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Renault Clio 4 - First Drive

By raccars Published

Renault brings the Clio back up to standard – and gives us probably the best-looking supermini on sale

10 SECOND VERDICT

Pretty new five-door supermini brings back the chic spirit that made the Clio so popular in the 1990s. Roomy, practical and excellent to drive, it’s a return to form for Renault that should cause a stir in the UK’s most popular new car sector.

Price: £10,595 - £16,095
Engine range: 1.2 75, 0.9 TCe 90, 1.5 dCi 90
Gearbox: Five-speed manual
0-60mph: 11.7-15.4 seconds
Top speed: 104-115 mph
Fuel economy: 51.4-88.3 mpg
CO2: 83-127 g/km
On sale: Now

What is it?

The Renault Clio has been on sale in the UK since the 1990s but while the ‘Nicole and Papa’ original and ‘Va Va Voom’ second generation cars were elegant top sellers, the last model was rather dull and unadventurous in comparison. With this new Clio 4, Renault’s aiming to revive the joie de vivre.

Unusually for a supermini, Renault’s only selling it in five-door guise. Not that you’d guess: the new Clio 4 has been styled to disguise those rear doors and look almost like a crossover coupe. Even the rear doorhandles have been ‘hidden’ in the rear pillars. The sculptural, muscular shape is very elegant and the detailing is superb. It’s a real return to form and quite possibly the best-looking supermini on the market.

The Clio comes with with a choice of three mainstream engines, two petrol variants and a diesel. The base 75hp 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol and 90hp 1.5 dCi turbodiesel motors will be familiar to Clio drivers but the 0.9-litre TCe 90 three-cylinder engine is brand-new. A new 1.6T Renaultsport 200 Turbo model has also now joined the range, with a six-speed paddleshift EDC gearbox: all other Clios have five-speed manual gearboxes, and an automatic option is not yet offered.

Trims open with Expression, although the Expression + with air con and other extras is likely to prove more appealing. The heart of the range is the Dynamique MediaNav trim which, as the name suggests, comes with sat nav as standard. There’s also a Dynamique S MediaNav with sportier styling.

We drove one of the first Clio 4 on sale in the UK to find out how Renault’s vitally important new supermini fares on British roads. What we discovered will please Renault and its many British fans…

Performance

The entry-level 75hp 1.2-litre engine is getting on a bit now and may prove disappointing. Don’t be misled by the 0.9-litre TCe’s smaller capacity – a turbocharger means it has 90hp and significantly more pulling power too. It’s well worth the extra £1000 over the 1.2-litre.

On British roads, we found the 0.9 TCe an exceptionally refined and smooth-running engine. Its distantly humming isolation is a bit like having a posh V6 under the bonnet. The turbocharger means it has good pulling power but you do have to press the accelerator quite far to make it respond – this is, we suspect, a trick to help you save fuel.

It’s a pity Renault hasn’t fitted a six-speed gearbox. The snappy five-speed gearbox shifts easily but the gaps between the ratios are too big. It means you sometimes change up early and find the engine is caught ‘off boost’: there’s then a lag while power builds up again. We hope Renault will in time launch a six-speed gearbox to make an otherwise excellent drivetrain even better.

Renault also offers its familiar 1.5-litre dCi diesel. Buyers of the old Clio will recognise this engine – and be pleased to discover it’s even smoother and more vibration-free in this installation. It can be a bit vocal when revved but an impressive 162lb ft of torque at just 1750rpm means you usually don’t have to. Again though, a six-speed gearbox would improve things.

Ride and handling

The old Renault Clio always had a surprisingly taut-feeling suspension setup and this one is no exception. Strong body control and sharp, responsive steering means you can feel a hint of Renaultsport genes in it (even if the steering is a bit light). Direct turn-in is enhanced by good front-end grip too, making the Clio feel impressively agile.

Ride quality doesn’t suffer for this taut feel, though. The Clio is a smooth-running car with a very well controlled ride. It tackles road surface undulations well and the body doesn’t float about at speed. It’s particularly pleasing in town, striking a good balance between composure and absorbency. It’s a shame the occasional crash-bang noise from potholes can disturb the peace, though: it’s misleading because the ride itself never jars.

Overall, it’s an impressive car to drive, which will entertain the driver well without upsetting their passengers. As good as the class-leading Ford Fiesta, then? Almost: what the Clio lacks is that last degree of subtle interaction the Ford does so well. The Clio’s chassis is great but the feel through its steering and pedals isn’t quite up to the high standards of the Fiesta.

Inside story

The modern dashboard is dominated by a pod-like instrument pack and big central touchscreen display. This is standard on Dynamique MediaNav models (Expression variants get a conventional, less fancy push-button stereo). The dashboard has a very modern appearance and there are numerous trim detail packs but the predominately black finish might be a bit too dark for some.

It’s comfortable up front, with firmly supportive seats and a multi-adjustable driving position. Coupe looks do eat into rear practicality a little but it’s fine for kids. The boot is a competitive size too, although some of the stowage slots in the cabin are a bit small – rivals are better here. And while the main dashboard plastics are good quality, cheap and plasticky ‘old Renault’ can be seen lower down.

The colour MediaNav touchscreen, housed within a smart chrome-edged piano black panel, is well worth spending extra on a Dynamique model if you can afford it. In basic guise, it controls the sat nav, stereo and Bluetooth functions. Coming soon will be Renault’s R-link system, which will add in-car internet. The entire system is easy to use and brings a real air of sophistication.

A good brace of safety equipment is reassuring. All Clios get six airbags and ESC stability control – and the addition of cruise control with speed limiter on all models also helps set it apart in the marketplace. It naturally has a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating.

Marketplace

The Clio doesn’t have the low lead-in price of many rivals, partly because of its five-door bodystyle. However, such price-point lead-in cars rarely sell well – and in the volume mid-range part of the Clio line-up, it’s much more competitive.

The £13,995 Dynamique MediaNav 0.9 TCe compares favourably to models such as the Ford Fiesta 1.0T Ecoboost, and has the added extra of standard sat nav built into that smart touchscreen. We expect this to be a really strong showroom selling point for the new Renault supermini range.

Renault has also engineered the new Clio 4 range to compare well with rivals in terms of fuel economy. The diesels are particularly strong, with CO2 emissions as low as 83g/km and staggering 88.3mpg combined economy. The TCe petrol averages up to 65.7mpg too.

Verdict

Renault needed the new Clio to be competitive as it is easily the firm’s best selling model. Its fortunes back in the 1990s were built on it as the Clios sold back then found favour with car buyers: we fully expect the new one to do the same.

It is a much more competitive model than the outgoing Clio, with headturning design and an appealing interior giving it real showroom appeal. The technology is impressive, the new TCe petrol engine is excellent and prices stack up against rivals in the volume part of the range too.

It’s not quite as practical as some rivals, while it won’t have the bulletproof feel of a VW Polo or the last degree of driver-pleasing interaction boasted by Ford’s Fiesta, but it edges both of them in terms of style and is, overall, a very strong new entrant into the UK’s best-selling supermini sector.

Five rivals

Ford Fiesta – the UK’s best selling new car for very good reason
Peugeot 208 – the Clio’s French arch-rival
Kia Rio – much better than you’d think and the best value here
Volkswagen Polo – classy supermini is a cut above the rest for quality
Vauxhall Corsa – generally average but that doesn’t stop it selling well

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