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Renault Clio 1.4 Dynamique review (2005-2009)
Model: Renault Clio 1.4 Dynamique
Bodystyle: Three-door hatchback
Engine: 1.4-litre, petrol
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Date of test: April 2006
What is it?
The Clio is a top 10 best seller in the UK. As superminis go, it’s second only to the Fiesta and Corsa, and is Renault’s most important model. All new for 2006, the latest model shares a platform with the Nissan Micra (though it’s not as strict a sharing strategy as VW Group’s) and is bigger in every way than the car it replaces. The supermini is a booming sector at the moment, and one analysts tip to grow further in coming years, so it’s vital for Renault that the Clio is at the top of its game. Hence, investment of over £650m.
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Where does it fit?
The Clio is still, officially, a supermini, but if you’re trading from a five-year-old Megane family hatch – or even a year-old current shape one, you’ll wonder what on earth is going on. Because the Clio is big. Barely shorter and narrower than its 'bigger' brother, it’s actually taller than the car sitting above it in the model range. But, strange as it may seem, that’s the way the market is going, as rivals such as the Grande Punto, Peugeot 207 and 2006 Vauxhall Corsa prove. Forget supermini, how about maximini? Mind you, for the growth of the Clio to look completely logical, we’ll have to wait until the launch of the Twingo city car, due in 2007. Then the reasons for (or concessions to?) the growth of the supermini will make sense. Until then, just you try fitting the latest Clio into your supermini-sized garage.
Is it for you?
Renault knows it wouldn’t sell so many cars if it didn’t invest so much time and effort ensuring the Clio has appeal. Its universality is a must, so while it’s arguably not as bold as some of the firm’s other cars, it still appeals to lots without offending anyone. There’s a large and ever-growing range, a baffling array of trims and, with the latest model, enough big car features to couple with the extra size to make it attractive to an even broader spectrum. Is it any coincidence that, as we’ll see, it’s actually more practical than the Megane in some respects? Then of course there’s the chic, oh-so French image, fostered over the years since the original 5. Not for nothing do the TV and magazine ads show the car in its natural Parisian environment (minus the battle scars and chain-smoking French people listening to Debussy while driving, with one hand on the wheel, into other cars).
What does it do well?
Refinement is superb. The 1.4-litre petrol car we drove was super-smooth and extraordinarily hushed, almost imitating a luxury car. Factor in very low road and wind noise, and the Clio could just be the quietest supermini you can buy. It also rides very well. Not in the traditional queasy, lolloping French manner, but with real road insulation coupled with excellent body control. It’s tauter than you expect, but still supple, fluid and free from harshness. Seats throw out Renault tradition too; again, they’re firmer and supportive, if a little flat. The driving position no longer feels like it’s been modelled on a bus, the gearshift is crisp and smooth, and there’s a real feeling of substance very much lacking in the old car. Indeed, material quality and build seems exceptional, particularly details such as the soft-feel, matt-finish dash top of upper range models. The roller ball air vent controls are neat, dials are attractive and the steering wheel a pleasingly sculpted thing to hold. As for handling, it’s safe, secure and will never get you into trouble, while also proving far from squidgy and soft.
What doesn't it do well?
The Clio may have light steering but in most other respects, the rack is poor. Feel and feedback are ridiculous, just so artificial – computer game console makers do it better. It can also judder over bumps, proves sticky at the straight ahead, jerks into corners and demands too much concentration for smooth manoeuvres at speed. Even the most passive drivers will notice how weird it feels (though we admit, you do kind of get used to it). Meanwhile, all the Clio’s extra quality, refinement and safety means a load of extra weight. Distant the engine noise may be but, despite this being a 1.4-litre supermini with 90bhp, acceleration is also rather absent. It doesn’t feel ‘slow’, just a bit leaden, particularly at low revs; you need 3,500rpm for any sort of vigour. It’s telling that, at 70mph, the engine is pulling 3,700 revs – gearing is short to keep it in the power band and disguise weight. (Thank goodness for that refinement, but think long and hard before choosing a 1.2-litre). Furthermore, the clutch on the test car was poor, with awfully spongy bite that was way too high. Coupled with a lifeless, sticky throttle, it demanded concentration when pulling away if you weren’t to stall. Brakes are less grabby during light applications but the familiar snatch is still there if you use them more heavily.
What's it like to live with?
The Clio is bigger overall, and how the benefits are felt in the rear. Even behind a seat set for a tallish MSN road tester, another of the same height could sit behind in comfort, atop a firm, supportive bench, with lots of room for their head, knees and feet (which is not the case for the Megane). They could also pile plenty into the 288-litre boot, the surprising depth of which makes the sill looks rather high; in reality, it’s not. Quality we’ve mentioned and will mention again, for it’s a real leap over what’s gone before – Renault’s clearly been listening. A high seating position feels commanding, and the wipers now have a dedicated set-up for right-hand-drive, ditching the previous ‘jumping’ arm and improving visibility. Thick B- and C-pillars also restrict it, but the A-pillars are fine compared to the disasters of some rivals. Sadly, the driving position is compromised on standard cars by a lack of steering column reach adjust; it only comes with the £250 'Keyless Go' – though while it’s a system that sounds fiddly, it actually works well. Sensors in the doorhandles mean it really is keyless, and you can keep the card in your pocket and still start the engine.
How green is it?
42.8mpg on the combined cycle is pretty good going, but could have been better still, if the Clio weren’t so heavy. And that low gearing hits motorway economy potential, too. Likewise for CO2 emissions, though 158g/km for a car offering this level of refinement and comfort does look very good.
Would we buy it?
We were most unimpressed with the Clio at first. The clutch drove us mad and we couldn’t believe how a brand new car could have steering that was quite so bad. But the more we drove, the more we became deeply impressed by a very complete supermini indeed. It follow the Renault tradition of comfort and ace ride, but brings the concept band up to date with top refinement, a smooth engine, light controls and a ride that as real depth of talent. It’s not the most exciting car to drive, but cooking Renault minis arguably never have been – the firepower is usually saved for the sporty models, and the Renaultsport version is still to come. This is the perfect blend of talents with sophistication in looks, interior and the way it drives. An excellent supermini that’s a strong contender for overall class honours.
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