Renault Clio review
Renault's latest Clio is a very stylish and desirable supermini, but that doesn't make it the best
Renault's Clio is four years old now, but it still looks great and is pretty good fun to drive. Unfortunately, it can't quite match up to the best in the sector including the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Mazda 2.
The French supermini's trump card is its sense of style. Its bold face and curves might not be to all tastes, but there's no denying it's more distinctive than something like a Vauxhall Corsa. Plus, the cabin looks modern and classy. A tablet-style control screen on all but the most basic models dominates the button-free dash.
It's just a shame that some of the materials don't match up to the best in the class, and it's not the most spacious around, either. Even the minor 2016 updates fail to address this much.
The Clio is a freshly styled alternative to its supermini rivals, offering plenty of kit and efficient engines. There's a comprehensive range of engines and trim levels to choose from, but the drive still trails the Fiesta’s and it's outclassed in terms of quality and space.
Renault's Clio has been a massively important car for the French company, and cemented its reputation as a manufacturer of stylish, fun small cars. The original car was launched in 1990 as a successor to the popular Renault 5, and since then it's gone through three more relaunches to become the fourth-generation car of today.
A succession of quirky TV ads have also helped make the Clio a firm favourite with UK buyers – starting with the classic Papa & Nicole adverts that aired through the nineties.
We’re now well into the fourth-generation Clio’s lifespan, and while its hidden rear door handles give it the impression of a sportier three-door from the side, this is the first Clio ever to be five-door only. 2016 saw minor revisions to the supermini, too.
There's a new headlamp design with full-LED tech available for the first time . The grilles and bumpers have been refreshed, too, while inside there's an updated infotainment system and improved materials. It's a subtle update, but the exterior didn't need much changing.
The range consists of basic Expression and Play models, plusher Dynamique, and Dynamique S (both available with MediaNav sat-nav), the sporty GT-Line spec and hot Renaultsport trim. Its engine range is as broad as the class leaders’, with the 75bhp 1.2 litre petrol kicking things off.
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The latest model also embraces the trend for downsizing and turbocharging – starting with the three-cylinder 0.9-litre TCe petrol, which boasts 90bhp and offers nearly 63mpg economy. There’s also a new 1.5-litre dCi diesel – in either 89bhp or (as of 2016) 109bhp form its punchy and efficient, if not exactly fun.
Finally, a more powerful 1.2-litre petrol is available with both a manual and automatic gearbox. It used to solely power the pricey GT-Line model with an autobox, but from 2016 Renault added it as a proper engine choice across the upper tiers of the range.
The GT-Line remains, however, with aggressive styling that's similar to the Renaultsport Clios. It has more standard kit than the Dynamique S, with TomTom Live sat-nav, an R-Link touchscreen infotainment system and an upgraded stereo.
At the top of the range is two hot hatchbacks: a 197bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged Clio Renaultsport, which will satisfy those looking for a Clio with a bit more punch – it'll race from 0-62mph in just 6.7 seconds. Then there's the Clio Trophy, which offers 217bhp plus an even sharper chassis and gearbox to deal with the pace.
Engines, performance and drive
The Clio sits on the same platform as the previous-generation car, but its kerbweight has been reduced by 100kg, which has had a positive effect on performance.
It’s quick and accurate to drive with light steering; yet the ride, which is usually pliant and comfortable, can occasionally become bouncy and noisy over less polished roads. This shows up particularly on Britain's country roads with gritty, rough surfaces.
Body roll is noticeable, too, and the overall effect doesn’t inspire driving with much of that old Renault Va Va Voom despite an initially agile feel. The EDC dual-clutch automated gearbox is reasonably smooth unless you shift manually with the paddles, when the changes can feel lazy. Ford, Mazda and even Skoda will sell you a supermini which is more composed in the bends.
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The five-speed (or six-speed in top-spec 1.2) manual box isn’t particularly pleasant to use, either, as the occasionally notchy shift gate lacks precision. So while it's a quiet and generally comfortable cruiser, the Clio doesn't provide an engaging drive like the Fiesta.
The 1.2-litre petrol engine in the entry-level Clio lacks refinement, but the rest of the engines in the line-up are smooth performers – albeit lacking a bit of oomph. The 0.9-litre TCe engine feels slow in higher gears and struggles to make good progress on steep slopes compared to a Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost.
