The four-door Clio RS is thrilling on the track or a drive to the supermarket, writes Vani Naidoo Renault's Clio has been off the menu in New Zealand for a long time, but the recently launched range comes with a little monster - the nimble and impressively quick RS.
The hatch, available only as a four-door automatic, is bursting with top-notch inclusions and clearly benefits from the technology that has seen the French manufacturer become a powerhouse in Formula 1 racing.
Of course, taking the scenic route to the supermarket is a far cry from the gruelling street track of Monaco or the tight corners of the Hockenheimring.
But in the new RS, even with two child-booster seats in the back, it is easy to imagine yourself amongst the excitement, even if it is for the briefest moments.
A funky fresh-looking interior offers a warm welcome with its quality-feel materials, splashes of colour and textured trims.
It is a feeling further enhanced by a sporty driving position, race-like instruments and switches and dials that are practically within reach.
The seats are supportive and well-bolstered, perhaps a bit firm, and hold pretty snug even at the back of the neck when needed.
Four doors make access to the rear quite easy but that flattish pew is best used for children. Of course, you can fit two adults in the back but their comfort somewhat depends on the generosity of the front-seat occupants.
Storage options are slightly sparse - not helped by two shallow and oddly sized cup-holders - but by and large you would do okay with the essentials.
The new RS is better suited to everyday driving.
Boot space is surprising at 300 litres, which increases to 1146 litres with the rear seats folded.
A powerful new 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine sits at the heart of this RS, paired with a six-speed dual clutch transmission and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
It makes for a thrilling combination, especially as it is teamed with a two-dampener front suspension system and a wide torque band that is controlled by a forward-thinking electronic diff.
In practical terms it translates into a car that sits flat, powers through corners, shows an innate flexible ability and overall balance that is hard to fault. It truly loves the twisty bits and is good at it.
The RS Drive system allows you to select from three modes, Normal, Sport and Race. This varies performance by adjusting electric power assistance, stability control and acceleration.
The Clio RS' interior is accented in orange trim.
Normal mode, while useful for everyday runabouts, feels a bit lacklustre with rather light steering -- especially after you try the other two modes.
One of the neatest adventures of the RS is launch control, which fires you off the line with maximum traction, and the raucous Race mode. Despite the excitement it can generate, or perhaps because of it, the function is best suited for a day on the track.
Standard fare in the base-model Sport includes 17-inch alloys, cloth seats, air conditioning, Bluetooth audio with phone streaming, automatic wipers and touchscreen with sat-nav. The Trophy model adds 18-inch alloys, leather seats, rear camera, automatic climate control and Renault's R-Sound Effect system, which allows you to hear seven synthesised exhaust sounds through the audio system.
Safety has a 5-ANCAP rating with the usual suspects such as anti-lock brakes with EBD and brake assist, stability control, anti-slip regulation and hill-start assist. Emergency warning lights are activated under heavy braking.
Competition is stiff with offerings like the Peugeot 208 GTi, Citroen DS3, Mini Cooper S, Ford Fiesta ST and the Volkswagen Polo GTi.
Making the RS better suited to everyday driving was one of Renault's aims this time round and they have managed it somewhat by changing the drive choices and going for four doors rather than the previous standard-issue two.
It would be good to have reverse cameras or even sensors as standard (optional in the entry models) across the range.
Renault has used tricks learnt at the Formula 1 coalface for fuel consumption and official figures stand at 6.3 litres/100km. We used almost two litres more but that's probably because we were heavy on the pedal.
There is no missing the RS' hot-hatch looks with sharper lines and gloss-black body hardware.
It is lower and flatter than a regular Clio with a front aero blade, rear diffuser, dual chrome exhaust finishers, F1-style front bumper blade and stylish alloys. It looks good, especially in the RS yellow and red.
We loved the dynamic drive, sporty performance and great looks, and with three models on offer - Sport, Cup and Trophy ($40,990, $45,990 and $49,990 respectively) - there's something for everyone.
With the little force-fed four making 147kW and 240Nm, one thing's for sure - whichever one is picked, it'll get you from A to B in a hurry.