RENAULT has slashed the price of the fourth generation Clio RS and added an automatic transmission as it looks to growing sales numbers to the hot-hatch's enviable performance reputation.
It is a smart, versatile option especially around the city, doing well in the work and school commute but also offering that element of excitement should you want to cut loose on the track.
Prices start from below $30,000 for the base RS200, but we managed to secure the Sport Premium version which gets a whole heap of good kit from $34,790.
Sometimes it seems that car manufacturers graft their interiors from the same mould with the same colour scheme, the same hard, ill-fitting plastics, the same boring air-vents. It makes for a refreshing change then when, as is the case with the Clio RS, care has been taken to make sure it stands out from the pack.
Nothing does that better than the sporty red trim accents dotted around the cabin and the door surrounds offering a pleasant contrast to the darker plastics, RS kick-plates and aluminium pedals.
The instrument cluster, linked by the digital speedo, is fun and funky with chunky buttons and dials adding practicality to the look. Seats are adequately bolstered and supportive while there are enough storage options to keep most happy.
The interior gives the illusion of space, there is a feeling of airiness despite the Clio's size but while you can carry four in comfort, taller adults will feel disadvantaged in the back seat.
On the road
The Clio RS now boasts a 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine coupled with a hard-working six-speed box and sporty suspension. You can choose from three modes - Normal, Sport and Race - with the latter dispensing with the help of the stability control.
While the Normal mode with its soft changes and gentle response is fine around town, it is, after all, designed to save fuel and lacks the sharper intent that generally makes a ride more fun.
Sport mode was our go-to, with the quicker, more direct steering and faster response making for a more pleasurable ride.
Race mode ups the ante but the prowess that comes from a much-sharper drive is best experienced on a track.
All in all, the RS delivers an entertaining drive, showing poise and great balance as well as a nose for adventure.
There is some torque steer when you are pushing hard and it could do with a boost of power when under load but it manages to largely satisfy while keeping you interested.
What do you get?
Renault is always good with value-for-money inclusions and our Clio RS can claim keyless entry and push-button start, sports body kit, 17.7cm touch-screen with sat nav, reverse camera, auto headlights and wipers, cruise and climate control, leather seats and 18-inch gloss alloys.
Safety is five-star thanks to front, side and curtain airbags, ABS with brake assist, stability and traction control and hill-start assist. Reverse sensors are a $300 option.
Competition will come from the Volkswagen Polo GTI (from $27,990), Peugeot 208 GTi (from $29,990), Suzuki Swift Sport (from $23,990) and Ford Fiesta ST (from $25,990).
While Renault claims 6.3 litres/100km, the best we managed was close to 8.0 litres/100km and that was with a fair bit of highway driving.
The Clio RS comes with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, five years road side assist and fixed-price servicing for the first three years.
The Clio RS has enough space for singles or couples with or without small children.
Forward visibility is good (you have to check over-shoulder blind spots) as is handling and it also has a fair bit of equipment thrown in. The cup holders, smallish and positioned just behind the driver's hand, are a tad less practical than you would hope for.
The exterior of the Clio RS is interesting enough to turn heads with sculpted flanks, curvy headlight stack and no-nonsense grille. The wide stance, flared guards and rear diffuser add to the sporty look.
The Clio RS may not have the quick response of the Megane RS but it does enough to keep the driver keen.
The automatic gearbox, much to the chagrin of the purists, will no doubt help sales in Australia where they are the weapon of choice, but it is the overall package - fun drive, generous inclusions, good styling cues - that will seal the deal.
What matters most
What we liked: Fun ride, funky interior, quality inclusions.
What we'd like to see: Reverse sensors as standard, less torque steer, manual option.
Warranty and servicing: Five years unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assist for the same period. Capped price servicing is $299 for the first three years, with servicing intervals every 10,000km or annually.
Verdict: Four stars
Model: Renault Clio RS200 Sport Premium.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive sport hatch.
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine generating maximum power of 147kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 240Nm @ 1750rpm.
Transmission: Twin-clutch six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 6.3 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: $34,790.