understeer. Absolutely the most smashing hot hatch in class.

A Damascus road Dieppe experience

After a few laps I stopped the car trackside on the kerb at turn two.

The sun was rising and the lens flare through my glasses made Damps and Malmesbury an untenable gamble during those 10 minutes just after sunrise. I pooled together my experience of the last few laps and concluded statistics are pure sophistry…

On paper the Clio III RS is not a car of any great significance.

In the real world though, at pace, it’s right up there with many exotic supercars in terms of driver feedback. Other hot hatches, despite similar (or even greater) straight-line velocity pale in comparison.

Renault’s expertise at building hot hatches is unsurpassed and quite how they’ve managed to make this latest one 15% softer yet handle with such aplomb is beyond me.

The steering is so linear at speed it’s nearly bizarre at first. As you turn the wheel there is an exceptionally causal relationship in perceptible lateral force load-up through the chassis onto the wheels. You always know exactly how close to the limits of adhesion you are.

Understeer is not a concept in Renaultsport parlance, but there is some awfully controllable nose-tucking lift-off oversteer available on demand. Fundamentally, the Clio RS is about sublime agility, backed-up with guardian angel specification Brembo rotors and callipers to scrub off speed.

How a car without independent rear suspension can be quite so stable during high speed emergency avoidance manoeuvres, or doggedly stay on course after hitting suicidal mid-corner undulations on public roads, is beyond the course of my understanding.

Just be thankful it is. I was.

Don't you just love that aero-duct cut-out behind the front wheelarch?


Sports all the regulation hot hatch styling trinkets. Fundamental stuff like a diffuser, dual exhausts and Brembo brakes all present too. Not cute though.


Cheap and underwhelming. Our test car had a sunroof with a mesh-material in-car cover, which is hardly up to protecting occupants from the African sun.


Six-speed manual transmission’s shift regime detracts, yet pedals are heel-and-toe friendly and when you run the engine past 6 500r/min, it does respond with alacrity. Cornering poise unparalleled.


The styling is an acquired taste (as it always has been) and the cabin is, well, rubbish. Driving dynamics though, remain epic.

Whereas other hot hatches lean through corners or squeal tyres in understeer induced protest (much to the delight of teenage hooligans), the Clio RS simply converts speed to lateral force during adventurous cornering.

It either strains your head and neck towards the middle of the car turning right or towards the door turning left.

Much like jet fighter pilots black-out long before their planes are mechanically taxed, your neck is the weakest link at speed in the Clio.

The car remains poised on its chassis, and all the strain which usually converts into wheel scrubbing understeer is now converted into lateral cornering force and applied to your neck.

So if you want to get the most out of your RS, make sure you’re fit(tish).


Menacing presence
Bulletproof engine
Properly track certified chassis
Renaultsport lineage


Cabin not the last word in quality texturing
Transmission’s shift feel
Could make a better noise


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