Here it is, hot hatch fans: the new 2012 Renaultsport Clio laid bare. Spotted in the final stages of testing by our eagle-eyed spy photographer, it'll get a full production-trim reveal at the 2012 Paris motor show later this month.
Not only do these pictures give us the clearest view yet of how the new Clio supermini will wear the sporty RS body addenda, there's also a big clue as to the transmission of the new car - this one's a paddle-shift auto.
A self-shifting hot hatch...are Renaultsport going soft?
It's long been rumoured that the new RS Clio would get a dual-clutch automatic transmission only, mated to a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine. Although brand devotees (and CAR's road testers) will miss the manic revs of the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine, and rowing the manual 'box to stay in the powerband, the combination simply isn't efficient enough to keep the RS Clio fast and eco-friendly enough to match its younger competitors.
How can we tell the new Clio is going paddleshift? Look closely out our spy shots. As the car passes our snapper, he captures damning evidence of a silvery shifter lurking behind the steering wheel.
It's not the first pocket rocket to get a PlayStation-generation gearbox: the VW group trio of VW Polo GTi, Skoda Fabia VRS and Seat Ibiza Cupra all boast identical twin-clutch paddleshift transmissions, and twin-charged motors. We're expecting the Clio will best their 1.4-litre, 178bhp twincharged engines with a 1.6-litre four-pot, good for around the same 197bhp as the current (and much-loved) Clio RS 200.
We're getting 200bhp again? Hardly progress...
Ah, but think of the increased acceleration that forced induction torque and instantaneous gearshifts will bring.
The current RS Clio twists out 159lb ft at 5100rpm, but the new car will have around 200lb ft, and it'll arrive lower down the power band. Given that the zingy current car still hits 62mph in 6.9sec, the new model seen in our spy shots should be a good deal quicker through the gears, with better cruising manners and CO2 emissions to boot.
What about this RS Clio makeover then?
It's hot hatch by numbers styling, and none the worse for it. The front gets a more cleanly integrated version of the F1-inspired front wing that we've seen on the Clio 200 and RS Megane, plus there's a wider front grille in place of the standard car's chromed foglights.
The side skirts are flared on the RS, there are some rather tasty low-profile alloy wheels, and the rear receives the obligatory roof spoiler and diffuser arrangement, complete with twin exhausts.
Notice that this car is a five-door: the rear handles are hidden in the blacked-out C-pillar. Unlike the last hot Clio, this new RS model will be available as a five-door; in fact, the three-door model has been binned altogether for the new-gen Clio, across the range.
So, with a more family-friendly bodystyle and a less frenetic powertrain, the new RS is set to be a much more refined daily driver proposition. But do you think the car has strayed too far from its fun-first mantra?
>> Tell us if you're excited or worried for the new Renaultsport Clio in the article comments