I still have fond memories of the original Renault Clio. It was one of the choices on my ‘first car’ list when I passed my test, with the earliest examples just about dropping into the budget of a skint college student. I didn’t buy one in the end but the Clio has always been on my radar.
Of course, as the years have passed I’ve grown up and my car needs have changed. I need a practical and safe car with a bit of space for the kids. I also need (but not necessarily want) an economical diesel engine to keep my fuel costs down. So here I am, more than fifteen years later, looking at a new Renault Clio and thinking that this is just the car I need.
It just so happens that this is the fourth generation Renault Clio. Like me it’s bigger than it was all those years ago, more sensible and a bit wiser. OK, maybe it’s just the Clio that’s wiser.
What’s It Like To Look At?
It’s all change for this new Clio. For a start it is the widest and longest yet, although this growth is offset by a lower roofline. While its proportions may have increased the Clio is actually 100kgs lighter than the car it replaces and that leads to promises of improved fuel economy, better performance and sharper handling.
If you were a fan of the three-door Clio then you’re in for a shock – it doesn’t exist anymore. It turns out that you were in the minority, with just 20% of buyers choosing three doors instead of five. Inevitably the bean counters have decided to only sell one body shape and that’s the five-door hatchback.
Fortunately the designers were up to the challenge and have done a good job of masking the Clio’s extra doors. The handles of the rear doors are recessed into the window frame and the pencil thin shut lines help to disguise the outline of the doors. As a result the Clio just about passes for a sleek three-door model, thanks in part to that lower roofline.
From the rear its pinched hips and low rear window give it a compact and squat appearance. It’s at the front that things aren’t so tidy, with big lights joined by a thick strip of black plastic containing the new, larger Renault badge. It makes the Clio look considerably wider than it really is.
What’s It Like Inside?
Whether you’re climbing inside the Clio through those rear doors or the front you’ll find plenty of space. The cabin is roomy and doesn’t have that cramped feeling of some of its rivals.
For the most part the interior quality is a big improvement. The large 7-inch touchscreen multimedia system dominates the dash and provides easy and intuitive access to the Clio’s various systems. The instrument cluster is easy to read, particularly the speedo with its large digital display.
There’s a lot of gloss black plastic in this Dyanmique MediaNav model. It looks good but it’ll be a pain to keep clean. The cloth seats are comfortable and I found a comfortable driving position in next to no time, but enthusiastic drivers will find themselves craving a little more support from the side bolsters.
Oddly, the centre console features a starter button that’s positioned on the wrong side for us Brits. It looks like the bean counters decided that converting the full dash to right-hand drive wasn’t necessary. Another peculiar piece of design is the rocker switch toggling between cruise control and speed limiter. You’ll find it located next to the handbrake, which is strange when you consider the steering wheel holds the rest of the controls.
Is It Safe?
Of course it is. For some time now Renaults have enjoyed a reputation as being very safe thanks to their excellent NCAP scores. This continues with the Clio outscoring its main rivals thanks to a plethora of airbags and electronic systems to keep you and your passengers safe.
ABS with emergency assist and brake force distribution, stability control and traction control are all present to help you avoid having an accident. If the worst should happen you’ll be pleased to know there are twin front, side and curtain airbags to soften the impact.
What Engines Are There?
The Clio launches with a choice of three engines. The entry-level engine is the 1.2 16V petrol but it is easily outgunned by the new 3-cylinder turbo TCE. Both the TCE and diesel dCi have 90bhp and qualify for free road tax thanks to their low CO2 emissions (99g/km and 83g/km CO2 respectively).
At the moment there isn’t a performance model but we already know that the Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo is on its way. Soon there’ll be another interesting choice in the shape of the TCE 120 GT. This model will fill the gap between the lesser-powered models and the full-fat Renaultsport.
What’s It Like To Drive?
Once I was on the move the first thing that struck me about the Clio was just how quiet it is. Renault have done a great job of isolating engine, road and wind noise and it’s now one of the quietest superminis out there. So quiet that a few times I found myself travelling more quickly than expected.
Look at the stats and you’ll soon realise the dCi 90 isn’t particularly quick (11.7 seconds to 62mph) but it does a respectable job of hustling the Clio around. It is quiet and refined and the payoff for the lack of pace is an excellent combined economy figure of 83mpg. The dCi is limited to a five-gear manual ‘box which leaves me wondering if the bean counters have been at it again.
Next up is the ride quality. The Clio almost floats along the road, undeterred by potholes and rough tarmac. Combined with the suppressed hum from engine and tyres it really does add to that ‘big car’ feel. At the same time the Clio feels alert and controlled through the corners, although it did get flustered by a particularly bumpy stretch of road, almost as if the damping was struggling to keep up.
It’s worth mentioning that the Clio’s reduced height means that its centre of gravity is lower. The front and rear tracks have also been increased and the combination of the two promises improved stability around the corners. Throw the Clio into a series of bends and it feels balanced and secure once you’ve got it hooked into the apex. The steering is light and direct but it does share the trait of most modern cars where it lacks the subtle feedback from the front wheels.
Any Exciting Options?
It seems you can’t launch a car these days without giving owners the chance to ‘individualise’ their car. So the Clio comes with a range of colours for the bumper and side inserts, alloys that can have blue and red highlights and a choice of red or blue interior trim in place of the usual grey and black (red is proving very popular, apparently). There are stickers, too, and a range of vivid paint colours including Inca Yellow pictured here and my personal favourite, Flame Red.
The Dyanmique MediaNav models also feature the R-Link system built into the touchscreen that allows various apps to be installed. One such app that’s bound to cause either amusement or bemusement, depending on how seriously you take your cars, is the ability to play different engine sounds through the sound system. There’s bound to be someone who’ll enjoy it.
How Much Is It?
The Clio may have been improved in so many ways over the old car but that doesn’t mean that Renault are going to be charging huge prices. Sadly the entry level Expression is on the wrong side of the £10,000 barrier with a starting price of £10,595, but you can have a top-spec Dynamique S MediaNav model for a competitive £14,995.
All models come with a 7-inch touch-screen display, Bluetooth and USB connections, and LED running lights are standard too. Stepping up to an Expression+ for £11,995 will get you the all-important air-con, 16-inch alloys and front fogs.
The Clio really has matured into a larger, more sensible hatchback. The two new engines counter the fears of higher fuel bills, the R-Link multimedia options satisfy tech-savvy buyers and the range of personalisation options should appeal to those who want to make a bit of a fashion statement. The Clio is better in almost every tangible way and yet doesn’t cost much more and that gives it a fighting chance of getting back into the top sellers list.
The trouble is … and it seems churlish to bring this up … is that the Clio is now almost too sensible. It will be interesting to see how this new-found maturity affects the character of the Renaultsport model.
Renault Clio Dynamique MediaNav dCi 90 Specifications
|Engine:||1,461 cc turbo diesel|
|Power:||90 bhp @ 4,000rpm|
|Torque:||220 Nm @ 1,750rpm|
|0-62 mph:||11.7 seconds|
|Top Speed:||112 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||83 g/km (Band A)|
|Official Economy:||83.1 mpg|
*Prices taken from Renault website, February 2013