Renault Clio review
Renault's chic Clio is a popular contender in the class. But can the latest model take on the best in the supermini business?
On the outside, it certainly stands out, with a distinctive front end and bulbous headlamps. Plus, the cabin looks modern even in the face of newer rivals. 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.
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 the interior quality can't quite match the class leaders’.
The Clio has been a hugely important car for Renault since the first-generation model hit the streets in 1990, cementing the brand’s status as a prominent maker of stylish and fun small cars. The supermini has been built at Renault’s factory in Flins-sur-Seine, France, since then, with its popularity reflected in two European Car of The Year wins in 1981 and 2006.
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.
The range consists of basic Expression and Expression+, 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 – offering similar power yet even better efficiency.
Finally, a more powerful 1.2-litre petrol TCe unit powers the GT-Line model, which acts as a mid-point in the range between the Dynamique S and Renaultsport.
This version features the same aggressive styling as the hot model, but has more standard kit over the Dynamique S, with TomTom Live sat-nav, an R-Link touchscreen infotainment system and an upgraded stereo.
Topping the range is the 197bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged Clio Renaultsport, which will satisfy those looking for a Clio with a bit more punch – this car will race from 0-62mph in just 6.7 seconds.
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 over less polished roads.
Body roll is noticeable, too, and the overall effect doesn’t inspire driving with much of that old Renault Va Va Voom. The EDC dual-clutch automated gearbox is reasonably smooth unless you shift manually with the paddles, when the changes can feel lazy.
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The regular five-speed 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.
The Clio Renaultsport and GT get the EDC dual-clutch gearbox as standard over the clunky five-speed box 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 engine is cleaner still, with the 1.5 dCi 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.
Renault has jumped on the personalisation bandwagon, too, with options such as bodywork decals and matching colour schemes for the paint, wheels and interior all available. Some models feature distinctive LED daytime running lights, too.
The brand carries the Clio's stylish looks over to the interior, where the car receives a brand-new seven-inch tablet-style screen integrated into the dash, which, on higher-spec cars, is finished in an attractive gloss black trim.
Despite a comprehensive standard equipment list, many of the interior plastics feel scratchy and cheap – the manual air-conditioning dials and air vents are particularly flimsy.
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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 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 BASS REFLEX 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 similar to those of the previous model.
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 cruise control 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.
So while the brand talks of 10 per cent more legroom than the class average and improved rear headroom as well, there’s also a very generously sized boot.
Legroom, headroom & passenger space
The car 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.