What is it?
Perhaps the most welcome feature of the Clio’s wider update is confirmation that the RS 220 Trophy – a powered-up, hunkered-down version of the regular RS model – goes from nominal special edition to standard volume prospect. Aside from that revelation it's mainly business as usual.
As before, power and torque from the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine are at 217bhp and 192lb ft (with only the former qualifying as superior to standard) and the EDC dual-clutch gearbox remains – as does the uprated chassis which drops the car by 20mm at the front and 10mm at the rear. Mechanically indistinguishable then, save for the addition of an Akrapovic exhaust to the option list – ‘inspired’ by the titanium system the specialist built for the R.S 16 concept car.
Physically the car does change; albeit slightly. The front splitter has been redesigned, there’s a new design of alloy wheel and the R.S 16’s prominence is repeated in the carryover of what looks like chequered flag-inspired fog lights - but are in actual fact a new method of lighting dubbed R.S Vision. Developed by Renault Sport itself, the each distinctive cluster uses a novel arrangement of LED bulbs and reflectors to not only function as fog and cornering lights, but also help make the dipped and main beam up to 40 per cent brighter than before.
What's it like?
Clearly, a dusting of cosmetic novelties does not a new car make, and away from the front bumper and exhaust pipes of our test car, this is the same Trophy we first drove only a matter of months ago. Which is no bad thing: the costliest Clio was easily the best iteration of the EDC generation, its power hike somewhat mitigating the handicap of its unlikeable gearbox.
Our time in the latest version was limited to a few laps of the Haute Saintonge circuit, an impressively pretty knot of undulating bends buried in the farmland surrounding Bordeaux – but sufficient nonetheless to demonstrate the car’s canny tuning. Doubtless as Renault intended, the track also served to underline the Trophy’s adhesive qualities without necessarily exposing its shortcomings; most notably the uncompromising ride quality that results from its significantly stiffer springs.
With that trait rendered imperceptible, the hottest (you can buy) Clio scurries about in determined and neatly balanced fashion. While the steering is lighter and perceptibly more leisurely than the latest Fiesta ST200, there’s a crisp sophistication to the chassis tuning (an habitual trait of Dieppe’s fettling) that extracts oodles of grip from its sticky Michelins. Turn-in is abrupt and away from the understeer-aggravating sharp corners (where the road-focus of the chassis and the lack of a mechanical diff inevitably ultimately do it no favours) the Trophy greets fast-bend weight transfer as an excuse to pivot engagingly around its B pillar.
Unsurprisingly, Haute Saintonge is no place to develop a deeper affection for the transmission; Renault has been sharpening the Clio’s manual paddle shift since launch, but it still doesn’t swag cogs with much conviction – and the downsized engine manacled to it doesn’t possess the clout of say a Mini JCW either. The Akrapovic exhaust has dialed up the volume a little, although it still can’t induce the kind of metallic howl which made the Megane RS’s similarly bespoke setup almost seem like good value for money.
Should I buy one?
All this serves as confirmation of our earlier appraisal. Renault Sport has rendered a very decent hot hatch from the remains of its underwhelming first go – but not one that necessarily extols the abrasive talent or raw energy of its earlier incarnations. The sparse enhancements of this facelift obviously don’t influence that verdict; its ranking in the segment is prejudiced more now by the introduction of the ST200, which probably outstrips the Trophy’s claim to a broader usability.
On that note though, the Clio is still peculiar enough a prospect to suit someone: its mix of auto ‘box ease, four doors accessibility, exterior prettiness and very capable handling being pretty much singular. But, realistically, unless Renault acquiesces to the idea of the Clio R.S 16 being built (rather blatantly Dieppe’s idea of what the Trophy should be were they permitted to build it untroubled by Paris), the car’s status as an accomplished and interesting also-ran is unlikely to undergo a seismic shift.
Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy
Location France; On sale September 2016; Price £22,030; Engine 4 cyls, 1618cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 217bhp at 6800rpm; Torque 192lb ft at 2000rpm; Kerb weight 1204kg; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic; 0-62mph 6.6sec; Top speed 146mph; Economy 47.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 135g/km, 22%