Bit of a hot hatch patch recently: I’ve missed quality time in the Clio Renaultsport up to now, so much anticipation ensued when a box-fresh one turned up for review.
With 500 miles on the clock and mechanical sympathy setting in, I decided intentionally to take it steady, driving it as most will be driven – normally, on motorways and cities, as opposed to bouncing off the bump stops and rev limiter. Old habits.
And this was to prove quite revealing.
After all I’ve read in the battle of the three hot hatch superminis, fulsome notes in the first few miles were vital: first impressions were all. And, would you know, they were pretty positive: smartly finished in white with black and silver detailing, it looked great, and the interior appeared tidy too. Further kudos for dropping into firmly bolstered seats and pulling the steering wheel low and close, with brownie points for the bubbly rort upon startup.
An interesting car, it seemed, then – with, as I got rolling, an encouragingly firm and taut Cup-spec chassis, and thus an encouragingly positive vibe. It felt as a Renaultsport should: tight and firmly sprung but cleverly damped. Stiff, not smashy.
The gearbox was a bit wayward, I felt (some of the ratio choices feel odd as well), but tolerable, and the noise really was rather interesting. This was with all the artificial generation stuff turned off too (and, so far, it’s remained off). Some good exhaust engineering here.
So the Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo felt good…
Sense there’s a but coming? Yup. Steering. Within half a mile, something wasn’t right. The weighting wasn’t the issue (although there wasn’t much of it there); more worrying was the clear lack of crispness and response about the straight-ahead. As if a huge amount of soft-bush sneeze had been engineered in,which was baffling.
This wasn’t an autobahn stormer, but a supposedly agile hot hatch. Why wasn’t the front end nibbling and darting to tiny wrist-flexes? Why were clear inputs generating reluctant reactions? It felt better with some input preloaded, but the on-centre stuff wasn’t there. This wasn’t right, surely.
So the fact it cornered tidily at low speed, seemed to have easy-access torque and strong, linear brakes (once you got past the poor right-hand drive lash-up for the pedal itself, that is – you sense the take-up of the slack in it, hear the wobbly clatter when you release it) was all tempered by this one big gripe around a central aspect of driving engagement.
But then, playing about with the wonderfully involved multi-menu Renaultsport monitor, a revelation. Buried in a sub-sub menu is a steering mode option. Do you want sport mode all the time, or only when sport is selected? What? So the steering is defaulting to cushy mode? Get that off right away.
And, steering mapping corrected, it was rejuvenated. I won’t say transformed as we’re not talking Clio Trophy feel here. But there most certainly was that responsiveness so lacking before. The car now reacted to the small inputs supermini hot hatches should excel at. It was if it had lost a few hundred kilos of inertia; I could now get the chassis nibbling into corners and have the confidence to chuck the Clio in and around them.
Which is what I duly did. So, final analysis? The road test review coming soon will reveal all…