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Renault Clio 1.5 dCi review (2001-2005)
Engine:1.5-litre in-line 4-cylinder
Date of test:June 2002
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What is it?
The Clio is the latest in a line of small Renault hatchbacks dating back to the Renault 5 of the early 1970s. The Clio line itself started in 1990 and in a little over a decade it has become Renault's most important model, appealing to a broad cross-section of people. There are budget versions, diesel models, even a high-performance 'hot hatch' variant, the RenaultSport 172, as well as a 'mid-engined' performance car, the RenaultSport V6 - both tested separately. In either three or five-door hatchback form, its appeal is strong, and boosted by phenomenal levels of standard equipment.
Where does it fit?
Lately, small diesels have become ever-more desirable, thanks to the introduction of advanced 'common-rail' injection technology. Simply put, this makes today's diesels far quieter, more powerful and much more economical than older units - and the 1.5-litre dCi Clio must rank among the best. It competes with similarly advanced superminis in the shape of Ford's Fiesta, Peugeot's 206 and Citroen's C3, as well as the Toyota Yaris, Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo. Honda's excellent Jazz is a petrol-only car, while the SEAT Ibiza diesel is considerably more expensive.
Is it for you?
Although the Clio shape is familiar, an extensive mid-life facelift brightened the design considerably. The front is now far more distinctive, so you'll still attract admiring glances in your French supermini. However, the Clio's relative lack of space compared to newer rivals remains; it's reasonably roomy, but fails to offer the practicality of admittedly-larger rivals like the Fiesta and C3. Solace comes from a selection of sporty-looking dCis; few fuel-saving models look this racy.
What does it do well?
The dCi engine is offered in two forms (65 and 80bhp) and while the former is impressively refined, powerful and very economical, the latter betters it fractionally in every way - which is amazing. Both units crack 65mpg and 100mph, making either a real delight to drive; performance is never lacking, nor is engine refinement. Ride and handling are also good, while the Clio is easy to drive too, the relaxed nature of the diesel keeping gearchanges to a minimum. Not that gearchanges are a hardship; the 'box is slick and precise, although an auto option is unavailable.
What doesn't it do well?
The driving position is poor, with cramped pedals and an angled steering wheel; it's more acceptable for shorter drivers, but still far from ideal - the seats in particular seem to be set too high. Accommodation is also lacking in the rear, though the boot is big, and the Clio lacks the solid feel displayed by the Fiesta and, especially, the Polo. And while it drives very well, rivals are more refined, especially at speed. The Clio engine is quiet, but road and wind noise often intrude.
What's it like to live with?
More than enjoyable, thanks to the deluge of standard equipment and the powerful engine's superb fuel economy; most owners should rarely see less than 60mpg. Service intervals are also very long, at 18,000 miles, though there are no clear-cut cost savings associated with this. Renault dealers offer average customer service standards, though the dealer network is expanding as the French giant increases its UK market share. Best of all, diesel depreciation should be lower than for petrol models, thanks to the option's very attractive blend of talents.
Would we buy it?
We certainly would. The affordable economy and performance of the Clio make expensive 'hybrid' vehicles such as the Toyota Prius seem pointless; this Renault is far cheaper, more economical, quicker and more useable on a day-to-day basis. If you want to save the planet, you need a modern diesel, and if you can put up with its relative lack of refinement, ageing packaging and only average space, the well-equipped Clio dCi certainly is impressive - especially in rapid 80bhp form. A familiar sight, and one with a replacement edging ever-nearer, but still an entirely justifiable, fun-to-drive car.
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