What is it?
Remember, the Renault Clio RS16 is a concept car, built to celebrate Renault Sport’s 40th anniversary, and the Renault Sport management are unsure whether they’re going to build a limited production run.
Yep, they’re just still mulling it over, thinking money, while taking good care of the concept car. Just a concept. That’s why this RS16, a bit more than a Renault Clio RS with a Megane RS 275 engine, has had all the important engineering work done so that it didn’t make its debut on a motor show stand, but in full motion before the Monaco Grand Prix, driven at pace by Kevin Magnussen.
That’s why it made its way to the Goodwood Festival of Speed a few weeks after that, where, again, it was driven, at speed, up the Goodwood hill climb, rather than sitting on Renault’s stand like a good concept should.
That’s why there’s another RS16, a black car with the same mechanical underpinnings, being used as a development hack.
And that’s why they said we could make our way to northern France, to a quiet little test track they use a lot, called the Circuit Des Ecuyers, and drive the concept, as fast as we liked, without a chaperone. Because, of course, it’s a concept car. Because we’re just still quietly thinking about the money side of things, okay? Okay.
If Renault Sport doesn’t build this car, I will be astonished. We could build a limited production run, Renault Sport boss Patrice Ratti admits. So how many would you need to sell, Patrice, to make it worthwhile? “It depends...” When will you make a decision on it? “There’s no timescale…” Move along. Nothing to see here.
Alright. I’ll play along because there are, in truth still two issues to be decided: both hinging, in a way, about money.
The first is whether enough people want a 271bhp Clio RS with a manual gearbox. The first limited-edition Megane RS hatch, the R26.R, flopped. It was brilliant, but arrived just as the world’s finances crashed and the UK, a big market for mega-entertaining hatches, which had originally said it could sell 250 cars, eventually took fewer than 175.
But that was then and this is now. Now, special editions of special cars sell, no problem. See also: Porsche 911 R, Volkswagen Golf Clubsport S. Last year’s Megane Trophy R sold too, no bother – though given there were only 30 in the UK, that wouldn’t have been surprising even if it wasn’t brilliant.
To the second sticking point, then: the technical complexity of building the RS16. You can build two: obviously, because Renault has, and to an extent lots of bugs have been ironed out in the process. It has been hard to get an old 2.0-litre engine like the Megane 275s to talk to a more modern car like the Clio RS.
But that done, there’s then the complication of fitting the changes to the Clio into the production process. The front suspension gets a double-axis strut, like the Megane RS does, to reduce torque-steering effects of all that power, but the Megane’s doesn’t directly fit. The engine wants locating in four places, not just three. Both front and rear tracks are wider by 60mm and the bodywork has grown to accommodate the Megane’s 19in wheels, which cover 350mm brake discs.
All this is easily done for two cars – especially when one’s just a concept, eh chaps? Guffaw - but when it comes to rolling two or three Clio RS16s a day down the same Dieppe production line that also produces the regular Clio RS and will soon make the new Alpine sports car too, it presents its own ‘challenges’. Or ‘costs’, as you and I know them.