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Renault Clio review (2005-2009)
It’s difficult to believe that the Clio is now 15 years old. Over those years it’s been very successful too, Renault’s supermini selling nearly nine million units since it replaced the popular Renault 5.
So the new third generation Clio has a lot to live up to.
New Renault Clio
Fifteen is about the age where we all made some fairly important decisions that ultimately shaped our futures, and much the same is true of the new Clio. The supermini market remains a hugely competitive one, but increasingly it’s under attack from other segments, some of which didn’t even exist when the original Clio was conceived. As a result the Clio needs to diversify to continue the success of previous models. So Renault has made some changes with the new Clio. It’s chosen to make it larger, significantly so, it now being just 22cm shorter than its bigger brother the Megane. In doing so Renault has made the Clio far more spacious inside, the cabin now comfortably fitting four adults and plenty of luggage, too.
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Weight & engines
This growth has also allowed Renault to maximise crash protection, the French maker adding yet another five-star Euro NCAP performer to its range. All that safety and size does come with a weight penalty though, on average the Clio is 130kg more than its predecessor. That’s a fairly hefty weight gain and it’s particularly notable with the lesser-powered, entry-level engines in the line-up. As a result the 75bhp 1.2-litre petrol struggles to pull the Clio along convincingly, needing worked hard to make decent progress. The 98bhp 1.4-litre engine should be more able, and the 111bhp 1.6-litre, which I sampled with a fussy four-speed automatic, provided the Clio with ample performance.
But, as is often the case though these days, it’s the diesel engines that offer the best all-round performance. There are three choices, all 1.5-litre in capacity with differing outputs. While the entry-level 68bhp version might lack the power of the lowliest 1.2-litre petrol, its 160Nm of torque at just 1,700rpm means it offers more torque than even the 1.6-litre petrol engine can muster. That means that although it’s slower on paper the entry-level diesel should be an easier, less frenetic drive. That’s certainly the case with the 86bhp and 106bhp versions of the same engine, their punchy performance from low in the rev range suiting the Clio, giving it ample, and unflustered, rounded performance.
Add official combined economy figures that are at least 12mpg better than their petrol counterparts and the diesel engines make a compelling case for themselves over their petrol counterparts – even if they do command a small premium in price. Opt for the diesels and you’ll not only pay a bit more, but you’ll also hear them more. With them there’s a slight penalty in interior refinement, but it’s only very slight and the driving characteristics and fantastic economy more than make up for it. Otherwise road, engine and wind noise is very well contained, at all speeds the Clio is very refined, giving it a mature, quality feel that was absent in the old car.
New Renault Clio: Interior
Renault has worked hard on the interior materials too, adding to the quality feel with good looking, feelsome plastics and more emphasis on fit and finish. The simple interior design combined with the large glass area makes the cabin feel large and airy, Renault even managing to produce its impressive Euro NCAP figures without giving the Clio the sort of thick A-pillars that often blight new models in this class. The seats are very comfortable, front and rear, the fronts offering good all round support and a new headrest design that’s both easily adjustable and helps prevent whiplash in a rear-end impact. Other safety kit includes enough airbags to re-float a scuttled ship and ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist.
On the road
Impressing on the space and safety front the new Clio also needs to perform on the road and look good, too. Here its new-found maturity shines through. The styling is obviously Clio, but with an edgier line the Clio looks more chunky and expensive than before in both its three or five-door guises. On the road the gearbox, either five or six-speed depending on engine choice, works slickly, the light clutch and well-positioned controls making the Clio an intuitive car to drive. Dynamically the Clio feels more grown up, too, the ride proving first-rate on all but the most broken of surfaces and the body roll contained even when pushing the Clio quite hard through tighter bends.
However if there is a weak link in the Clio’s dynamics it’s the steering. Using a variable rate electric-assisted set up it’s simply too vague around the straight-ahead, with feedback barely improving when off centre. Sadly, it denies the Clio of the sort of enjoyable driving characteristics of some of competition like Ford’s Fiesta or Fiat’s new Grande Punto, robbing it of the on-the-road appeal that made its predecessor so enjoyable. That’s a shame, as otherwise the new Clio is a talented all rounder that’s well equipped and sensibly priced; prices start at £8,895 with it reaching showrooms mid-October. Typically Renault offers it with an utterly bewildering array of trims and options packs.
I’ve been looking over what comes with the Extreme, Expression, Dynamique and Dynamique S trim levels and it’s a far from simple process choosing the ideal specification for your car. Annoyingly, the desirable reach adjustable steering column is only available with the Hands Free Keycard system, which costs £250 – money better spent elsewhere. Overall, and despite the confusing range, the new Clio represents a huge improvement over its predecessor, with the sort of changes that the marketplace demands for continued success.
Fifteen might be a tricky age, but the Clio has matured into a model its Renault parent can be justifiably proud of. Inevitably, though, in growing up the Clio has lost some the youthful character that made the previous model an enjoyable drive. But in every other way it’s demonstrably better.
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