Renault Clio RS. Volkswagen Polo GTI. Two performance hatchbacks that many people want to buy but few can afford. Especially considering that these critters are now tickling the R400k mark: premiums that were once the reserve of their bigger brothers, the Mégane RS and Golf GTI.
So what to do? Well, if you’re Renault and Volkswagen the answer is simple: you fake it with model variants that offer similar looks but milder performance and a price tag to match. A kind of RS/GTI-lite if you like.
So cue the Clio GT-Line and Polo R-Line: pretenders riding high on a glut of cosmetic tinsel. Both are similarly priced and both are similarly powered, but which one rules the roost? Many of you wanted to know, so we set about answering your questions as best we could …
Which car will help me seal the deal on my next Tinder date? — George, PE
Hmm, tough one. If your potential conquest enjoys the subtle things in life then he or she will probably be most taken with the Polo. It’s a handsome machine spruced up with some stealthy R-Line bits that include sportier-looking bumpers, a chrome exhaust pipe, rear diffuser and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Show ponies, on the other hand, will no doubt be more taken with the Renault. The current Clio has always been an attractive hunk of metal and when fused with the GT-Line bodykit gains an aggression similar to that of the more expensive RS. Particularly at the rear where a contrasting diffuser, spoiler and oval exhaust tailpipe shout for attention.
Its interior feels more special too; body-hugging sports seats and a cold-to-the-touch metal gear knob steal the show. Yep, we’d expect you to get lucky more of the time with the Clio.
I’m all about speed, which of the two is quicker in a drag race? — Mark, Tokai
This is kind of like asking who was unluckier, John or Robert Kennedy. For in the all-important numbers game there’s really not much separating the four-cylinder Clio from the three-cylinder Polo. Although thanks to its lighter kerb weight and 7kW power advantage I’d have to say that the Clio felt a little bit quicker in the accelerative department — despite the fact that the Polo puts its power down better and also comes equipped with a snappy DSG gearbox as standard.
Floor it on the empty highway and you’ll find that both run out of huff just shy of 200km/h. Interestingly, and on the other end of the scale, we found the Clio to be the more frugal of the two, registering 7.5l/100km to the Polo’s 8.6l/100km.
Power seems irrelevant here. Which is more fun to drive? — Jo, Linden
After piloting them back-to-back I can tell you that the Polo is definitely the more entertaining steer. It’s planted and pointy and blessed with a chassis that begs of you to thrash it harder. And when you do it never feels flustered or out of its depth.
Being lighter in the nose the R-Line also seemed strangely immune to understeer and, dare I say it, even more nimble than its GTI-badged brother. I was blown away at how fun this VW was through the bends. It sounds epic too: that little three-cylinder motor churning out a hard-edged thrum at high revs.
As for the Clio, well, it didn’t really come close. Renault has given the GT-Line a softer, more comfort-orientated suspension setup. As a result it quickly feels out of its depth when you decide to turn up the wick along your favourite back road. It lost interest and so did I. Like its moniker suggests, this Renault is far more at home cruising down a highway than threading curves.
I’ve heard Germans are stingy; does this translate here? — Guy, Mafikeng
Good question. Now while Germans, generally speaking, aren’t, in my experience at least, particularly tight-fisted, their cars more often than not are. When stacked up against the cheaper Clio GT-Line, the Polo R-Line seems parsimonious so far as standard features are concerned. For R25300 less the Renault gives you cruise control, satellite navigation, park distance control, automatic climate control and advanced vampire-slaying LED headlights that literally turn darkness into day.
All of these goodies are optional extras on the Volkswagen and all of them add much to the asking price. In fact my test unit was specced to a point where it cashed in at well over the R300k mark. Both cars come with a three-year/45000km service plan but the Clio ups the peace-of-mind factor with a five-year/150000km warranty compared to the three-year 120000km warranty stuck to the Polo. It would seem “value” is a French word.
Which one would you buy? — Moe, Jozi
Well from a pure fun and involvement perspective I would pick the Polo R-Line — no question. It really is a fantastic car to fling around. Unfortunately there is more to life than driving dynamics, especially in this segment of the market.
Bang for your buck is what buyers are looking for most, not to mention an element of perceived exclusivity: they want to differentiate themselves from other people with a car that stands out from the crowd. And from this point of view I think the Clio holds the advantage.
As I said, it felt a bit more special and also attracted more looks from curious rubberneckers. It also represents superb value for money. Lay the respective brochures side by side and you’ll see that Renault is offering you way more car for your capital outlay. Which is why I’d learn to live with the less focused driving experience and pull the trigger on the new Clio GT-Line. Good job, France. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts: Renault Clio GT-Line
Engine: 1197cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 88kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 205Nm at 2000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
0-100km/h: 9.0 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 199km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 7.5l/100km (achieved)
Price: From R264900
Fast Facts: VW Polo 1.0 TSI R-line
Engine: 999cc three-cylinder turbo
Power: 81kW at 5000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 2000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG
0-100km/h: 9.3 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 197km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 8.6l/100km (achieved)
Price: From R290200