“The launch of a new Renault Clio is no longer big news in the UK.” This was the conclusion drawn by one esteemed motoring journalist as we queued at a wet Farnborough airport bound for Florence. Maybe he’s right, but I’d argue that the arrival of the fourth generation Renault Clio, or Clio 4, still represents big news in the UK.
For a start, the Renault Clio is as much woven into British culture as just about any other B-segment car. You have to thank Nicole and Papa for that. Nicole is as synonymous with the Clio today as she was over two decades ago. That’s staying power. How many other TV ads can you remember from 1990?
The Renault Clio is also the basis for what many people claim, with some justification, is the greatest hot hatch of the modern era. The Renaultsport Clio is the one to beat.
And the Clio is always going to appear on the shortlist of those looking for a cheeky, affordable supermini. It’s part of British culture, innit?
So as far as PetrolBlog is concerned, the launch of a new Renault Clio is still big news. So we were only to pleased to attend the launch in Florence, Italy.
Quite what Nicole would make of the new Renault Clio is anyone’s guess, but much like the good lady herself, it would be fair to say that it has grown up a little. In 22 years, it has become more sophisticated, more sassy, more worldly wise and yet, in the same spirit as a 40-something Nicole, it’s still happy to let its hair down should the opportunity arise.
Let’s start with the headlines.
Firstly, the new Renault Clio will only be available with five doors. According to Renault, only 20% of buyers opted for the 3-door model, and with that number expected to shrink even further, it was decided to concentrate solely on a 5-door car. It’s a bold step, not least with the new Renaultsport Clio appearing next year. But then, when you consider that the new RS Clio will be turbo-charged and available only with a dual-clutch automatic ‘box, the number of doors may only be a small part of the problem.
But back to the standard Clio and it must be said that the designers have done a brilliant job of disguising the new Clio’s 5-door origins. The concealed rear door handles combine with an elegant side profile styling to give the new Clio the look of a 3-door hatchback, perhaps even a coupé.
In truth though, the entire car looks good. Although it no longer looks like the archetypal French supermini, the new Clio looks modern, squat and purposeful. If the new car reminds you a little of the stunning DeZir concept, that’s no coincidence. They were penned by the same chap at the same time. The new car sits 45mm lower than the old model, with a wider track and wheels that are pushed 15mm outward. The overall effect is very successful.
Renault claims, perhaps bringing to mind images of Nicole, that the new Clio’s “voluptuous curves…make you want to reach out and caress it”. I wouldn’t go that far, but it does look good. My only criticism would be that, aside from the front end, it looks a little like some other cars in the segment.
The interior is a bit of a mixed bag. It looks very good. The layout is clear, there’s little in the way of clutter and the 18cm integrated touchscreen brings the new Clio right into the new millennium. It’s only when you dig a little deeper that things start to go array. Some of the plastics used feel a little cheap as do some of the dials and switches. It’s strange, because the damped grab handles raise the overall feeling of quality, but a horridly flimsy centre armrest does the exact reverse. It just isn’t consistent.
On the face of it though, the new Clio feels like a special car to be in and you can’t really say that about any of its forebears. It also has more head, leg and elbow room than the previous Clio, making it feel incredibly spacious inside.
Less forgivable are the number of blind spots found when driving. The smartly designed exterior comes at the expense of visibility when out on the road. Joining a motorway can be a real lottery, with the huge C-pillar restricting your rearward view. It’s a similar story at the front where the massive A-pillars restrict the view when tight cornering. The rakish roof line also comes at the expense of headroom for rear seat passengers. Looking good comes at a price.
But overall, the interior of the new Clio is a massive shift up from the previous generation models. The touchscreen is a neat addition and puts all the non-essential driving aids and multimedia tools in one place. Think of it as an in-built tablet device and you won’t be too far wrong. On higher spec models, owners will have the ability to download apps directly to the device through Renault’s R-Link system. Clever. Less appealing is the opportunity to select different engine notes to play through the speakers. You can select from options such as a space ship, motorbike or a V6 engine. Really? REALLY? Back in the day, Nicole would have been perfectly happy with an FM stereo and a cassette deck.
