DESPITE having to wait nine years for the second-generation Clio to arrive in South Africa, the small French hatchback has entrenched itself as a favourite among an audience looking for something a little different from the norm.

While a large part of the Clio's popularity remains its chic, somewhat quirky styling and respectable build quality, the fact that its maker holds a well-earned, lofty reputation for sporty handling (especially with its hatchbacks), means that even its least powerful products tend to offer their owners a spirited, seat-of-the-pants driving experience.

Complementing an existing range of three 898 cm3 -powered derivatives (Authentique, Expression and Dynamique), as well as an 88 kW 1,2-litre Expression model, Renault South Africa has introduced a Clio GT-Line with a view to not only adding some zeal to the current range, but also offering an enticing entry point into the much-vaunted and highly anticipated revised Clio RS family.

Incorporating the changes made after 2016's light facelift (new headlamps and updated grille and bumper treatment), the GT-Line is distinguishable by its unique 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as highlighted mirrors and diffusers front and rear. A neat touch, and indeed a hat tip to its more powerful siblings, is this model's oblong exhaust tailpipe.

Fitted with the same 88 kW/ 205 N.m turbocharged 1,2-litre engine as available in Expression trim, the GT-Line's party trick is the inclusion of an impressively precise six-speed manual transmission. Protruding tall from a leather-covered housing is a gearlever that is not only slick and accurate in its workings, but is also great to handle thanks to its old-school alloy grip.

Combined with an aggressively bolstered RS-derived driver's seat and neatly finished thickrim steering wheel, the GT-Line has all the makings of a very accomplished Clio RS understudy. Even if the actual figures suggest otherwise (0-100 km/h in 9,0 seconds), it's nevertheless a lively package that always feels eager to compete in a heavier weight division.

What models like the Renault Clio GT-Line do is remind the market that, once clear of urban congestion, there is fun to be had behind the wheel of a relatively powerful yet intrinsically nimble hatchback with three pedals in its foot well. It is too soon for the world to bid farewell to manual gearboxes.