RENAULT CLIO RS18 F1: First drive impressions

Clio RS

Renault’s proud racing heritage has spawned several pocket rockets, and limited edition hot hatches over the years. The latest, a limited run Clio R.S. 220 EDC Trophy-based and F1-inspired track machine debuted at Zwartkops Raceway recently, as BERNIE HELLBERG reports.

Renault is by far the most successful French automaker in South Africa – more than 68,000 units of the Clio model range alone, have made their way to local shores since the line-up was introduced here back in 2000.

There are several reasons why the Clio, in particular, is Renault’s best-selling model range, both globally and locally; decent value for many, great looks, and frugal consumption counting among the many. Another reason is Renault’s impressive motorsport heritage, especially in the Formula 1 arena.

Promoted under the RenaultSport (RS) banner, several limited edition sporty Clios have been introduced here as high-performance ‘halo’ models aimed at keeping the desirability factor of the overall Clio range top-of-mind for buyers in that segment.

MORE EXCLUSIVE, LESS ANGST

Clio RS
IN LOCATION – STATIONARY SHOT

Generally speaking, the fourth-gen Clio has consolidated the gains of its predecessors and like them, spawned RS models with the purpose of getting performance purists hot under the collar.

The naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre engine which powered almost all RenaultSport Clios – from the original Clio Williams through the various phases of the Clio II RS, right up to the Clio III RS Red Bull edition – was replaced with a Nissan-sourced 1.6-litre turbo engine.

Some blame this change, and the replacement of the company’s slick five- and later six-speed manual transmissions on Renault’s first electronic dual clutch (EDC) for dumbing down the sturm und drang of earlier generations of what EVO magazine once awarded 6th place in their ‘Car Of The Decade’ feature in 2004.

What was once a focussed instrument of speed, slowly evolved into another premium fast hatch with more luxury appeal than pure track intent.

But development at RenaultSport never stands still for too long, and along with the mid-life upgrade of the Clio IV range, the performance division also upgraded the Clio RS models, adding limited RS Cup and Trophy models to the line-up. RS was back with a bang and a crackle of a specially-developed Akrapovič exhaust.

ENTER THE CLIO RS18 F1

Clio RS
MOVING ON CIRCUIT

There’s no trophy for guessing the immediate heritage of the RS18 F1. It’s mechanically identical to the RS 220 Trophy that Renault unveiled here in 2017, with the aforementioned Akrapovič exhaust and all.

Created to celebrate the brand’s achievements in Formula 1, only 65 of the already heavily restricted run of RS18 F1 cars will make their way here, significantly increasing their desirability factor, and making it a lot easier to justify the R449,900 asking price.

It looks absolutely smashing in its bespoke black and yellow paint finish, chosen to mimic RenaultSport’s actual racing cars. All RS decals, badges, rear diffuser, and other exterior extremities are blacked out for dramatic effect, as are the four 18” alloys. Visually it is every bit as distinctive as it should be in this corner of the market.

As mentioned, there’s precious little difference between the RS18 F1 and its RS 220 Trophy brother – aside from an R11,000 price variance that accounts for added features such as the new reverse camera and bespoke go-faster bits. The same 1.6-litre turbo four-potter delivers its 162 kW and 280 Nm in exactly the same way, and channels all the grunt to the front wheels via a six-speed dual clutch transmission.

EVERYDAY IS TRACK DAY

Clio RS
MOVING ON CIRCUIT

At the risk of being accused of wanting to dial the RS’s recently rediscovered aggression too far back again, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the RS18 F1 belongs in a world where everyone has access to a racetrack, and every day is track day.

As if it was built for this particular circuit, the RS chewed up every inch of the Zwartkops Raceway tarmac like limits just didn’t matter, like physics didn’t matter. Effortlessly converting your skills and concentration into an artful negotiation of the course’s most technical twisties.

At this level of performance, how good your car is depends on two fundamental factors; the amount of grip the tyres are able to generate, and the level of control that the car’s chassis allows. With all the RenaultSport F1 know-how baked into this car, it should come as no surprise that it has auspiciously high levels of both.

And thanks to the precise steering and intelligent electronic diff, and the excellent performance from its Michelin Pilot tyres, the RS18 F1 is a prodigious handler through the full spectrum of low-gear corners and sweeping bends alike.

The brakes are excellent too, and in terms of acceleration, the RS18 F1 claims a 6.6-second sprint time to 100 km/h.

OR IS IT?

Clio RS
BLACK LEATHER TRIM – R.S. MONITOR – RS FLOOR MAT

In this environment, it is our opinion that the Clio currently has no rivals in its class – boasting just the right combination of everything you need to make it an unrivalled track attacker. But despite our best wishes to the contrary, every day just isn’t track day, and unless you’re investing in the RS18 F1 purely as a toy, it still has to make sense on some distant practical level.

Fortunately, the RS doesn’t give up any of the real-worldness of the standard Clio, boasting class-leading boot capacity, heated seats, navigation as standard and an Alcantara leather interior as standard. Where it does let the side down is the extremely firm ride, and limited rear leg- and headroom.

These aspects won’t matter much if the RS18 F1 is your weekend toy, but if it’s your only car, you may find these attributes become a bit of a pain after a while.

LAST WORD

Despite our opinion on the matter, it’s highly likely that by the time you read this review, all 65 Clio RS18 F1 cars brought into the country would have already been sold. The rarity of the car itself, combined with the reputation and cult following that have been baked into the RS brand over decades will translate into a sales success for Renault South Africa.

Is it the best of its kind in all conditions? For many it will be, and for some it won’t, but there is no denying the fact that it is an enormously compelling car around a racetrack and the 65 owners who have bought one will love them deeply.

Report by BERNIE HELLBERG JR | Images © RENAULT SOUTH AFRICA