Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
The Renault badge is probably the most prestigious around when it comes to small hot hatches. The company’s mighty reputation for producing supermini super-rockets arguably stretches back to the Renault 5, but not the mighty ‘Turbo’, which arrived to a stunned world in 1980, no, we go back to 1976 to find the Renault 5 Alpine. Perhaps the first true hot-hatch, one that (just) predates the Golf GTI.
After the 5 departed the earth it was left to the new Clio to pick up the baton – and it delivered. The Clio 16V was followed by the legendary Clio Williams – the product of the company’s supply of V10 engines to the Williams F1 team. Finally in 1999 the first Clio to wear the ‘Renaultsport’ name arrived in the form of the Clio RS 172. Followed in 2004 by the 182, a car that will perhaps go down as the greatest of RS’s incredible machines (although we should never forget the near-insane, mid-engined, Clio V6). Between them the 172 and 182 down the template for what Renaultsport was about – as much fun as possible, and as much time with a wheel cocked into the air as possible.
Clios from Renaultsport aren’t meant to be subtle, and picking up the key (card) to a white hot-hatch means this is no exception, especially as that white is matte… The standard Clio is not exactly unfortunate on the eyes, so after a little work from the team at RS the Trophy makes a striking sight. At the front the bumpers have become more aggressive while muscular wheel-arches team with a small spoiler, rear diffuser and dual exhausts to make this a purposeful hatch.
Inside the standard Clio interior gets flashes of red (sports wheel, seat-belts) and carbon-fibre (air vents) as well as ‘Trophy’ logos on the door sills and ‘RS’ on the wheel. The standard Clio seats are jettisoned and replaced by a pair of exceptional RS Trophy sports seats, which are supportive, but not restrictive.
The standard Clio RS is no slouch; fitted with a 1.6-litre turbocharged, four-cylinder engine pumping out 200bhp is able to complete the sprint to 60mph in a hardly tardy 6.7 seconds. The trophy knocks a tenth of a second off that thanks to an extra 20bhp extracted from the motor and tweaks to the springs and diffs (both now stiffer by up to 40 per cent). That extra power has been extracted through a slightly larger turbo, but also thanks to the boffins at RS fiddling with the engine mapping. You might think all that power would be too much for a car with no limited-slip differential, but thanks to Renault’s trick electronic ‘RS Diff’ system you wouldn’t notice its absence until you were told. But it’s the extra 15lb ft of torque that really makes the difference here over the standard RS. That’s what keeps the Trophy pulling through fourth and fifth gear as you click the paddle-shift box through the ratios without losing any steam.
Of course the important part of any hot hatch isn’t going fast in a straight line; they are all about being fun when the going gets twisty, being able to push the car to the limits without ever leaving yourself scared witless. Stiffened suspension and dampers mean this is the classic tight, taught Clio. Able to nip through the corners and hint at the possibility of cocking a rear wheel should you begin to really have fun. Unlike previous versions though this is a more grown-up car. Not at the expense of fun, but more with a newer ability to take what the roads can throw at it when you’re not ‘on it’ without attempting to extract your fillings., which makes the Clio RS Trophy a pretty mighty all-rounder. A car that will make the Fiesta ST stand up and take note? We think so.
Price of our car – £24,680 (Renault Clio Renaultsport Nav 220 Turbo)
Photography by Tom Shaxson