Long-term wrap: Renault Clio RS Gordini
I am always astounded by how quickly a year has passed every time we have to return one of our long-term test cars. Especially when that car is the one that has served me for the last 12 months.
For many people, the thought of getting a new car is exciting. New things are always better than older ones, and when technology is involved (as is the case with modern cars) then new also means updated toys and features.
But for the enthusiasts amongst us, a new car also means the departure of your current car, and that can be a sad occasion.
It’s easy when the vehicle that you are trading up from is falling apart, but that is not at all the case today, as the Renault Clio RS Gordini has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding cars I have ever been entrusted with.
What actually makes this moment even more bitter sweet is that when the Renault Clio R27 was launched (it was a sort of a special edition Clio 197 Cup that served as the last hooray before the facelift) I almost bought one, but decided against it because I thought the vehicle would be too hard to live with.
But after a year with the last evolution of the Clio Cup 200, I couldn’t have been more wrong. On paper it does look like a daunting task. At 147.5 kW the 2,0-litre looks to be top of its class, but that power is only available at 7 100 rpm. Torque is an even scarier prospect, as the RenaultSport engine needs to build up steam to 5400rpm before the full compliment of 215 Nm is available. That means it is hard work driving a Clio RS, but damn it, it’s the kind of work that you want to do.
I have driven lots of cars that are difficult to drive. Controlling the 1 000 Nm of torque trying to pull the engine off a CLS 65 AMG is difficult, and exhausting, but unlike the Clio RS it does not put a smile on your face. Every corner in that steam train is a case of where the Mercedes-Benz will finally manage to throw you into the trees. But in the Clio, you know you are going to be just fine, at all times.
That is because the chassis set-up of the Gordini is so intuitive that it creates a seemingly telepathic link between the driver and the front wheels. The nose of the car is able to perform miracles when it comes to tucking it into a corner, but if you overestimate things (on purpose or not), easing off the throttle and thus enticing some weight transfer, will whip that understeer into a controllable over steer.
And if things do get out of control, you can always rely on the oversized Brembo brakes to wash off the excess speed.
It is the mechanical bits that make the Renault Clio RS Gordini. The steering, brakes, engine and throttle response are the closest that you will find to perfect this side of a purpose-built racing car.
Most of this I suspected before the Clio was delivered. Throughout its life it has been hailed as ‘the’ hot hatch in the B-segment. What I was worried about, was if you could live with the stiff suspension and chassis.
Without a doubt, the answer is yes. It’s not that the RS Gordini was turned out to be smooth as silk on our questionable roads, because that would be a lie. Instead, the chassis is manageable as long as you acknowledge a few caveats.
Road surfaces wont bother you as the driver, but your passengers will tell you a different story. And if they were in the back seat, then they will probably not say anything because it is difficult to be argumentative while suffering from concussion. But then if you want to serve tea to your passengers, you need to look for the keys to the Rolls …
That is not to say that the Clio is one of those stripped-down track day specials where the door handles are replaced with straps (it happens more than you would think!), because the Gordini is decently equipped, considering its dynamic intentions.
There is climate control, and electric control for the windows. Cruise control and the more useful speed limit function are also included, the latter often absent from even C-segment hatches. The leather seats are comfortable but still snug, and held up well on a trip down to the coast, a trip that I fear would have been far more uncomfortable in the optional hard-core bucket seats that come with the 200.
Even the sound system is good, with both AUX and USB connectors, which are controlled through a hub mounted on the steering column, and which also activates and navigates the RS Monitor.
While some of the functions of the extra display were lost on me, such as the lap timer and G-Force graph, the ability to monitor the oil temperature was essential in gauging when it was safe to open up all 7 200 revolutions of the engine. Even thought the system did get confused if you switched to it after the car had already reached operating temperature, causing it to always revert back to 82 degrees.
Our Gordini also came with Keyless entry and Go, which means you don’t ever have to take the credit card shaped key out to gain entry or to start the car.
The Clio made its way once to the Renault Dealers for a service while in our care. The service was completed quickly and a few extra problems that we had experienced were also solved (adjusting the headlights) without a problem and at no cost.
Just keep in mind that you should check where your closest Renault RS specialist is, because all Renault RS cars need to be serviced at a dealer that is equipped to handle them.
But the most important thing about the Gordini is that it is the last of its kind. It is the last of the naturally aspirated, high-revving Clio RS cars, and as things stand now, the last of the manual gearbox ones as well.
The Clio 4 arrives in South Africa this month, with the RenaultSport version scheduled to land sometime early next year. It not only brings a new face to the range, but also a turbocharged 1,6-litre engine, electric power steering and a dual-clutch gearbox.
Renault is adamant that the new RS will be more accessible to more people, and I have to agree with them. There will be more torque along the power band, especially at Highveld altitudes, and the engine will be more fuel efficient and easier to drive because of the self-shifting EDC gearbox.
But there is more to driving than 0-100km/h times and lightning-quick gear changes. In 1998, Porsche stopped production of the 993-series Carrera 911’s and with it, the last of the air-cooled 911 engines. The water-cooled replacements are better in almost every regard, but the 993 is still one of the most sought-after 911s.
It was the last of the 911s that had a real claim to the original 1963 Porsche 911’s revolutionary engine air-cooled configuration.
And that is what I will have to be saying goodbye to: the last of the original Clio RS cars. It is also why it has earned a spot in my dream garage, right next to the ‘ducktail 1973 Porsche 911 2.7 RS and the Ferrari F40. But unlike those super-heritage cars, the Clio is one that I could actually drive every day.