I don't know much about Renault, I only know they're French.
I've heard the French are famous for fashion, high culture and fine cuisine. One thing I've noticed with fashion is that quite often to us normal plebs it doesn't make sense. It can be outrageous, impractical and just maybe you just have to be French to get it.
I think it applies to French cars as well, remember the hideous arse on the Megane II 2003 hatch - a rear only a Frenchman could love... "Ah, but Monsieur, you do not understand, ze Megane II hatch, she is aesthetically perfect, absolument!"
Which brings us to the 2016 Renault Clio RS Trophy L.E. 220 by Renault Sport (RS 220).
Renault Sport is like the Gaulish version of AMG, where they take the standard production models and fit them with go fast parts. They've been at it since the mid 70's when there was a merger between Alpine, Gordini (both respected French racing outfits) and Renault.
As for the Clio RS there have been some justly celebrated versions which to the Renault faithful are hot hatch legends. Naturally aspirated, tarmac tearing screamers with whippet like reflexes, until the Clio RS 200 that is (released late 2013).
The diehard RS fans snapped their bread sticks and condemned the Clio RS 200 as being too soft, too bouffant and not at all the road racer they expected.
The new Clio RS Trophy L.E. 220 is supposed to address the complaints thrown at the RS 200 and appease the faithful. How successful that's been is open to question.
As you might expect the 220 in the name refers to 220hp, 20hp up on the RS 200.
What's the first thing we do when we see a new car? If you're like me, it's checking out its looks. This can make or break a cars appeal. What I don't get about the current generation Clio is its muted styling, I mean the French are renowned for bringing the crazy when it comes to design, it's sort of expected and part of the charm. The Clio isn't ugly by any means, it's actually quite handsome, understated even which may be a problem if you want to stand out. It looks like any other well-sorted Euro hatch.
On the other hand if you're ok with a sleeper, it's a winner. The only give away that this is something special over and above a regular Clio are the larger wheels, twin exhausts and the word "Trophy" slapped across the front grill.
The restraint in styling is also present in the interior, it's a pleasant place to be, ergonomically sound but again, where is the art nouveau? The closest it comes to at the instrument binnacle, which is composed of 3 funky concentric oval shapes, left displaying the tacho, right fuel and the overlapping centre one, sort of a multi-function display which shows speed by default. The front bucket seats are well sculpted, supportive and in keeping with the hot hatch character. The seats themselves are well bolstered so sliding around in them is not going to be a problem. The steering wheel; well it's a steering wheel and it does the job.
So that takes care of the aesthetic side of the equation but what about the drive?
Mechanical changes over the RS 200 include, lowered ride height, by 20mm at the front and 10mm at the rear. The throttle has been remapped for sharper response and depending on the drive mode selected the dual-clutch gearbox shifts cogs 50% quicker.
The rear suspension has also been fettled and is 40% stiffer than the previous model. The dampers are uprated and the steering has been sharpened at 2.67 turns lock to lock.
Power is up 20hp from 197bhp to 217bhp, torque has increased 20Nm from 240Nm to 260Nm. There's also an over-boost feature which will increase maximum torque to 280Nm for short periods, handy for overtaking.
Redline in the first three gears has an additional 800rpm of play, the limiter will now kick in at 6,800rpm rather than 6,000rpm.
The RS 220 will top out at 235kmh and do the 0 to 100kmh sprint in just 6.6 seconds
The end result of all the above means the RS 220 understeers less, has less body roll and overall is a more competent package than the regular RS 200. In real world driving conditions this means the chassis, handling and steering come together as a unified whole. The car is easily placed, responsive to rapid changes in direction and throttle control is precise. The brakes are also progressive and easily modulated. Grip levels are such when you approach its upper limits you're travelling at a cracking pace.
So it's well engineered for the twisty bits and is deceptively fast point to point.
It's a step in the right direction, it's just not far enough. While the car is undoubtedly fast, it doesn't feel as fast as it should and this is a result of the 6 speed dual clutch gearbox employed. That and the sound it makes, nothing wrong with it, just not enough piped into the cabin which seems to be an ongoing theme with current generation cars.
It may sound like we're piffling, but on anything but full throttle attack the gear box (and even then it's no stand out) response is muddy. Making the whole driving experience feel subdued the net effect being engagement with the car is dulled. Not something I want from a hot hatch.
On the plus side, despite the uprated/stiffer suspension overall ride quality is still reasonably compliant; enough to make the RS 220 a realistic daily driver. So it's not the junior track day weapon we hoped it would be, but overall it's still a competent drive. Just give us a manual six speed transmission and we'll have the cracker of a car the RS 220 deserves to be.
Price: From $39,000 AUD
Fuel consumption: 6.3L/100km
Engine: 1.6 litre 16 valve turbo charged 4 cylinder running premium unleaded
Max Torque: 280Nm (with overboost)
Transmission: 6 speed dual clutch
Maz speed: 235kmh
0 to 100kmh sprint: 6.6 seconds
Picture source: Renault Australia