French car stages a surprise style coup

Wed, Oct 10, 2012, 01:00

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.

The interior of the Clio offers a bright, uncluttered cabin, with a greater sense of space than in the Peugeot 208. The new Clio is only available as a five-door model for now.

Renault is not scrounging on kit. The entry-level Expression model comes with features such as keyless entry, ABS, emergency brake assist, cruise control, daytime LED lights and Bluetooth connectivity as standard. The high-end R-Link model comes complete with a 7in colour touchscreen infotainment system that features satellite navigation and communication functions for social networking sites. Renault plans to offer apps for this system through its R-Link online store. It’s yet another futile attempt by a car firm to appear web-savvy, but Renault’s not the only one guilty of this.

Following on from the launch of this new Clio will be a sport version, due to arrive in spring 2013. This hot-hatch version will be powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol unit instead of the usual 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine. No doubt this change in engine was implemented to meet lower emission targets.

Renault Ireland is aiming for this new Clio to have a top-three position within its segment by the end of 2013. It will therefore be up against the class stalwarts, such as the Toyota Yaris, Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta, but the biggest battle for the limelight next year will undoubtedly be with its French counterpart the new Peugeot 208.

Pricing will play a significant part in the supermini sales battle, and although official prices have yet to be confirmed, we expect the new Clio to start in the region of €15,000.

This fourth-generation Clio has class-leading appearances, combined with a commendable refinement and efficiency. It’s a winning combination, and if the forecourt prices are roughly in line with the outgoing model’s, then it should seriously worry its competition.


Engine898cc three-cylinder petrol putting out 90hp at 5,250rpm and 135Nm from 2,500rpm with a five-speed manual transmission

Performance0-100km/h 12.2 seconds, max speed 182km/h

EconomyUrban 5.5l/100km (51.4mpg); extra-urban 3.9l/100km (72.4mpg); combined 4.5l/100km (62.8mpg)

Emissions(motor tax) 104g/km (€160)

SpecificationsStandard features on the entry-level Expression include ABS, EBA, ESP, ASR, hill-start assist, cruise control with speed limiter, keyless drive, daytime running lights, height and depth-adjustable steering wheel, front electric windows and 15in wheel trims.

RivalsPeugeot 208 Access 1.0 68hp €14,495 (motor tax €160); Volkswagen Polo Trendline 1.2 70hp €15,585 (motor tax €225); Toyota Yaris Terra 1.0 69hp €15,585 (motor tax €160); Ford Fiesta 1.25 60hp €16,301 (motor tax €225)

Price€15,000 (official list price – estimated)

Our rating: 7/10

A real surprise with attractive styling and now offered with an impressive little three-cylinder engine

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