POTO, Portugal –SA hopes for a long-term sales boost with its new 2.0L Clio Renault Sport “hot hatch,” thanks to a market that has been created by the Mini Cooper S.
“We are looking for a more upscale client, as well as conserving our base ofSport enthusiasts,” a company spokesman says at the launch of the car here.
The hatchback segment is extremely cyclical, peaking with the introduction of each new entry and falling as the models age, he says.
The current segment leader in Europe, the Mini Cooper S, has attracted new buyers looking for prestige as well as power. To try to satisfy them, the Clio Renault Sport, also referred to as the Clio RS, was styled in a slightly conservative way.
“It is neither too showy nor too discrete, neither too loud nor too quiet,” says rally driver Simon Jean-Joseph, who demonstrated the car’s handling in corners and its 6.9 second 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) acceleration.
Wider wheels and wheel arches make the Clio RS 3.3 ins. (8.4 cm) wider at the front and 2.2 ins. (5.6 cm) wider at the rear than the standard Clio. The wheelbase has been extended 0.4 ins. (1.0 cm).
The most visible exterior design elements are an air vent at the rear of the front wheels and, in back, an air diffuser – an underbody trim that forces flowing air upward and, therefore, adds an extra 88 lbs. (40 kg) of backend down force at high speeds.
Having the same effect as a large spoiler in a less showy manner, the diffuser contributes to the look that Renault expects to attract customers more interested in prestige. In a similar vein, the Brembo brakes are visible between the wheel spokes, but in silver and not Brembo red.
The interior is marked by aluminum pedals, side-gripping seats that lower the driving position 0.6 ins. (1.5 cm) compared with the standard Clio and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with the top dead-center position marked by red threads.
While a visible reminder of the center position can be useful in karting and certain rally situations, it is symbolic in the case of the Clio RS.
Ricardo seats will be a later option.
The engine is Renault’s standard 2.0L gasoline block, with remade valve seats, variable valve timing, air intake, exhaust pipes and tuning for a compression ratio 11.5:1.
Renault says the engine makes 194-200 hp at 7,250 rpm. Reaching either figure at that engine speed, just short of the 7,500 rpm redline, makes spirited driving easy. More than 133 lb.-ft. (180 Nm) of torque is available at 2,500 rpms, which offers good acceleration from a standstill.
“It’s a good car for everyday driving, as well as in these conditions,” Jean-Joseph says while rounding a corner on the test track.
At normal engine speeds, the exhaust note is quiet. At higher rpms it delivers the throaty roar that delights fans of acceleration.
The chassis contributes to the good handling with independently pivoting front wheels, in which the steering is separated from the effect of the front springs and shock absorbers.
Renault has installed production capacity of 10,000 to 11,000 units annually at Dieppe, its former Alpine sports-car factory that now makes the RS versions of the Clio and Megane.
The former Clio RS sold 51,880 units over its lifetime, which ended a year ago. In addition to the Mini Cooper S, Renault considers the competition to be the Seat Leon Cupra and Peugeot 206RC.
Sales of the new Clio RS begin June 23 in France and will spread throughout Europe. Its largest markets are the U.K., France, Switzerland and Italy.
The standard Clio RS is priced at €23,000 ($29,700), while a 1-seat version for the Clio Cup racing circuit will sell for €29,000 ($37,500). Renault sold 650 Clio Cup versions of the former Clio RS.