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Ever since Renault replaced its popular R5 or 'Cinq' supermini with the Clio in the 80s, the company has offered hotted-up versions, of its B-segment cutie and without exception they have each been a delight.
The Clio model changed track with its latest version, growing in wheelbase and accommodation until it's near as as big as its C-segment Megane sibling and while RenaultSport and Gordini before it are as good as any maker in the art of crowbarring larger engines into Clios to make it go faster, the latest RS version is far more subtle than that.
Using a 1.6-litre turbo engine, instead of the Megane RS's celebrated 2.0-litre unit, up rating the suspension and brakes and bolting on sexy black alloy rims with low-profile tyres, RenaultSport has created a new kind of performance Clio that takes on Ford's Fiesta ST, VW's Polo GTI and the Peugeot GTI.
Renault Sport has completely revised the powertrain concept of its Clio RS with this fourth-generation, ditching the high-revving 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four cylinder and six-speed manual gearbox from the previous generations for a modern 1.6-litre turbo charged engine and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
While the engine produces the same 147kW maximum power as the old naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre unit, the turbo 1.6-litre engine increases torque to 240Nm and produced it over a broader spread of revoloutiobns, making it easier to drive than previous hot Clios in everyday conditions as well as being able to accelerate faster and use 25 per cent less fuel with a claimed average of 6.3L/100km.
The Clio has a three-mode drive system – dubbed RS Drive – that alters the responsiveness of the throttle pedal, transmission shift points, electric power assistance and stability control threshold. In the default ‘Normal’ mode, the engine is tractable and smooth for city work and commuting. Switch to the ‘Sport’ or ‘Race’ modes, and it gains liveliness and produces a more track-like exhaust note under acceleration thanks to a sound tube that amplifies the induction note into the cabin.
The Clio RS also keeps ahead of its competitors by way of its interior space and home comforts, in fact the specification level is remarkable, with automatic climate control air conditioning, a rear camera, those 18-inch gloss black alloys and Renault’s unique R-Sound Effect system which synthesises exhaust sounds through the audio system.
You also get automatic wipers, parking sensors, a colour touch screen with satellite navigation, Bluetooth audio and phone streaming and a multi-function RS monitor with multiple digital gauges and data logging for track days.
Compared with previous-generation Clios, the latest model delivers so much more style, kit and practicality. While we're on the subject of practicality the Clio RS Renault is now only a five-door hatch, which allows easier access front and rear and for commuter purposes. Thus it is a little more sensible than the three-doored Megan RS.
Inside, the Clio RS employs a neat mix of textures and colours with our car looking smart with machined vinyl dash surfaces and red/orange anodised alloy shift quadrant, air vents and door trims to match the seatbelt and to relieve the otherwise dark accommodation area.
Most of the instrument area plastic is finished in glossy piano black and the whole plot looks so much more mature and interesting than the VW, Peugeot and Ford competition.
With a chunky, alcantara-clad steering wheel rim and a deep-set, catcher's mitt sports seats, the Clio RS is provides easily the most comfortable and supportive driving position in its class. You sit low, but solidly contained and well in sight and touch of the car's respective dials and controls.
The seating can be minutely adjusted for height and reach and the driver and front passenger - whatever their size - are always within a hand span of the multi-function touch screen that looms from the top of the centre console.
The synthesised sounds through the RS monitor are a novelty, but the dual-clutch transmission is anything but. It slips through the ratios with easy grace in 'normal' mode, and sharpens up in 'sport' and 'race.'
The Clio feels faster off the line than the old 2.0-litre and much more flexible over a greater spread of driving conditions.
Stiffer and lower springs make it sharp - but never harsh - over surface breaks, with the secondary dampers within the main shock absorbers (Hydraulic Compression Control in Renault speak).
The car displays brilliant it control over its sprung weight and while drivers might wince at first when crossing parts of Christchurch's pock-marked roads, they'll find they don't need to, as only larger, deeper bumps transfer too much shock to the car's occupants.
On the track, the Clio is as playful as the mighty Megane, with huge amounts of grip, and while the car's electric steering is light and easy when commuting, it weights-up as speeds increase and 'sport' and 'race' modes are selected.
The car's electronic differential is a badly ally, especially on track when a bi-product of torquey engines like the Clio's new unit can work the car into heavy under steer if you don't watch it.
The diff reins in things nicely and makes you look and feel - at least on track - like a much better driver than you really are. The set-up retards the inside wheel through the brakes, giving better balance, all-but eliminating torque steer and creating a whole lot sharper cornering experience as you accelerate past the apex.
In its latest form, the RS, like its more ordinary Clio siblings has grown - literally - into a more mature, refined and well packaged prospect.
It's also easier to drive in the daily commute, even in quake-ravaged Christchurch, thanks to an uncannily firm but well damped chassis.
If you cannot stretch your budget or skill levels to take advantage of the mighty Megane RS, the Clio with the same initials is almost as quick and in everyday situations even more fun, while being surprisingly practical for the family.
What's not to like?
Renault Clio specifications
How much? From $42,990 plus on-road costs
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo charged four cylinder. 147kW/ 240Nm
Fuel use: 6.3L/100km
CO2 emissions: 144g CO2/km
Safety and home comforts: Four airbags; stability control; parking sensors; reversing camera; cruise control; climate control; CD/MP3 stereo; Bluetooth; 18-inch alloys. R-Sound Effect system which synthesises exhaust sounds through the audio system.