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The Renault Clio is 25

By raccars Published

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Celebrating a quarter of a century of Nicole, Papa and the Renault Clio.

Would the Renault Clio have become one of the world's favourite superminis without those adverts? Nicole and her Papa only served to underline the Clio's Gallic chic styling and cheeky performance, which have seen more than 13 million units of the supermini sold since its arrival in 1991.

Renault Clio replaces the Renault 5

The Clio had some very big shoes to fill, designed to take the place of the ageing but enormously popular Renault 5. From 1991 to 1996, Renault ran a second generation of the 5, also called the Superfive, in tandem with the slightly larger Clio, which hit UK roads in 1991.

An immediate winner of the European Car of the Year awards, the Clio was packed with big car equipment at an affordable supermini price. With hindsight the cabin which looked so smart at the time was actually full of creaky plastic but at the time the Clio wowed the public and nearly 35,000 of them were sold in the UK in the first year.

1993 saw the release of the limited edition Clio Williams, a brilliant update on the classic Eighties hot hatch theme which made the most of Renault's experience with the Williams Formula One team. So popular was it that RenaultSport was forced to extend its availability. The standard Clio was refreshed in 1994 and 1996 to ensure it remained fresh looking in the competitive supermini market.

Nicole? Papa!

Of course the Clio's appeal was helped by the adverts starring French actress Estelle Skornik as Nicole and Max Douchin as her indulgent father. The refrain 'Nicole? Papa!' became synonymous with the Clio in which the oh-so-chic Nicole went gallivanting. She and her car were the subject of eight adverts from 1991-1998, when comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer took over for the launch of the second generation Clio.

The Mk2 Clio was slightly larger and more spacious than the original and came with some modern safety kit such as front and side airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and ABS. The cabin was still a sea of grey plastic but better than before and featuring a stereo with fingertip controls. In 2000 the Clio gained four stars in Euro NCAP crash testing, which was a very impressive result at the time for a car in its class.

The second generation was updated in 2001, with a sharper front end and a smarter cabin, and again in 2004. The second generation Clio came with a marketing campaign called 'Size Matters' featuring Helene Mathieu, a stylish French actress. But she didn't quite capture the public's imagination as her predecessors Nicole and Papa, so Renault drafted in footballer Thierry Henry asking the meaning of 'va va voom'. Apparently the Renault Clio had the answer.

The MK2 Clio came with a series of high performance variants including the 172, Cup, 182, the Trophy and the bonkers RenaultSport Clio V6.

The modern Clio

The Clio became larger again in 2005 with the third generation model, which became the first supermini to earn the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash testing and went on to win the 2006 European Car of the Year award. It was updated in 2009 but arguably around this time the Clio started to lose its way stylistically. There were no particularly memorable publicity programmes to help set the Clio's identity in the mind on the public and the car became lost among a sea of other competent but ultimately uninteresting superminis.

The Clio IV arrived in 2012, larger again, lower to the ground and featuring distinctive styling by Renault's design chief Laurens van den Acker. It's full of modern technology and can be heavily personalised, but arguably lacks the character of earlier models.

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