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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Renaultsport Clio RS16 - Fix It With A Hammer

Renaultsport Clio RS16, ahead of the Clio 200 Turbo EDC [left] and Megane 275 Trophy-R [right]
When it comes to hot hatches, France is more often than not the place to go. Yes there are Golf GTIs and Focus RSs and Civic Type-Rs, but the nation that popularised front-wheel-drive, hatchback bodies and doing mad stuff knows how to party the hardest. First it was Peugeot in the '80s, with the 205 GTi, 309 GTi and all sorts of great stuff following those in the 1990s. Since then, it's been Renault's performance engineering division RenaultSport that has flown the tricolore for corner-munching shopping cars with a manic side. Such gems came along as the Clio 182 Trophy, Megane R26.R, Twingo 133 and of course the unforgettably bonkers Clio V6, a mid-engined supercar in the shape of the humble supermini in tribute to the old Group B Renault 5 Turbo.

However, the most recent Clio has been something of a dip in form for the Renaultsport boys and girls. Following the naturally-aspirated Clio (mk.3) 200 Cup which is seen in similar regard to the Porsche 997 GT3 3.8 for its intensely concentrated pure-bred thrills, the 2012-present Clio (mk.4) 200 EDC Turbo was bigger, heavier, lower-revving and turbocharged, plus it wasn't and isn't available with a manual gearbox. Right when Ford had gifted the world with the good clean fun of the Fiesta ST, Renault gave us an overweight computer with reportedly a slightly ponderous paddleshift gearbox and the ability to overdub different (less dull) engine sounds through the stereo, telling us it was the future. Many people didn't want this future and bought the Fiesta instead, or tried the 208 GTi from a returned-to-form Peugeot. We later saw a Clio 220 Trophy which claimed to fix some issues including 50% faster shifts, but it still aggravated magazines who tested it for many of the same reasons as before. The engine wasn't as exciting despite being more effective and that gearbox was ruining their ability to enjoy an otherwise great chassis.

Now, for its 40th anniversary, Renaultsport have tried sorting out the fourth-generation Clio's performance and driving experience yet again... and this time they aren't messing about.


Named after the newly reinstated factory race team's pleasingly yellow Formula 1 car, this is the R.S 16. It is proclaimed to be the fastest Renault ever built, despite not being mid-engined or featuring an Alpine logo. Instead it features the engine and gearbox from the bigger Megane 275 Trophy-R - the on-and-off holder of the lap record for front-drive cars around the Nordschleife - meaning a 2.0 turbo replacing the 1.6 turbo and a 6-speed manual gearbox replacing the 6-speed dual-clutch 'box. Power shoots up from 200bhp to 275bhp, with torque rising from 192lb/ft to 266lb/ft. You might think that putting a much bigger engine in the nose of a small car would make it detrimentally heavier, but that trusty manual gearbox is so much lighter than the normal car's DCT that together they more or less cancel each other out. What the engine transplant did require, however, was a lot of head scratching and re-jigging of the front end...


The fourth-gen Clio was never designed to hold a 2.0-litre engine, plus the engine in question is noticeably more ferocious than even the RS 200 EDC, so new engine mounts, stronger suspension and further chassis reinforcements were in order to house and contain the beastly new organs. Away from the main company, at Renaultsport Cars's own little workshop facility in Les Ulis, a ten-person team of road and racing engineers and a single Renault stylist set to work. The end result is half "parts bin special," half bespoke motorsport engineering.

Let's start with the recycled bits, because that's more fun; the lower front chassis/engine mounting uses a modified front subframe from the Renault Kangoo family van, arguably the least sporty Renault car possible. Then, to get two completely different electronics systems to talk to each other, the ageing Megane engine's ECU uses software from the humble Dacia Sandero (!) so that it can communicate harmoniously with the Clio's chassis electronics such as the traction and stability control systems. It gets sportier from here - the rear axle is carried straight over from the Clio R3T rally car in the form of a much tougher torsion bar that's 50% stiffer, while the front suspension includes the mk.3 Clio RS's "PerfoHub" double kingpin struts and front lower arms, which were apparently engineered with a more powerful car in mind that never arrived. The 350mm Brembo steel brakes are straight off the Megane Trophy-R along with the limited-slip differential, 15% lighter li-ion battery, the wheel hubs and special adjustable Ohlins dampers. Finally, the rear wing is adapted from the Renault Clio Cup racing car, allegedly managing to reduce lift by 40kg at 125mph to keep things stable at high speed.

Then there are a couple of important things it doesn't have: back seats and air conditioning. This is not an everyday Clio...


The bespoke parts mostly come in the form of "interface parts" to marry together components from the different models. There are specially designed top mounts for the powertrain and some bespoke suspension uprights, both of which elements have been machined from solid pieces of metal. Towards the rear, there is also a new exhaust system from Akrapovic, who are known for making cars very loud. Further bespokery is found on the bodywork, in the form of composite wheel arch flares (joined together with new side skirts) to house the wider wheels and 60mm wider tracks, as well as a modified front spoiler which in part directs a greater amount of air into the enlarged intercooler. The 19" Speedline wheels are shod in 235/35 Michelin performance tyres which look noticeably broader than on the normal Clio RS - making them fit didn't just mean gluing on some flares, they had to cut away at the wheel arches too.

Normal Clio RS on left of image
Initial specs are limited, except to say that it weighs a mere 1200kg or so to give what for Renault is an unprecedented power/weight ratio of 224bhp/tonne. The resulting car is pretty hardcore in many ways, but the suspension is not designed for Yas Marina or Silverstone; while they're targeting less body roll than the Megane 275 and want it to be agile at high speed, it's been set up to work well on back roads, being stable and adjustable over bumps and rough tarmac. There's a reason this lot ruled all the hot hatch group tests not long ago.

Renault Sport boss man Patrice Ratti admits that they were itching to do something crazy, saying of the project "We arrived at the idea of taking a Clio R.S. and putting the Megane R.S. drivetrain in it. We toyed with the idea of putting the engine in the rear, like the Clio V6, but it would be very heavy [that car was around 1400kg]. We’re better at front-engined, front-wheel drive cars at Renault Sport anyway."

Officially this is just a concept car. Unofficially, that's sort of bollocks. The performance division are so keen to produce this frankencar that they've conducted feasibility studies throughout the five-month project (yes, all this work in only five months by around ten people is a real labour of love) and have crash tested both left- and right-hand-drive versions of it. There are still decisions to make in this area, such as whether or not they could build it in the fabled (and reinvigorated) Alpine factory in Dieppe and how many to make for what price, but early info suggests around 250 cars for a price of around £35-40,000. That's a lot of money for a small car with no back seats or air conditioning, but this sort of project isn't produced on the cheap, Kangoo subframe or not. A lot of re-engineering, specialist manufacturing and the general costs of R&D all have to be paid for in order for the bean counters to allow it... and even then the market for such a machine is small. Might as well build a small number and put an exclusivity charge on top to guarantee a return.

Is it weird for a 5-door car to have no back seats? I feel like that's weird.
The decision to put the Clio RS16 into production hinges on finances and will be made within the next couple of months if it hasn't already. It's not actually a direct fix for the 200 EDC because it's not going to be produced in that kind of quantity, but it does show us that despite stringing along the old Megane and being told by marketeers to dilute the Clio, the kings of hot hatches have still got their mojo. Hoorah.


Written by and for SmallBlogV8.
Sources: Evo, Pistonheads, TopGear

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