Face it though, all this fancy styling and clever functionality would be nothing if the new Clio drove like a bag of rusty nails. Fortunately, it doesn’t.
I drove the new 0.9 litre Energy TCe 90 petrol engine, Renault’s first 3-cylinder engine. And it’s rather good. A low inertia turbo provides 135Nm of torque at 2,500 revs, of which 90% is available at 1,650 revs. Crucially, it’s also capable of a theoretical 65.7mpg, emitting just 99 g/km of CO2. This means it’s 21% more efficient than the outgoing TCe 100 engine. It’s also remarkably quiet, with the sound dropping to a faint hum when cruising, but coming alive to good effect when you want to have a play.
It’s a cracking little unit, that just loves to be pressed. The fact that it never feels that quick is probably more down to the improved overall refinement of the new Clio, but it’s a willing engine that will reward drivers who push it to the redline. Naturally, this will impact on your fuel economy though.
But when you combine the engine performance with the car’s overall dynamics, the Clio makes a strong case for itself as an enjoyable drivers’ car. Add the test car’s optional Sport personalisation kit with 16″ ‘Passion’ black alloys and yellow paintwork and the 3-cylinder Clio could pass itself off as a junior Renaultsport car. It isn’t, of course, but then Renault makes no wild claims that it is. But Clio fans should be delighted to hear that the new car has retained some of its va-va-voom.
The backroads that criss-cross the Tuscan mountains are reminiscent of the kind of roads you’d find in Britain. Camber changes, pot holes, pitted surfaces and tight bends are just some of the elements that bring to mind images of a classic British B-road. With minimal body roll, supportive front seats and steering that weights up nicely through the bends, the new Clio is a huge improvement over the previous car. It’s great fun to chuck about.
Not that I think the vast majority of new Clio buyers will be thinking too much about chucking the car about. Instead, they will find a Clio that has grown up a great deal, added a new level of refinement and should be very cheap to run.
And if that wasn’t enough, new Clio owners will also have the opportunity to personalise their car through a number of interior and exterior styling packs. I won’t bore you with the details here, but it’s safe to say that you’ll be able to find a colour combination and accompanying decals to suit your needs. And if you can’t, then you may be better off looking at the Vauxhall ADAM.
But I can’t see Nicole running off to ADAM just yet. In so many ways, the new Clio is the most convincing generation to date. It’s a thoroughly well thought out package that offers buyers a genuine alternative to the rivals in the sector. It may not have the overall feeling of quality as the Polo, but the gap isn’t as wide as you’d think, plus the Clio’s interior is delivered with more flair. The Clio also offers a more compelling offer than the 208 and in 3-cylinder form at least, it has the dynamics to rival the Ford Fiesta. As an allrounder, it makes a great deal of sense.
And if ultimate driving pleasure isn’t your main criteria for buying, then there’s also a 90hp 1.5 dCi diesel alternative, which feels even more grown up and refined than the 0.9 litre petrol version. It’s also capable of delivering 88.3mpg on a combined cycle and emits a tiny 83 g/km of CO2 emissions. With figures like that, who needs a hybrid? Prices for the diesel start at £14,095 for the Expression+ model.
The key difference between the two cars was that after driving the diesel, I walked away impressed. After driving the petrol, I walked away and fancied another drive in it. The 3-cylinder is more Nicole, the diesel is more Papa. It’s as simple as that.
To conclude, on the basis of my 24 hours in Florence, I reckon the new car is the best Clio to date and aside from the Renaultsport products, the most convincing Renault for many years.
Nicole can sleep easy tonight.
2012 Renault Clio Energy TCe 90 Dynamique MediaNav
Full details of the scoring can be found here.