Funky and with plenty of zip to spare – that about sums up the new MINI Cooper S and Renault Clio RS. The pair that hails from either side of the English Channel have plenty of similarities, not least because for the first time in the history of the respective models, they are now offered in a more practical five-door bodystyle. (Previously, they could only be had as three-door hatchbacks.)
Still, despite the added practicality that an extra pair of doors provide, both the MINI and Renault are still as fun as ever, most obviously evident in our test cars’ vibrant hues.
But they’ll need to have more than just bright paint schemes to convince punters, as both cars have the crushing weight of history upon them: MINIs are famed for their “go-kart” handling, and the Clio RS has built up a name as one of the finest hot hatchbacks around.
We can safely say that both do their illustrious forebears justice, but the latest-generation vehicles are also more grown-up than ever before. This is rather fitting, considering both cars’ newfound practicality.
In the case of the MINI, this is a very good thing. While its predecessor certainly is as nippy as a go-kart, its overly firm ride quality also resembles one. In addition, the previous-generation Cooper S has a hyperactive personality, which is fun at first but can grow tiresome in a hurry.
In the modern MINI’s third outing, however, the initial impression is one of refinement and – dare we say it? – comfort. There’s a newfound calmness to the ride, smoothing out the worst parts of the road surface’s unevenness, but with just enough firmness to let you know you’re still in a MINI.
Its steering, too, has calmed down a touch (the first- and second-generation versions are known to have a terribly twitchy helm), though turn-in is still incisive, with terrific feel.
Charging hard in the new MINI is just as easy and fun as the old one, though there’s a good chance you could charge even harder in the third-generation model, thanks to its more pliant ride (it isn’t as rattled by less-than-perfect tarmac) and perhaps, more importantly, its new, larger “heart”.
It has a 2-litre engine that develops 192bhp, over the 184bhp its predecessor’s 1.6-litre motor is packing. This lets the new vehicle complete the century sprint in 6.8 seconds, which is 0.4 of a second quicker than the preceding model. The new motor’s larger displacement also gives it a little more “headroom”, making it feel less strained at higher revs when compared to the older powerplant.
In contrast to the Cooper S upsizing its engine, the new Clio RS now gets a smaller forced-induction mill. The familiar, naturally aspirated 2-litre engine (used in some form or other in every hot Clio since the legendary Clio Williams) has now been supplanted by a turbocharged 1.6-litre unit.
In spite of the smaller engine, this car develops a smidgen more power and torque over its predecessor (200bhp versus 197bhp, and 240Nm versus 215Nm), and has the happy benefit of consuming less fuel (15.9km/L versus 11.2km/L).
More significant is how the vehicle will be offered without a manual gearbox for the first time ever (the only transmission option on offer now is a 6-speed dual-clutch).
Because of those changes, the automobile now feels more rapid, though unlike its predecessors, it’s a good deal less engaging. Despite it retaining the model’s trademark surprisingly compliant ride and razor-sharp handling, it just doesn’t feel as fun as it once did, and not just because of its new gearbox.
That said, if you’re new to the Clio RS, or if you simply can’t (or won’t) drive a car with a manual transmission, you’ll still find plenty to love about it.
Finally, this question remains: “Which car should I get?” Our answer would be whichever you can afford. The Cooper S costs $171,300 and the Clio RS goes for $162,999 (though there’s a more affordable variant that does without the ripping Cup chassis and some other goodies for $9000 less).
While both are separated by some $10,000, the MINI and the Renault are very closely matched in terms of kit, with the highlight of both cars’ equipment lists being a snazzy infotainment system (a touchscreen unit in the case of the Clio) and satellite navigation.
But the most important thing is, the Cooper S and Clio RS are a hoot to drive quickly, something their newfound maturity has done little to diminish. Whichever you or your car-buying budget chooses, you can be sure of one thing: These five-door firecrackers are fighters in every sense of the word.
MINI Cooper S 5 Door 2.0 (A)
ENGINE 1998cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
MAX POWER 192bhp at 4700-6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 280Nm at 1250-4750rpm
GEARBOX 6-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 6.8 seconds
TOP SPEED 230km/h
CONSUMPTION 18.2km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 128g/km
PRICE INCL. COE $171,300 (after $10k CEVS rebate)
Renault Clio RS 1.6 (A)
ENGINE 1618cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
MAX POWER 200bhp at 6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 240Nm at 1750rpm
GEARBOX 6-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 6.7 seconds
TOP SPEED 230km/h
CONSUMPTION 15.9km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 144g/km
PRICE INCL. COE $162,999 (after $5k CEVS rebate)