Tuesday 25 February 2020

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Motors

Big selling Clio makes big market impact

Wednesday, 12th February, 2020 3:59pm

Would you be surprised if I told you that in 2018, Renault Ireland shifted 1,600 Clios?

That’s better than one per cent of the entire car market, all by itself, and that in its run-out year. The Clio has just entered its fifth generation, and since the previous model was launched in 2012, it has pulled off the neat trick of actually increasing its sales each year — most cars see sales tail off as they age.

With 15 million Clios sold since that first ‘Papa, Nicole’ generation back in 1990, there’s a Clio sold at the rate of one a minute, on average. Indeed, only VW’s mighty Golf out-sells it in Europe.

So, as the ever-quotable Ron Burgundy might put it, the Clio is kind of a big deal. It’s now on sale in Ireland, and looking pretty sharp for a car that’s — via those five generations — now into its 31st year on sale.

You can have a choice of two 1.0 litre, three-cylinder engines. One, a naturally-aspirated version, will have 75hp. The other, a turbocharged model, will have 100hp, a 10hp improvement over the old version, and that’s the one that we’re testing here.

Renault claims that consumption and emissions have improved by 10-15 per cent, even though power has increased. There will be a 130hp 1.3 litre turbo petrol too, and an 85hp 1.5 litre dCi diesel, but both will be of minority interest in Ireland.

Will the new RS-Line version also be of minority interest? Probably, because adding the faux-sportiness (some carbon-fibre style trim in the cabin, a styling element in the front bumper meant to ape the look of an F1 car’s front wing) also adds cost, and this is a hugely price sensitive market. Indeed, even with prices going up across the board (thanks to more standard equipment and the strictures of meeting EU emissions regs), prices start just above the €16,000 mark, although our hugely-well-equipped Iconic model pushes that past €22,000 — slightly uncomfortable territory for a Clio.

Still, it’s well equipped. Check out the new central touch-screen. Basic models come with a relatively modest seven-inch version, but ritzy versions get a big 9.3 inch screen (and our car had it fitted as an option), sitting upright like an iPad, which looks great and is better (if only slightly so) to use than Renault’s older R-Link infotainment system. It’s much better to use than R-Link ever was, too, although still not quite as slick at times as some rival systems.

That system includes native Google connectivity, smartphone connections, and the beginnings of Renaults’ autonomous driving systems. The new Clio will, with certain options, be able to take on more of the driving duties itself in traffic (and do a better job of keeping to the middle of its lane than some premium-brand competitors).

Even basic cars will now come with LED headlights, lane-keeping assistant, emergency autonomous braking, and traffic sign recognition.

That interior, more importantly, has also seen a major improvement in quality and design. The last-gen Clio’s cabin felt a distinct step behind what was on offer from, Ford, VW, and Toyota. The new version might actually be a step ahead of all three — it’s that good.

It’s not the most spacious, though. Renault says that it’s found more rear seat space (and the boot is an impressive 391 litres) but the rear compartment feels a touch cramped and the centre rear seat is all-but unusable.

There is also a sense of increasing maturity to the Clio’s driving experience. That’s a good thing in many ways — it’s decently refined, comfort levels are good, and the improved cabin quality makes it feel like a bigger, more expensive car.

Sadly, the steering and handling feel a touch too removed from the action, leaving the Clio — once a by-word for frisky fun and driving enjoyment — feeling a touch too remote.

We’d avoid the 1.3 litre 130hp engine, too. Combined with the seven-speed dual-clutch DCT gearbox, neither component feels entirely happy nor settled.

The gearbox is slow and occasionally awkward, the engine sometimes too noisy, with an unpleasantly harsh edge to its sound. We’d also stay away from the sporty RS-Line trim, as the 17 inch wheels cripple the ride quality.

Our Iconic-spec test car was riding on 16 inch diamond cut alloys which looked fab, and really smoothed out the ride quality (do you really need a larger alloy wheel on what is, after all, an affordable family car?).

We tested it with the updated 1.0 litre 100hp three-cylinder TCe turbo petrol engine. Although (obviously) much less powerful than the 1.3, it’s actually a much nicer engine overall.

It’s smoother and more refined, and while you’re not going to be travelling very quickly (the Clio TCe 100 is around a second slower to 100km/h than the 95hp TSI VW Polo) it’s a more satisfying drive overall.

That’s thanks in large part to the five-speed manual gearbox, which is far more pleasant to use than that awkward DCT automatic. This is definitely the new Clio du jour.

There is a slight sense that, in the application of all the new tech — LED lights, the big touch screen, more and more electronic driver aids — that Renault has moved the Clio a long, long way away from that simple, affordable, roomy, and rugged original.

I guess that’s just inevitable, though, as we demand more and more from our cars. The Clio does, in fairness, deliver — it’s a smooth and relaxing car in which to drive, has excellent refinement, and a really nice cabin.

It’s also — just about — roomy enough that you might not feel the need to upgrade to the Megane. Like we said; it’s a big deal.

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