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Renault’s impatient little fastie well suited to Hong Kong’s tight tracks

After a sticky start in Central, by Kennedy Town the Clio 1.6 RS Trophy’s short, sharp burst of dancing are in full flow

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2016, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 July, 2016, 9:23pm

The drive has not begun well. The accelerator of this Renault Clio 1.6 RS Trophy is keen, but its brakes seem abrupt in the heavy traffic of Central in Hong Kong. Consequently, this 220-horsepower, turbocharged test car has jerked and lurched from Wan Chai to Western at an average speed of 16km/h.

The Diamond marque’s squat, Dieppe-tuned compact is not to blame, however. The driver’s right foot has become too used to the smoothness of too many continuous transmissions on the Southside, and this 1,618cc Clio’s circuit brakes are merely reminding the tester to stop driving like a pussy, listen to the revs, and trust Renault’s new transmission.

Such a rebuke is well-deserved on this grey morning. Fast Renault “Pocket rockets” such as this Clio RS Trophy usually require quicker thinking and more decisive driving than standard saloons. And if you must drive in busy Connaught Road West, you’d better sharpen your street skills. With pedestrians and vehicles close at every angle, the trick is not to panic, however. Give this impatient little fastie extra space in traffic, and learn its revs. If you haven’t the patience, anticipation, coordination or nerve to learn this Clio’s “dance” in one of the most densely populated cities in the world, then partner up with the arguably less-impatient performance rides such as the Mini Cooper S or Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Highly tuned pocket rockets seem more popular in Hong Kong. There is plenty of choice with punchy models such as the Abarth 695, Ford Fiesta ST, Audi S1, the popular Honda Jazz RS and the Mini Cooper JCW, and all have staunch devotees because they are compact, surprisingly fast and easy to park. Hong Kong’s revving scene is also changing. The city’s main highways are increasingly crowded and packed with speed cameras, so more “involved” drivers prefer more remote revving grounds such as Bride’s Pool Road, where many experiment with short bursts and handling, usually at night.

Even so, the Clio is starting to shine. The tester’s right foot eventually finds the Renault’s six-speed, dual-clutch rhythm by Centre Street, and the Clio manages a rewarding burst through Kennedy Town, until it is quelled by another red light. As the traffic thins in leafy Victoria Road, the satnav offers clear details of Hong Kong Island’s northwest coast on a fine seven-inch screen. A larger monitor might distract drivers at faster speeds, however.

The Clio’s cabin flashes Renault’s Formula 1 “Trophy” credentials, but its seats are comfy and firm on the back and lack restrictive bolstering in the thighs. The switches feel well-made and thoughtfully placed, but the steering wheel’s red stitching at 12 o’clock might distract drivers. The gear flippers need a decisive grip but are as responsive as the Abarth’s, and particularly enjoyable in the tight, upward bends and short straights of Pok Fu Lam and Cyberport.

Further practice reveals a responsive drive with the beginnings of Renault’s RS roar at about 3,000rpm. A night sprint between Mui Wo and Tai O or a day in rural France might have revealed the full scope of the test car’s halogen headlights and the RS’ “Sport” and “Race” settings.

This fast Clio seems more engaging as you get to know it, however. The previous, 200hp model’s gearbox was criticised in Hong Kong, but this “220” test car’s new transmission was smooth, responsive and forgiving to a newcomer’s flips in more open road. The Clio’s torque potential of 280Nm seems a dream on this outing, but the car is “capable of outperforming all other sporty vehicles in its class, taking just 6.6 seconds to sprint from 0-100km/h and a top speed of 235km/h”, Renault says.

It is quick. Those red-calipered brakes seem all the more impressive at speed, and the 18-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport types grip well in wet, empty backstreets. The marque’s urban fuel efficiency claims of 7.6 litres per 100km seem about right in a dashboard monitor; the model’s carbon-dioxide spew is reportedly 135g/km.

The stop-start and hill-start assist systems proved invaluable when halting minibuses caused sudden tailbacks in Cyberport. Adequate side mirrors and fine rear-view cameras compensate for a small, hooded rear window, and parking is undemanding with clear console screen feedback. There is adequate head and shoulder room at the back, but legroom is tight.

The audio system has a fine, loud bass; the air conditioner is strong, but the boot is broad but deep-lipped. At HK$278,000, the Renault Clio RS Trophy could probably appeal to Hong Kong’s hard-core Renault niche, and might draw supercar owners seeking more affordable kicks. However, at Hong Kong speeds it would not be fair to say whether the Clio Trophy is any better or worse value than its pocket-rocket alternatives. However, the test car is desirable, impressive in Hong Kong and its console can record driving performance. Its revving might seem muted from the cabin, but the sound catches Hongkongers’ attention, and reaffirms Renault’s racy reputation.