And although the Clio is a still a fun car to drive around town, the 1.5 dCi diesel feels much more at home on the motorway than the 0.9-litre petrol, as it’s smooth and pulls strongly. Especially the 109bhp version, which has plenty of overtaking urge.
At the top of the range from 2016 there is a 1.2 TCe with a manual gearbox. It's actually faster than the autobox-equipped GT-Line, managing 0-62mph in 9.3 seconds. It feels peppy, although it isn't the most refined petrol engine around, sounding strained at high revs.
The Clio Renaultsport and GT get the EDC dual-clutch gearbox as standard over the clunky manual found on non-sporty models, yet the system is also offered across the range as an option.
Powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the Renaultsport version has a 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds and will go on to reach a top speed of 143mph. We’ve tested the Clio RS separately here.
Despite using the switchable Renaultsport Drive system, the EDC-equipped GT-Line car's figures are not as impressive – 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds, and a top-speed of 121mph. The GT Line's Renaultsport Drive system is also only available in two modes: Sport and Normal. In the Clio RS there’s a third race mode.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
As well as good looks and being packed with modern technology, the Clio also boasts low running costs.
The three-cylinder 0.9 TCe petrol engine is fitted with stop/start technology as standard, and this allows it to return a economy figure of 62.8mpg while emitting only 104g/km of CO2.
The tiny engine's impressive figures can be further improved by specifying a £250 ECO pack, which adds longer gear ratios, low-rolling-resistance tyres and a lighter plastic tailgate. These enhance figures to a 65.7mpg and 99g/km.
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The diesel engines are cleaner still, with the 1.5 dCi 90 Dyna returning 83.1mpg economy and emitting only 90g/km of CO2 – or 88.3mpg and 83g/km when the ECO pack is added. Even the Clio GT-Line has impressive economy of 54.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 120g/km. Plus, it sits in insurance group 14.
Overall, the Clio's impressive economy figures make it one of the most frugal and environmentally friendly superminis currently on the market.
Perhaps with all those Parisian parking scrapes in mind, the Clio has been designed with plastic body panels that are cheap and simple to replace.
Coupled to the lack of pace from the majority of engines, it’s no surprise the range is cheap to insure at group 7 to 12. The Renaultsport hot hatch is the only exception, as it falls into group 29.
The downside to the Clio is its weak residual values compared to those of its key rivals, so don't expect it to be worth much when it comes to selling it on. The VW Polo will perform better, and even the Peugeot 208 should look like a stronger bet at resale time.
Interior, design and technology
The latest Renault Clio is a much more attractive and unique-looking supermini when compared with its conservative predecessor. Taking cues from the 2010 Renault DeZir concept car, it has a sleek profile with disguised rear door handles hidden in the C-pillars.
The bold face was updated slightly in 2016 with the Clio's mid-life facelift. It received a revised headlamp design with the old LED daytime running lights that were tacked on to the grille incorporated into the main lamp, which is neater. Tweaked bumpers front and rear, new colours and fresh alloy wheel designs complete the exterior look. It would only really be noticeable if you parked the old and new car back-to-back, however.
Renault has jumped on the personalisation bandwagon, too, with options such as bodywork decals for the roof and matching colour schemes for the paint, wheels and interior all available.
The brand carries the Clio's stylish looks over to the interior, where the car receives a seven-inch tablet-style screen integrated into the dash, which, on higher-spec cars, is finished in an attractive gloss black trim. As of 2016, entry-level cars gain a smartphone mount on the dash.
Despite a comprehensive standard equipment list, many of the interior plastics on the dash and doors feel scratchy and cheap – the manual air-conditioning dials and air vents are particularly flimsy. Renault claims it made big improvements to this in 2016, but to our eyes (and touch) it was only marginally better.
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Renault offers its latest Clio in four specifications, but only the Expression+ and higher models come with alloy wheels as standard. The top-spec Dynamique S MediaNav comes with 17-inch alloys, a selection of four different colour inserts, chrome side window surrounds, climate control, electric folding door mirrors, all-round electric windows and rear parking sensors.
