Whether having the personal resources, or relying on parental support, acquiring that first new car is always going to be a hard-fought battle, as Iain Robertson knows well, but the multi-award-winning Clio has the capacity to turn heads and convince.
Bear in mind that I am highlighting a ‘first new car’ and not the ‘first of many’. Were I tackling the thorny subject of ‘first ever’, while it is tempting to seek out a ‘banger’ and not spend much more than £1,500 until driver experience levels have improved, many first-timers are slam-dunked into confronting the realities of gaining independent mobility. For a start, the insurance premium, if all services cover is not required, might be costlier than the car. Selecting the right engine size to maximise fuel economy and remain on a lower road tax rate is also a key consideration.
Of course, there are plenty of bargains to be had and, even though we are now into the 21st year of the New Millennium, driving an ‘05’ plated Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, or Suzuki Swift would not be an error of judgement for only a modest budget. However, even a durable, cherished 15- to 16-year-old car is now old and unwarranted and heavier maintenance bills do weigh into the equation. My favour tends to lie with Japanese cars, for their greater overall reliability, which means that you might include a Toyota Yaris, Nissan Micra, Honda Jazz and Mazda2 in the choice list.
Buying what you can afford is crucial and no parent will place a beloved child at the controls of a potential death-trap, which means that many first cars fall into £5-10k territory. Waving a heartfelt farewell from the kerbside, as junior drives off to university, should not be a fingers crossed exercise…especially on the transport front. Time passes. Education ends. Life starts. Some drivers desire a change of wheels commensurate with earnings potential and attractive finance deals beckon from every volume car dealers’ glazed palaces. The choice might well fall between a £16,000 box-fresh and a £16k more upmarket but previously owned alternative.
Presuming that an individual’s heart desires a brand-new car, a Renault Clio represents moderate value for money, with a well-equipped, modern and safe package. Personally, I like the compact French car’s stance. It is good to look at, being well-designed from the outset, and it is also well-engineered for established reliability standards and relatively low operating costs. Meanwhile, three to five years down the road, it is still going to retain well in excess of 35-50% of its initial invoice bottom line, because a decent residual value should also figure on a ‘pros and cons’ list, whether acquiring via finance, or eschewing ownership for any one of a number of personal lease, or rental deals. Renault has been a consistently good performer in this latter arena.
What do you get for around £16k? Well, I would not advise the 72bhp version of the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine, even for predominantly city driving. It is available in turbocharged TCe 100bhp form (£15,120 in Play trim; £700 more expensive), which provides a zesty 0-60mph acceleration in 11.5s, a top whack of 116mph and, at 54.3mpg, 2mpg less consumption of two-star unleaded than the lesser powered variant. Its CO2 rating of 119g/km is also 2g/km ‘cleaner’ and a Group 10 insurance rating will also maintain running costs at an affordable level. For a £16k budget, several accessories, such as an alarm, floor mats and door sill protectors could be included, if you do not make them part of your negotiation strength, which I would advise, with dealers being fairly desperate for registrations.
Naturally, a test drive will confirm the choice and the structurally rigid Clio proves to be highly satisfying. Its nicely balanced front-wheel drive handling is most engaging, with pleasantly weighted and direct power steering (2.7 turns lock-to-lock) making best use of the well-damped independent suspension (McPherson strut front, torsion beam rear). Driven with gusto, the ride quality on the standard 16.0-inch diameter alloy wheels, clad in 195/55 section tyres (17.0-inch alternatives are available optionally), is firm enough to lift an inside rear wheel on bends, yet comfortable enough not to rattle your teeth on rougher road surfaces. A crisp turn-in and confidence inspiring brakes (280mm ventilated discs front; drums rear) complete the engineering package. Driving through a 5-speed manual transmission, a 7-speed automatic is available as an option. The manual shift quality is like the proverbial hot knife through butter but the auto-box eases the flow in stop-start conditions.
When the latest version of the Clio was launched, it established a fresh level of human accommodation and storage space for the model, as it featured and still does feature the use of Renault’s modular platform. Where previous iterations of the hatch could be described as cramped for taller occupants and those with longer legs, the current alternative is significantly more spacious and, while slotting a fifth occupant in the back seat will be compromising, there is an abundance of space for four adults. The fully adjustable (both rake and reach) steering column allows good knee and pedal box room. The driver’s seat is particularly comfortable, with good lateral and thigh support, and the 391-litres boot, which can be enlarged to 1,069-litres, with the rear seatbacks flopped down, is generous.
Interestingly, this Clio is not built in Northern France but at the firm’s Turkish plant, although it was designed in Paris. While I am not a fan of LED headlamps, they are a standard fitment and are accompanied by the C-shaped front-end daylight running lamps signature, which is a bit OTT but recognisable. The rest of the stock specification, in Play trim, includes air-con, electric front windows and power folding door mirrors. Naturally, a full complement of ADAS safety and driver aids is fitted along with excellent connectivity using either iPhone, or Android communication devices.
Conclusion: Clio competes in a hotly contested compact segment of the new car scene. While hardly a default option, as Renault’s largest selling model, it remains an immensely popular and worthy choice of new car.