Renault Clio R.S. 18 F1 is a Formula 1 champ in a hatchback form
Renault proves that they haven't forgotten how to build a quick and properly engaging Clio with their new limited-edition R.S. 18 F1, writes Thomas Falkiner
Jeez, that's a heck of a long name for a car. Must be special. Is it?
Affirmative. This limited edition Clio with the lengthy name has been built to celebrate 40 years of Renault involvement in Formula 1.
Though just in case it still came across a little too demure, the styling team went and plastered jaunty decals all across the roof and on the door panels. The wheels are black, as are the badges on the nose and hatch.
Yet the coolest feature by far is the Akrapovic exhaust system: get down on your haunches and you'll see the brand's famous scorpion logo adorning the tailpipes.
On the inside you'll find an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, smatterings of faux carbon fibre and some flash metallic doorsills.
The heated seats are covered in perforated leather and they are, in the grand old Renault tradition, supremely comfortable. Not to mention supportive. When the lateral G-forces start rising (you can watch this happening in real time on the G-Meter), your frame stays planted. Which is exactly what you want in a hatch so capable through corners.
An Akrapovic exhaust system you say? Fancy - does it make a difference?
It does indeed. One of my biggest gripes with the fourth-generation Renault Clio R.S. is its total lack of aural excitement - especially when compared to its screaming, naturally aspirated predecessor. The Nissan-sourced turbocharged 1.6-litre motor living beneath its bonnet might produce more power and torque but it sounds about as inspired as your tumble dryer in the middle of a cycle.
Though similarly dull here in R.S. 18 F1 guise, those Akrapovic pipes really do inject some much-needed growl into the sonic mix. Especially on up and downshifts when you get a healthy dose of "vrr-pha" before the next set of cogs engage. Critics will call it artificial and I guess to some extent it is. However, I would rather have a slightly synthetic soundtrack than no soundtrack at all.
Let's address the sizeable day-glow elephant lurking in this room - the EDC gearbox. Has Renault improved it?
Ah, yes, the infamous Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) transmission. When I first sampled it back in 2014 I was bitterly disappointed by its performance. Clunky. Hesitant. Sometimes slow to react with a noticeable amount of slippage. It was, to quote one of my favourite lines in Adam McKay's comedy-drama, The Big Short, "Dog shit wrapped in cat shit." Especially when you compared it to similar systems made by the likes of Audi and Volkswagen.
FAST FACTS: RENAULT CLIO R.S. 18 F1
• ENGINE: 1618cc four-cylinder turbo
• POWER: 162kW at 6 050rpm
• TORQUE: 260Nm at 2 000rpm
• TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic
• 0-100KM/H: 6.6-seconds (claimed)
• TOP SPEED: 235km/h (claimed)
• FUEL: 12.1l/100km (achieved)
• PRICE: R449,900
Anyway, us hacks grumbled and complained and Renault listened. Tweaks have been software upgraded, and now EDC does its thing as well as any S-Tronic or DSG equivalent.
As far as actual psychical performance goes you no longer have anything to worry about. What still sucks, however, is the positioning of the fixed gear-selector paddles.
Mounted too close to the instrument binnacle, they're awkward to get your fingers around and too small with most of their meat falling inside the 10-to-two position of the steering wheel.
Nice if you're Jean Alesi, bad if you're not.
I'm guessing from the presence of all those F1 stickers that Renault has turned a few tricks to make this particular R.S. handle even better?
You guess right. The Clio R.S. 18 F1 rides upon the firm's Trophy Chassis. This means that the car is not only stiffer than the regular R.S. Sport but also sits closer to the ground (there's a 20mm drop up front, 10mm at the rear).
Add in Renault's surprisingly competent e-Diff (an electronic torque-vectoring system designed to mimic a mechanical limited-slip differential) plus a set of 18-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres and you get a hatch that is seriously impressive through corners.
Front-end grip is immense and you can rip through bends with all the ferocity of a purebred sports car. The steering might not be bestowed with all that much feeling (what is these days?) but it's direct and amazingly reactive.
You can also use the throttle to help tighten your line through sharper kinks: step off the gas while turning in and the rear end will happily step out some. The Clio R.S. 18 F1 really comes alive when the road starts changing direction: a crisp, sharp steer that will thrill drivers who enjoy more than just going straight.
So you're saying it's better around a track than down a drag strip?
Though the Clio R.S. 18 F1 isn't slow it's not quite in the Usain Bolt sprinter league of bigger and more expensive hot hatchbacks such as the Golf GTI. It scampers out of the blocks with tyre-chirping verve but from around 120km/h you can feel the atmosphere start digging its claws in.
No, like I've alluded to before, the Clio R.S. 18 F1 comes into it own through corners. If you've got the right minerals flowing through your bloodstream and aren't scared of annoying the authorities, you'll never tire of throwing this plucky French terrier around by the scruff of its neck. I know I certainly didn't.
So you're giving it a double thumbs-up?
I wasn't expecting to but, yes, I am. Combining slick styling with a ridiculously competent chassis and turbocharged punch, the Clio R.S. 18 F1 is to my mind the current junior hot-hatch king. It's also generously equipped, which makes it far better value than its rival, the new Polo GTI.
LED headlights. Leather heated seats. Satellite navigation. Automatic climate control. Parking assist sensors and reverse camera. All are standard on the Renault and costly options on the Polo.
So, yeah, it's a no-brainer really. Just be quick - only 65 have been allocated to SA.