Renault’s decision to replace the old 2.0-litre tempest with a smaller, turbocharged engine would have been sufficient to noticeably alter the model’s temperament on its own, but coming as it does with the dual-clutch auto ’box, the new driveline imposes a radically different character on the car.
Driven in default automatic mode, the car is predictably and wilfully amenable to measured inputs, humming along with the civilised anonymity of any other modern automatic hatchback. This is obviously as intended.
In a familiar effort to have its cake and eat it, Renault’s RS Drive system button must be pushed to access the jazzier Sport and Race modes.
The problems with this approach are twofold. Firstly, as congenial as it may now be, all the previous car’s impish zip has been sucked mercilessly from the bone.
Ricocheting through the cogs in an effort to make the lights/a gap/dinner in the old Clio was one of its foremost about-town pleasures, but interacting with the latest version, even when manually shifting, is nowhere near as invigorating.
Which leads on to the second point of concern: the RS doesn’t feel quick enough, often enough. Progressive power hikes have not previously papered over the Clio’s tendency to grow in size and weight between generations, and with the car now bigger (and better equipped) than ever, it struggles to stimulate.
Perhaps the fact that it is nearly half a second slower than a Ford Fiesta ST to 60mph (despite an easy-to-use launch control system) will only disappoint the niche beyond which Renault is attempting to expand.
But the comparative in-gear times – always the go-to guide of a car’s ability to hasten its stride on the move – reveal a deeper impact on the car’s dynamic. The Clio is slower than the lighter ST in those crucial moments when it should be offering its driver a quick fix of spirited acceleration – in, say, third gear from 40-60mph (0.7sec slower) and fourth from 50-70mph (1.4sec).
Away from the hard data, the Clio does still have its moments, and it’s ingratiating at least to find them very close to the 6500rpm redline. But even here, the gearbox is a split-second hurdle rather than a spine-tingling addition.