Similarly, the sportier Renaultsport Clios are also available in a selection of trims. It benefits from a lowered ride height, stiffer suspension, a quicker steering ratio, red brake calipers and gloss-black 18-inch rims.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The basic Clio radio unit features a built-in display with USB and Bluetooth connectivity, so you can stream your own music and talk hands-free on the phone. For the facelift, a smartphone mount on top of the dashbaord has been drafted in from the Twingo, which connects to the speakers to allow audio and navigation instructions to be pumped through them.
For Dynamic Nav models and up, the radio is replaced by the optional MediaNav system, which has a 4x20W radio, controlled by a seven-inch multifunction touchscreen, and sat-nav.
It’s not the best or most intuitive system to operate, though, so it’s worth upgrading again to the R-Link set-up. This features improved graphics and a TomTom nav, plus the ability to download a variety of apps, such as Facebook or Twitter.
It also has 3D sound-processing software, yet for all its high spec, the navigation and menu interfaces are not as slick as the best rival systems. Whichever you pick, it can also be upgraded with a sub-woofer, although this has an unfortunate tendency to make the door trim rattle.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Interior space has been maximised for the fourth-generation Clio, despite striking looks and exterior dimensions only slightly bigger than the previous model. It's still not as good as the best in class, however.
Renault has provided the Clio with plenty of storage space around the cabin, but the tiny glovebox barely fits the owner's manual in it. There are cubby holes in front of the gearlever, centre armrest and door panels.
The user-friendly interior has all functions within easy reach of the driver, although the location of some controls is less than intuitive. The starter button is on the wrong side, and the switch for the cruise control and speed limiter is oddly located by the handbrake.
Visibility out the front is fine, but the thick rear pillar can make over-the-shoulder vision tricky when reversing.
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With an extra 30mm over its predecessor, the Clio has stretched its size advantage over rivals to the point where it’s one of the biggest in the supermini class.
Renault has also tweaked the suspension to make the car 45mm lower, while the platform has been modified to produce a slightly longer wheelbase and wider track than the outgoing car. There's also a good-sized boot, but there's several superminis that are more accomodating for back-seat passengers.
Legroom, headroom & passenger space
The Clio has less space for rear passengers than the Ford Fiesta due to its low roofline, small side windows and high-mounted rear bench, which can make it feel cramped and narrow for taller passengers. However, given the Clio is only offered as a five-door, getting in and out of the back seats is easy.
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There are three fixed-point seatbelts in the rear, but fitting three passengers in the car will be a squash. Up front, the driver and passenger do better, as accommodation is more than acceptable.
Boot space is larger than that of key rivals. At 300 litres, it beats the capacities of the Fiesta and Peugeot 208, which offer 276 and 285 litres respectively.
When the rear seats are folded flat, the load area expands to 1,146 litres and a 60:40 split enables larger loads to be carried with ease. There’s a 900kg towing limit on all models.
Reliability and Safety
Renault has taken a hit in recent years, earning a reputation for making unreliable cars – as shown in our previous Driver Power surveys. However, for 2015, Renault has made its way back up the manufacturer rankings, placing in 12th place out of 31.
The Clio itself came 70th out of 200 in this year’s poll, yet there are still some concerns about the durability of the complex new technology, such as the colour touchscreen.
In terms of safety, the new Clio continues Renault's impressive record, and has a full five-star Euro NCAP rating, with 89 per cent for adult occupant protection and an impressive 99 per cent score in the safety assist category.
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Renault has fitted ESP, ABS and Emergency Brake Assist as standard to all of its Clios, as well as a full complement of airbags. Rear parking sensors and a reversing camera are also available as options.
Renault is trying to add further value to the Clio range by offering its 4+ scheme, which covers covering servicing costs and warranty for four years and 100,000 miles.
The package also includes breakdown cover for the entire period, so it looks like a pretty good inclusive offer against the three-year cover provided by most manufacturers.
Beyond the initial four years of 4+ cover when servicing is included, the Clio’s servicing costs should be on the affordable side through the Renault dealer network.
Scheduled servicing is required annually or every 12,500 miles – which is all pretty standard stuff. However, with the dealers’ disappointingly low scores on the reliability front, it’s the unscheduled pit stops of previous-generation Clios that Renault will be hoping to have knocked on the head.