Clearly subscribing to the school of thought that attack is the best form of defence Renaultsport MD Patrice Ratti (in conversation last week at the Monte Historique) counters PH's complaint that the lack of a manual Clio 200
wipes out much of the car's on-paper appeal to keen drivers. "Call me when you've driven it," he says, steely eyed and clearly expecting an apology for the implication flappy paddles can't deliver the involvement Renaultsport cars are famed for.
EDC gearbox is a major selling point, we're told
He continues with a quick left-right to hammer his point home. First the functional side. "Racing cars use paddle-shift gearboxes. It's faster," he says. Worth remembering that race and rally cars make up a significant part of Renaultsport's business, the Dieppe factory building rally Clio and Twingos and the various single-seaters racing in Renault one-make series. So there is a transfer of ideology here, if not an absolutely direct one of technology with the Clio's Getrag-sourced EDC dual-clutch somewhat different from the Sadev sequentials used by Clio Cup cars, even if both shift via paddles.
Fair enough, we counter. But speed isn't everything for a road car and for many of us the satisfaction of DIY rev-matching and carefully honed heel'n'toe downshifts are pleasures we can indulge in regardless of whether we're on a track or the daily commute. And something our PH Fleet Megane is perfectly tuned to achieve, as personal experience and the smooth driving of our Renaultsport chaperones on the Monte rally stages attests.
Paddleshift only for next Clio - and next GT3
And then we hit the real reason, hidden behind that smokescreen of 'it's what racing cars have' marketing. It's a simple business case. "The decision was made years ago," he says with the merest hint of a Gallic shrug. "We looked at competitor cars from Volkswagen and others and maybe two-thirds of sales went to dual clutch when there was a choice." He doubtless refers to the platform sharing, twincharger-powered, DSG-only Fabia vRS, Polo GTI and Ibiza Cupra triumvirate as a key influencer here. Which doesn't bode well, given our recent experience of the latter
With the new Clio RS's mandate to appeal to a wider audience dual-clutch is, quite simply, going to bring more customers to the brand. While dropping the manual choice will annoy a vocal minority it's a straightforward business decision. A manual option would make the car more expensive, the loss of a few sales to stickshift diehards easier to bear than the opportunities to sell more cars to a wider audience at the required price point. Enthusiast brand or not Renaultsport is still a commercial enterprise and you can ask Lotus how the business case for catering purely to the hardcore stacks up.
208 GTI arrives around the same time - as a manual
Expect a very similar conversation with the Porsche engineers and marketeers when the PDK-only 911 GT3
arrives. And if you really, really want your French hot hatch with a manual bear in mind the 208 GTI
will offer just that - we'll be driving it a couple of weeks after our first go in the Clio too. We'll maybe hold off calling Ratti until that point.