Those who come at the latest-generation Clio armed only with experience of its predecessor are likely to be in for a surprise. It wasn’t that the old RS Clio rode harshly, but it certainly had a firmness and, ever alert, tiptoed with an agility that the latest model wouldn’t recognise.
The new Clio rides around town with an unexpected suppleness and maturity for a Renaultsport model. It shuffles aside bumps that would have elicited a full-body movement in the old Clio and would upset a Fiesta ST’s cabin to a greater extent than this.
You might detect that its steering follows a similar path. There is less response to small movements and more numbing of road feel. We can’t help but feel that some of the magic has been lost.
Up the speed on a more challenging road and you’ll find that these suspicions are, to some extent, confirmed. It’s not that the latest Clio is any less capable – far from it. Back to back over the same stretch of road, in fact, it is more able at swatting aside cambers, crests and surface imperfections and going from remote village to remote village, across great deserted roads, with more pace and finesse than before.
The suspension has considerable compliance for a hot hatch, so there’s a little dive under braking, but it’s well controlled. Turn-in is brisk enough, and it pays to be smooth because the suspension’s relative softness allows some weight transfer that can unsettle it. If you get turned in early and on to a steady throttle, the balance is towards understeer.
A better balance is achieved if you trail the brakes into the bend, but mostly this is a front-led car. In longer curves, a mid-corner lift will give a bit of neutrality but not much more bias towards oversteer than that.
It takes serious provocation to make the Clio become anything like as tail-happy as its predecessor – or the Ford Fiesta ST in the right conditions. Mostly, the Clio is just composed, quick and sorted. With stability control engaged, not very much slip is allowed before it intervenes. As you move through the RS Drive modes, a little more understeer and oversteer is permitted, before it cuts in more discreetly, or it can be switched out.
It’s also extremely capable on a circuit, with tenacious grip and traction levels, high levels of agility and a balance that retains some throttle adjustability. But some of the feedback, response and sheer fun that marked the old Clio 200 out as one of the greats has been chucked out in the process, and that’s a shame.