Why is the Renault Sport Clio RS200 even in PCOTY? Glad you asked.
Because it’s as much a performance leader in its segment as any PCOTY rival. And, on merit of intended purpose – affordable fun factor – it was capable of taking on pricier and more powerful rivals.
In fact, we thought it might’ve climbed higher than ninth. A giant-killer, GTS Maloo notwithstanding, it proved not to be.
The result hinged little on the stopwatch. We fully expected that the most affordable ($37,290) and least potent (147kW and 240Nm) device would fill the bottom of the timesheets.
That it was the only car doing fours (80-120), sevens (0-100) and 15s (0-400) didn’t weigh much in judges’ minds. That it was six seconds slower (1:47.5) around Winton than any other competitor proves that, well, speed costs money. It also suggests the RS200’s much lauded chassis wasn’t paying much dividend in the corners.
The devil’s advocate – and the RCZ-R – suggests that more grip and power offers the 1.6-litre front-drive format an extra six seconds of lap time. And, with the heavier Golf R, that advantage plus all-wheel drive yields similar gains.
In short, could the Clio format push the performance envelope harder in a hotter form? Evidence suggests yes. Imagine Renault Sport creating its answer to Audi’s S1!
However, the RS200 is what it is. That said, it fronts up with twin clutches, launch control and all sorts of addenda in the quest for speed to push the RS200 further away from the traditional compact hot-hatch conception. It wants for ground-breaking, benchmarking pace. And the initial tarnish in judges’ eyes is that it doesn’t feel otherworldly quick for what it is.
Then there’s fun factor. Renault Sport has built itself an incredible pedigree for entertaining (and fast) front-drive hatchbacks. And therefore the biggest criticism aimed at the little French rocket is that it’s marketed so ferociously as a tool for driver enjoyment and yet, against many PCOTY rivals of lower track-savvy pretensions, it wasn’t that much of a hoot to throw around the track or a twisty country road.
Sure, unglue its tyres mid-corner and it’ll shimmy like a Dancing with the Stars contestant, but it’s not as engaging as the Golf R or as purposeful as the RCZ-R. Let alone the rest of the field.
In fact, driven hard, you’re compelled to keep the Clio as tidy as possible to milk some speed from the thing on track. On road, its modest footprint presented meagre body control and athleticism when tasked with pointing and shooting.
That said, its fantastic playfulness remains the handling package’s strongest suit everywhere. The RS200 is fun and fast(-ish). But not nearly enough to raise it beyond ninth place.
January issue, out now
For the complete Performance Car of the Year story, including full performance data, check out MOTOR’s January issue, on sale now on newsstands or iPad.
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