Motoring | Test Drives

Driven: New Renault Clio

To survive in the fiercely competitive supermini segment, the new Clio had to be a much better car than before. Is it really? Iain Dooley finds out

  • By Iain Dooley, wheels
  • Published: 18:11 October 18, 2012
  • Wheels

  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • “The focus is heavily towards economy, but that hasn’t resulted in a slower than walking speed eco box.”
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With the choice available to buyers having exploded in recent years, it’s getting harder for carmakers to ensure their products stand out from the crowd.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the supermini sector. With competition from the Far East offering a perceived better value proposition and alternatives such as compact people carriers and mini SUVs completing this increasingly fragmented picture, the humble supermini is having to fight for survival.

Renault is an old hand when it comes to small, family-friendly cars, and its Clio has been both a popular choice and good for the company’s bottom line. The French firm is smart enough to know that churning out another one isn’t going to be enough in today’s market, which is why this fourth generation model is different from its predecessor.

Having crunched the numbers, Renault has found it hard to make a business case for a three-door model, which is why this Clio is five-door only. To satisfy buyers seeking fewer doors, the designers have penned a ‘coupe-like’ profile and hidden the car’s rear door handles. An optical illusion it may be, but in the metal it turns out to be a good one. This Clio is also a little wider and longer than its predecessor, which should make accommodating a growing family that bit easier. And to keep them entertained, there’s a tablet-style display to show everything from radio station, MP3 player input and Bluetooth to a detailed sat-nav option and downloadable Clio-specific apps to customise the driving experience.

And speaking of customisation, in a move that mirrors the likes of Fiat’s 500 and the Mini, you can select contrasting interior trim and colour options for the cabin and opt for decals and choose from a refreshingly bold exterior palette.

Still, this could all be viewed as window dressing if the fundamentals aren’t right. Thankfully that’s not the case, as this Clio offers a rounded driving experience that should please a broad spectrum of drivers from keen ones to undemanding ones. It might be electric but the car’s power steering delivers plenty of tactile feedback and weight, while the suspension confidently absorbs bumps yet is also capable of reducing roll at speed — surely music to the ears of keen drivers everywhere.

Key to the Clio’s performance has been Renault’s desire to keep the car’s weight down, which is no mean feat when you’re also stuffing it full of safety kit and the aforementioned toys. Running this a close second is the carmaker’s engine line-up. Predictably the focus is heavily towards economy, but that hasn’t resulted in a slower-than-walking-speed eco box.

Following others in the trend for building three-cylinder petrol engines, Renault is offering a 0.9-litre turbo unit good for 89 horsepower and 3.8 litres-per-100km. It’s certainly a willing unit, and one that’s easily capable of keeping up with highway traffic. Gutsy around town, it’s surprisingly refined too. Although it doesn’t quite duck under the magic 100g/km figure, the Clio’s CO2 rating of 105g/km is impressive indeed. Making up for the relative simplicity of the Clio’s engine range is Renault’s generosity with its safety and convenience kit. This is an area where the company’s identified the potential to steal a march on rival cars, and with downsizers forming an increasing number of buyers, adding not subtracting kit is key to future sales success.
It’s fair to say that the Clio’s overall cabin ambience, space and selection of high quality materials on show do much to further this argument. Factor in the car’s mature on-road behaviour plus its bold exterior design and it’s clear that Renault has developed a strong and confident replacement for a popular supermini.

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