Cracking new Clio suggests that Renault has finally got it right
Growing from a lineage that commenced with the original Renault 5, reports Iain Robertson, the latest Clio can be said to have ‘come of age’ in its latest iteration, which is smaller but bigger, more defined but softer, yet totally right for purpose.
Renault is a brand that has maintained immensely strong links within the UK new car scene, most notably in Scotland, where it has been consistently in the Top Three for several years. Yet, I have a big problem with Renault. To be fair, I believe that some of it is ‘size-related’, because of my two metres height, which has compromised my personal comfort within a number but not all of its models over the years.
While not wishing to delve into the realms of racism, many of the issues related to my relative antipathy towards the brand lie in its ‘Frenchness’. I believe that Renault possesses immense Gallic self-belief, of a sort that makes top chef Raymond Blanc not as credible as he might be (he has resided in the UK for decades, operates the marvellous Le Manoir au Quatre Saisons restaurant and hotel, near Oxford, but continues to preach Gallic cuisine, even though all of the ingredients are British). No. It is not my xenophobia.
For years, Renault has pumped product into our market, with a premise and promise of brand excellence. Yet, to me, its various models have never quite met muster. When my erstwhile motoring journalist colleagues swear that there is nothing finer than a RenaultSport Megane, I cannot help but feel that advertising revenue may be their biggest single motivation, because that car in particular (apart from the size/comfort aspects), while assuredly excellent within the confines of a racetrack, is so lacking in on-road humility that I cannot recommend it confidently to potential owners. No. I am not missing the point.
The current Clio model has been a case in point. Although possessing an air of sincerity and earnestness about it, with truly excellent styling, instead of being the French motoring equivalent to Germany’s Golf iconic model, it has always just missed the boat. There has invariably been a hard-to-define missing element. The new Clio has a tough task ahead of it.
The truth is, you have to look twice to play ‘Spot the Difference’ between the outgoing and latest generations. The first giveaway lies in the new age Renault daytime running lamps’ signature, which features the enlarged C-shaped motif common to the rest of the family. However, within a familiar outline, one that improved dramatically with the outgoing model, the evolution of Clio has resulted in a shorter, lower but wider machine. Only parking a new version alongside the older one does that become obvious. Peer inside and the judicious nip-and-tuck has resulted in significantly greater cabin space.
In fact, my focus was spent almost entirely on Clio’s interior. It is so beautifully assembled and consists of such a tactile and agreeable blend of soft-touch surfaces and textures that you wonder why it has taken Renault so long to reach this point. It has always been part of its ‘gift’, as evinced by so many of its cars, throughout a long and illustrious history. The immediate impression imparted by the new Clio is one of top quality, notable for the first-class fit and finish of every trim fillet and moulding.
However, it is not just for show, as the revised seating is also markedly more supportive and comfortable. A full range of adjustability of both seat and steering column creates a perfect driving position for all occupant statures…even me. Ensconced in the driver’s seat, the orientation of switchgear and the (optional) 9.3-inch portrait touchscreen is so perfect that you get the feeling Renault’s mojo is peaking like seldom before. First-rate levels of connectivity and switchable driver safety aids support a comprehensive cabin package, which culminates in a class leading boot capacity of 391-litres. Earlier this year, I was incredibly impressed by the latest Audi A1; well, the new Clio has exceeded that quality with a satisfying blend of human warmth and user-friendliness. It is confident and thoughtful, even though the touchscreen may lag frustratingly on occasion.
The range of petrol engines includes both naturally aspirated (74bhp) and turbocharged 1.0-litre (99bhp) triples, as well as a 1.3-litre (128bhp) four-cylinder that fulfils a sportier edge and is hooked up solely to an automatic transmission (for the RS-Line models). The 1.5-litre turbodiesel remains in much modified form. The base unit is breathless but okay for city motoring. Personally, I still like the dCi unit, with its lovely trough of mid-range verve, but the midfield 99bhp turbo-petrol version is sure to be the most popular choice in our anti-diesel environment, even though its snickety-snick 5-speed manual gearbox needs to be worked hard to give of its best (0-60mph in 11.4s; top speed 116mph; 64.2mpg; 100g/km CO2).
Pricing is always critical at this level but Renault may have pulled a fast one with a genuine ‘value for money’ price list. There are four trim grades: Play, Iconic, S-Edition and RS-Line. The entry-point is an amazing £14,295, which includes 16.0-inch alloys, full LED headlamps and cruise control in a very good specification. The top-spec RS-Line is tagged at just £17,795, which makes a worse-equipped Fiesta ST look positively overpriced at £5k more!
While I was eminently happy with Clio’s on-road manners, I found it a little harder to come to terms with the electronic power steering, when pressing on a bit. Fine and stable in a straight-ahead position, the turn-in to bends lacks crispness, despite the intention provided by its higher gearing. To begin with, I felt that the fault may have lain with tyre pressures but they were correct; which suggests that the geometry may need further work. Body roll is well-suppressed but the lack of precision at the front-end does blunt Clio’s performance potential. Having said that, the new car is a refined and easy cruiser, bump absorption being a highlight, its ride quality as a result among the finest in the class.
Conclusion: It is clear that Renault has tried very hard and succeeded in producing an incredibly competent small hatchback in the latest Clio. Roomy, luxurious and impeccably detailed, it is sure to command strong sales for Clio’s survival.