What a difference tweaks can make, provided you know what you’re doing. Renault, quite obviously, did with the Clio RS200, though at first peek some would argue otherwise, saying that this new Clio Renaultsport (RS) is not that new.
The previous Clio RS gives you 197PS, hence its name, Clio RS 197. This one has 200PS (actually, 197hp) as the name denotes but in reality, you get around 20 per cent more torque from the lower revs. Plus the first three gear ratios are now shorter and closer. And yes, this one drives better and quicker.
At a glance, the car has a different nose and wheels. Yet, with so few of the previous Clio RS running around, you can’t be blamed for thinking this is the older version.
By the way, the unit we got for our five-day test drive is a TC Euro Cars homologation car, which is different from the one to be offered here soon. We heard it will be the Raider version that will come in a matte paint job and other cosmetic tidbits but, technically, the same as the pearl white variant we had.
In Malaysia, where hot hatch usually refers to a modified Proton Satria Neo or Perodua Myvi with huge GT wings and exhaust tips the size of dinner plates, the Clio RS200 is certainly a breath of fresh air. The Continental lines with clean side skirts, interrupted only by those F1-styled front and rear bumpers, plus those huge gaping side gills, ensure this Clio is definitely not the garden variety type.
The rear end maintains the theme with built-in diffusers between the two tail pipes, and thank goodness Renault was smart enough not to add a huge rear spoiler although we heard you can get one as a paid option.
The cabin is similar to the previous version, which means it’s tastefully spartan and more function over form. You still get those funky air-con vents and padded dashboard.
One thing about Renault that we like is the multifunctional control stalk that houses all the buttons for the audio. From the picture, it looks mighty complicated but once you get used to it (we took less than a day to do that), you will want that stalk in all cars.
With performance topmost in mind, focus is given to the intimate items — the seats, gear lever, pedals and steering wheel. They are designed to offer total control and comfort.
The winged Recaro seats prove to be a bit of a hassle for big-sized drivers but they surely hug you well. If you sweat a lot, be friendly to your local car detailer because fabric can absorb a lot of sweat and, over time, your car starts smelling like your old gym locker.
The rear seats can fit three but two would be the best. The boot is surprisingly big but that is due to the lack of a spare tyre. Who needs a spare tyre in a hot hatch anyway (until you get stranded with a flat of course)?
The engine is the largely the same, but tweaks are made here and there to give you maximum torque at a lower 5,400rpm (versus 5,500rpm before) and the first three gears have been given lower ratios.
Top gear remains the same, which means highway cruising is doable although you can still overtake slower vehicles without dropping down to fifth.
With a manual gearbox and a peaky engine, the Clio RS200 actually wants you to work hard to get all of its 200PS (197hp) and 215Nm of torque into play.
Old skills like rev matching and heel/toe quickly make a comeback but trust us, it’s worth the effort.
Renault did a fantastic job in the handling department. We were told this unit had the Cup chassis specifications, which means the ride can be a bit stiff but throw it around the corners and it hugs the tarmac like a leech on a fat bloke’s thigh.
We were extremely delighted with the reaction to steering input. Though a front wheel puller, feedback was spot on. No turbo boost meant there was no torque steer, and no torque steer meant we could outgun a bigger and more powerful car around the twisties.
Stiffer springs normally would result in some sort of bump steer, but not with this Clio. It did hop a bit when we hit a bump or two but it quickly landed back without too much shifting of direction.
We can see this car being driven more on the B-roads than the highway. If you must, it can still perform as a daily car with an acceptable level of comfort.
For track days, we suspect the Sepang International Circuit might be a bit too much for the Clio RS200. Tighter tracks, like the Dato’ Sagor Circuit in Pasir Salak or the even tighter Melaka International Motorsport Circuit in Ayer Keroh would be more suitable.
As for the price (we heard this one will eat up nearly RM200,000 of your bank account), it’s definitely considered high for its size and power. Then again, this is one of the few remaining high revving, naturally aspirated engines in the market and that is worth a thought.
Besides, having handling that can make the Germans look silly is a bonus. - Hezeri Samsuri
Renault Clio Renaultsport 200
1,998cc, 4-inline, petrol unleaded (RON95-98), multipoint sequential 16-valve
Proof that the French know a thing or two about hot hatches.