Sadly not the winner’s Trophy: Renaultsport Clio 220 Trophy, CAR+ October 2015

Published: 30 September 2015

► Renaultsport Clio 220 Trophy
► Sadly, it’s not the winners trophy
► Clio RS 182 still the top Clio 

Poor old Renaultsport. Everyone’s a bit down on the current Clio RS, and that’s partly the fault of the old one. Because it was brilliant. Revvily, frantically brilliant. And the new one, with its bigger body, smaller (turbocharged) engine, softer set-up and fashionable – yet not universally popular – paddleshift gearbox simply can’t feel quite as special.

Here’s Dieppe’s first attempt at a patch: the harder, faster Trophy version. Even that’s a badge with baggage, as it follows in the gently smoking tyre tracks of the rabid 2005 Clio Renaultsport 182 Trophy and totally track-minded Megane Renaultsport 265 and 275 Trophies – adrenaline-soaked, absorbing hot hatches all. Good job the suspension’s firmer to carry all that weight of expectation.

What does the Trophy add?

Trophyising the Clio RS has involved a multitude of alterations, headlined by a 10% power increase to 217bhp courtesy of a new, faster-spinning turbo, altered exhaust, redesigned air intake and fiddled-with management software. The suspension’s stiffer and lower (by 20mm at the front, 10mm at the rear), the steering ratio’s quicker and the tyres stickier Michelin Pilot Super Sports. 

Simply installing a clutch pedal and manual gearbox would probably have done more to appease the critics, but no doubt that would have added cost, production line complexity and been a most un-Napoleonic admission of defeat. So the paddles are still there but they now swap the gears faster – up to 50% swifter in ‘Race’ mode – and they don’t move as far, so psychologically they feel faster too. A 300rpm higher rev limiter also means late-braking types can demand downshifts a bit earlier.

Gearchanges are 50% faster, there’s more power  and stiffer suspension. Should have worked…

All encouraging ingredients, but on the road they somehow don’t quite add up to the step change you might have been hoping for. The engine punches hard but still sounds like a hairdryer, and while you don’t need to pull the plastic shifter paddles as far, they still feel curiously unsatisfying to use, as if they’re not actually connected to anything. And that’s how the driver feels too. To be clear, this is by no means a bad car to drive. It’s certainly an agile one; front-end grip is apparently limitless in the dry, geeing you to turn in ever later, and it’s genuinely fast. It’s just not all that exciting. Somehow you don’t feel all that involved in the driving process, and not only because a computer’s changing gear for you. I’m not sure the paddles are the issue here; the too-high driving position and flat-of-note, flat-of-torque-curve engine are bigger ones, but the biggest is charisma – or lack of. For all its red seatbelts and fake carbon the Trophy’s somehow missing a sense of occasion, a bit of character to draw you in. 

Unfortunately for Renault, that’s something the RS Clio’s rivals aren’t short of – turn to our test of four small hot hatches on p104 to find out which pushes our buttons hardest. Curiously, despite Renaultsport’s best efforts, the fastest Clio still can’t.

Renaultsport Clio 220 Trophy: the specs

Price: £21,780
Engine: 1618cc 16v turbocharged 4-cyl, 217bhp @ 6050rpm, 207lb ft @ 2500-4000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch, front-wheel drive
Performance: 6.6sec 0-62mph, 146mph, 47.9mpg, 135g/km CO2
Weight: 1204kg
On sale: Now

On-paper promise

Lack of on-road engagement

A Trophy, but sadly not a winner’s one

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer