8 Mar 2013

2013 Renault Clio review

Matt Hubbard reviews the new, fourth generation, Renault Clio

The last experience I had of driving a Renault Clio was 20 years ago.  It was my mothers and it had a 1.2 litre petrol engine.  At the time I considered the engine wheezy, the handling sloppy and the whole thing felt a bit like a tin can.  That was the first generation Clio.

Renault have just launched the fourth generation Clio, and by God it's an improvement.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that but it works as well in the flesh as it did in the photos when Renault first released them.  I drove a black car, which hides the highlights on the bodywork, such as the droopy line along the bottom of the doors.  This doesn't work in some cars, it's disastrous on the BMW 1 series, but works well on the Clio.

The new 'face' of the Clio works well and gives lie to recent gaping mouths as worn by the Aston Martin Rapide S and most Fords.  Huge grilles aren't needed for cooling, they are there as part of some weird ego trip on behalf of the designers and their employers - the manufacturers.  Renault have chosen a more fussy but nicely laid out front end to the Clio.  Top marks for style.

The haunches, the integration of the rear doors into the bodywork, the slightly Alfa-esque rear end, the small spoiler atop the rear window and the overall shape of the new Clio show a splendidly practical yet aesthetic approach from Renault.

Yet the fluid lines of the exterior don't impact on interior space, which feels vast for a B segment hatchback.  The boot is big enough for a few dogs and plenty of shopping, the rear seats are wide enough for three but knee room is only just enough for an adult, the front seats are separated by a faux transmission tunnel which houses the real handbrake (gosh, thought they'd been consigned to history's dustbin.  Thank goodness they haven't) and gearstick.

The interior is classy for a small, budget hatch.  Renault have made an effort to break up the usual elephant hide-pattern on the swathes of plastic that surround the dash and tops the doors.  It's a strange little pattern with triangles and dots.  Good.  I'm getting sick of elephant hide.  Elsewhere chrome touches adorn the dials, gearstick and various knobs.  Lots of gloss black (a new fad amongst manufacturers) is found on the wheel and centre console.  The problem with gloss black is that it looks great before anyone touches it.  Then, when it is touched a visible fingerprint is left.  Think unpainted DeLorean for further visual stimulus.

There's a stupid cubby hole above the glovebox that needs a lid if it is to retain anything.  Whatever is inserted in it will simply fall on the passengers knee under acceleration.  That's just about the only negative about the cabin.  It is premium.  Buttons, knobs and switches feel of good quality and the integrated touchscreen looks good - it sits high on the dash but, given it houses the satnav, that is a good thing because it's closer to the road and means the driver doesn't have to look down to see it.

On the road and some flaws are found in the new Clio.  Not in the gearbox department though.  Smooth, slick, short throw - it's one of the best I've ever used.  Nor in the ride, which is smooth and smothers the lumps, bumps and holes that bedeck Britain's roads.  Nor even in the noise it makes.  The 1.5 dCi engine is masked nicely (good, can't stand diesel noise) and road noise barely intrudes in the cabin.

The letdowns are in the engine, which is too weak, and the seats, which are too soft.  Part of the test route took in a fantastic super-twisty section of quiet B-road.  The chassis can easily handle tight and twisty sections, and does so at such pace that the unsupportive seats allow the occupants to travel sideways a touch too much.  The engine, a 1.5 litre turbo diesel, pushes out 90bhp and 162 lb ft of torque.  It just felt too slow.

After the test I took a 1.2 litre petrol Clio out for a quick spin to see if the engine in that was any better, and it sort of is.  Being petrol it revs higher and faster but it actually has less power - 75bhp.  Trouble is, it returns 33mpg less than the 1.5 dCi and in this market that makes all the difference.

Which is the point really.  My gripes about power and speed are of little importance to the intended buyers of the new Clio - aside from teenagers but then again if the car was too powerful they wouldn't be able to afford the insurance.  Potential purchasers will look at tax band, CO2 rating and mpg over power and speed - and in this regard the dCi provides market leading figures.

People who buy a new Clio will have fun though.  The steering is sensationally sharp and precise and the Clio handles like the proverbial roller skate.  My mum would have loved it.

Renault have a lot riding on the new Clio.  They are losing money and need their new product to stand out in a crowded market.  The Clio is something of triumph and should propel them back to at least making some money.

The new Clio range is priced from £10,595 to £16,095.  It has three engines, the 1.5dCi, 1.2 16v petrol and 0.9 litre TCe 90 diesel.  They all have Stop and Start technology which fulfills Euro regulations but is actually silly because it delays pulling away, and may malfunction in a few years.

It's also worth mentioning that the R-Link Multimedia system is a £350 option across the range.  It features a 7" screen, TomTom Live navigation, various apps, an Eco thingy and a DAB radio.  If you are going to buy a new Clio you must choose this option or else you will not be able to sell it on for decent money in a few years.  Just like the Chili pack in original BMW Minis, if it is missing from the car it's value will be diminished on the used market.

The new Renault Clio is highly recommended as a rather splendid little hatchback, which isn't little at all on the inside.


Car - Renault Clio Dynamique MediaNav dCi
Price - £15,095 (£17,185 as tested)
Engine - 1.5 litre, inline 4, turbodiesel
Transmission - 5 speed manual, which drives the front wheels
Power - 90bhp
Torque - 162 lb ft
Weight - 1134kg
0-62mph - 11.9 seconds
Top speed - 111mph
Fuel consumption - 83.1mpg combined
CO2 - 90 g/km