Johannesburg - I have always loved hot Renaults, particularly the naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre Clio RS models that have been coming to South Africa since the early 2000s.

Like the Nissan 200STIs and 200GXIs, Opel Kadett Superbosses and Honda Civic VTECs that I grew up around in Durban, the Clios always struck me as honest cars, built for driving, and driving hard at that. (No oil leak jokes, please).

In fact, I remember the Clio RS punching well above its weight down at the coast, keeping ‘Durban stock’ Polo GTIs and Fiesta STs honest between the lights.

But, time moves on and naturally-aspirated cars are quickly becoming a thing of the past. So, to this end, Renault’s latest Clio RS has been bestowed with a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder.

It is a wonderful engine, if you like your engines ‘boosty boosty’, but if you like your engines to deliver power progressively (and like them eager to rev), this isn’t the RS of yesteryear.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a helluva fast compact hatchback (faster than its predecessors, in fact). Show it a drag strip and activate the launch control and you might even achieve the 6.6 second 0-100km/h sprint time Renault claims for it. Flat out, it’ll top 235km/h in sixth.

For 2018, Renault has given its hottest Clio a black-out makeover and put a few extra decals on the roof of the car. Inside, there are nifty special touches to remind you that this is a limited edition model, but this car lacks those glorious bucket seats that were fitted to the previous-gen hot Clios.

Renault says the New Clio R.S.18 F1 boasts redefined levels of race technology, superlative performance and unique F1-inspired R.S. styling, paying tribute to the brand’s 40-year-long F1 legacy.

But, basically, the car is based on the standard Clio RS 220 with EDC (automatic) gearbox. There’s no manual version.

RenaultSport’s ride and handling tweaks have made this the most aggressive Clio you can buy. It is firm, to the point where it becomes irritating to drive on anything but ultra-smooth tarmac. Trying to put the power and torque (162kW and 280Nm) down on an uneven or bumpy surface also leads to the traction control intervening, killing progression and fun.

I spent the first few days with the car loathing its laggy turbocharged 1.6-litre four cylinder engine and double-clutch auto box.

Sure, it makes fantastic noises thanks to an Akrapovic exhaust and there’s even some vrrr-phaa on the upshift in RS Sport mode, but after a few quick launches and chucking the car around a few bends it becomes a little boring.

A Polo GTI could do this, and it wouldn’t shatter your spine if you showed it some rumble strips.

By day four of my test cycle with the Clio, I discovered that I could alter the car’s throttle mapping through its R-Link interface. Whoever had been driving the prior to me had set the throttle map to an ultra-aggressive map, which probably works well on a track, but not on the street. I dialled it back a few notches to a more progressive throttle set-up and then, the turbo lag with its rush of boost became easier to modulate. It is still not as predictable as the old normally-aspirated car’s power and torque delivery, but it’s ok.

Friends and family members simply loved the look of the R.S.18 F1, and it certainly does look hotter than a Polo GTI or Cooper S, but I do wonder what the all-black colour scheme will look like in a few years (or months) after a few car wash trips.

Like the Clio RS 220 that preceded it, this R.S.18 version is packed with creature comforts including climate control, touch-screen audio, electrically-operated windows and mirrors and auto lights and wipers.

It even has LED headlamps that not only look very cool, but provide excellent lighting for blasting through dark back roads on a morning jaunt to the office. There’s nothing you’ll want for in the new R.S. 18 apart from more supportive seats and a more compliant suspension tune.

The R.S.18 F1 comes with a five-year/150 000 km warranty and three-year/30 000km service plan. Service intervals are set at 10 000km.

VERDICT

Overall, the new Clio R.S.18 is not for everyone, and that is fine because a very limited number of these cars will be coming to South Africa. If you like fast hatchbacks, this is certainly one to consider, but do make friends with your local chiropractor as you will be spending much more time together should you run the R.S.18 as a daily. Priced at 449 900, this is one of the most expensive compact hatches on sale in SA, and if you go tyre-kicking at your local Ford dealer, you will see that you could get a new Focus ST (yes a bigger car, with a bigger engine) for only eight grand more.

This is one awesome car if you like to bounce from place to place, but if you prefer better ride comfort, rather look at a Polo GTI or the larger Focus ST instead.

Drive360