French car stages a surprise style coup
FIRST DRIVE RENAULT CLIO:IT WAS ONE of the biggest surprises at last month’s Paris Motor Show press days: Renault’s new Clio seemed to steal the show.The Clio is one of Renault’s pivotal models; it was the backbone of the company’s sales success in the scrappage scheme in Ireland, and has recorded sales of almost 12 million cars since it was first introduced, in 1990.
Later this month the fourth-generation version arrives, and the most striking feature is the look. From the various show comments and critiques, it seems that in design terms Renault has hit the sweet spot with this new car.
It’s the first model to bolster Renault’s new styling language, designed by the former Mazda designer Laurens van den Acker, who has promised that while he’s in charge production models will more closely resemble the brand’s concept cars. In this regard the Clio has achieved Acker’s goal: it’s a great-looking car – from all angles.
Style also features throughout the Clio’s extensive personalisation packages. Customers can choose from eight body colours and three decor themes – Elegant, Sport and Trendy – as well as seven interior-decor packs. There’s a selection of coloured trims for the steering wheel, air vents and door inserts.
The entry-level Clio will be the Energy TCe 90; its three-cylinder petrol engine, complete with a low-inertia turbo, is a minute 898cc unit, producing 90hp and 135Nm of torque. A 1.2-litre petrol variant is also on offer; it develops 75hp and is seated in tax band B. The sole diesel model is a 1.5-litre dCi engine that has 90hp, and emits just 83g/km of CO2. The three-cylinder petrol model will no doubt account for the vast majority of sales; in this supermini category, small, economical petrol engines rule the roost.
It was this entry-level Clio that I drove recently, across a decent variety of twisty, mountainous roads, with a fine mixture of motorway mileage thrown in for the all-round test.
From initial acceleration this three-cylinder engine sounds comparable to any of its competitors, including those
in the Peugeot 208 and Volkswagen Polo. Where it differs, though, is at motorway speeds. In fifth gear, which is rather tall and therefore suited for speeds above 100km/h, the Clio’s engine is extremely hushed, which translates to a refined driving experience.
Around town and on the open road there’s sufficient power accessible, although when faced with inclines you need to change down a gear or two. It’s a far more refined engine than that in the Volkswagen Polo, and more powerful in comparison with the Peugeot 208’s powerplant (68hp), although there is a notable fuel cut-off when you lift off the accelerator, which can become frustrating at times. Worth noting, the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine in the Peugeot 208 is only available in the three-door hatch; you have to opt for the 1.2-litre unit if you want to have five doors.
Inside the Clio, the driver benefits from a central driving position, and the steering is agreeably weighted, with an accurate feel fed from the front wheels. Only the Ford Fiesta offers this level of steering feedback within its class. Body control is commendable; the Clio sits 45mm lower than its predecessor, and its track has been widened by 34mm; its wheelbase has been extended by 14mm. If you push the car into a tight corner, there’s plenty of front-end grip on offer. The suspension, though proficient, would be slightly on the firmer side of comfortable if you go off main roads.