The new Renault Clio RS has been let loose in South Africa and the market for hot hatchbacks are now a lot hotter. Renault is not unfamiliar to building fast cars. The carmaker has been involved in motorsport since 1902 and in 1976 formed an independent arm that specialises in building these special cars, called Renault Sport (RS).

And in the years since South African car buyers and petrol heads were treated to a number of RS products, but it was the Megane and Clio that were the best foundations for RS makeovers. In 2018 a new Megane RS will make it appearance, but until then we have the new Clio RS to enjoy.

But this Clio RS is far from just being the Megane’s smaller sibling…

Two models

Renault has made two models available to the South African market in Lux and Trophy trims, but each derivative brings its own uniqueness. From the offset the two cars may look very similar, but there are a few very subtle and very obvious dissimilarities. One is that the Lux sports silver rims as opposed to the Trophy’s gloss black units, and the latter model has the ‘Trophy’ tag at the bottom of the rear doors.

The Lux is also positioned and marketed as the everyday-driver; the one between the two RS options that will most likely garner the most buyers. But Trophy is the more hardcore. It sits lower to the ground than the Lux (20mm at the front, 10mm at the rear) and looks the more aggressive.

READ: New Renault Clio barges into South Africa

And though it looks menacing, there is method behind the madness. Every wing, curve, and design cue has been added to not only enhance the aesthetics, but to improve the car’s dynamism. Both cars benefit from this, but the package comes into its own on the Trophy.

The changes between the two cars flow into the interior, too. For the most part everything looks similar at first glance, but the Lux’s seats are covered in a fabric material, whereas the Trophy’s has a leather trim and heated front seats.  Both models have three driving modes (Normal, Sport, Race); each mode altering and adjusting the driveability of the Clio RS.

‘As fast as a Ferrari’

The Renault Clio RS is fitted with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, mated with the French manufacturer’s six-speed automatic gearbox. This gearbox, says Renault, will change gears in a time of 120 milliseconds when Race mode is engaged. That’s as fast as a Lamborghini Gallardo! And in the ‘lesser’ Sport mode gear changes happen at 150 milliseconds – as fast as a Ferrari Enzo and Nissan GT-R!

These are proper figures and it puts the Clio RS in serious company, but a snappy gearbox tells only one part of a very interesting story. In Lux guise, the Clio RS’s engine pushes out 147kW/230Nm, enough to propel the car from zero to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds. The Trophy brags with 162kW/260Nm and does the same run in 6.6sec. When the Trophy is running in fifth gear, the torque will increase to 280Nm for brief moments when sudden acceleration is required.

The Renault Clio RS Lux has a top speed of 230km/h and the Trophy 235km/h.

Grip for days

The Clio RS may be a small hot hatch, but it is by no means an inferior product or lesser car than what the market offers. Sure, there are faster cars on offer, but the Clio RS has more than enough gusto in the bag to hold its own. The Lux is the easier car. Its suspension is slightly more comfortable and the ride quality more adaptable to whatever road surface it’s on.

The Trophy, with its harder suspension setup and track-orientated personality, offers a more spirited driving trait and a steering precision that begs for drivers to push it to its limits – almost all of the time. The Trophy’s setup over the Lux also means that it can attack bends with more vigour and it will grip with intensity. The Trophy is a driver’s car with a rewarding drive and it will continuously attack without end. And the sporty bucket seats offer ample support to not have front passengers falling about.

Renault repositioned the steering wheel mounted paddles for ergonomical purposes, but unless you have very long fingers it can be a bit of a stretch to engage the next gear. And the paddles are fixed, so it does not move with the steering wheel. Best engage the right gear before attacking a corner, then!

But the Clio RS is about more than how the gear paddles are positioned. It’s literally a small pack of TNT that will ignite and spark with every drive. Oh, and the Trophy comes standard with an Akropovic exhaust system, so best believe it’s an acoustic experience of thunder meets excitement.

Warranty and price

The new Clio RS models come standard with a five-year or 150 000km mechanical warranty, together with a six-year anti-corrosion warranty. A three-year or 30 000km service plan applies, with service intervals at 10 000km.

Renault Clio RS 200 EDC Lux R379 900
Renault Clio RS 220 EDC Trophy R419 900