The French automaker Renault owes a great deal to its subcompact Clio model, largely credited by fans and critics alike with restoring the company’s status after some hard years – and each generation has been held as a standard for the models to come afterwards, even if they were larger.
Clio for sure deserves its reputation as a supermini, produced by the French since 1990 and now in its fourth generation as of 2012. The Clio IV is now a well known entry in the segment, and being three years old it’s coming closer to the moment when the automaker will reveal a mid-life refresh. But before that happens customers can easily reshape the appearance of the model – just see the local online configurator and you’ll see there’s a myriad of opportunities. And there’s a reason for that – the Clio has a major internal competitor – the Captur crossover, which is the top-selling model in its segment. Personality has never been a downside of the French model though, having been voted twice as the European Car of the Year (1991 and 2006) – the only one of two cars to hold that distinction, alongside the Volkswagen Golf. Speaking of chameleonic opportunities, our review unit was fitted with the GT Line accessory pack, which infused it with a different look from the regular model, just like it’s the case with its larger, compact brethren, the Megane.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
Introduced way back (in terms of auto industry standards) at the 2012 Paris Motor Show, Clio carries the new design language promoted internally, which has been very successful so far – yielding the aforementioned Captur crossover that quickly rose to the top of its class. The Clio still remains highly contemporary, especially in its hatchback body version – although I’m a family man I never could say the Estate has grown in my eyes. But the hatch features all the design elements that make up a Renault today – from the front end with large surface headlamps to the very prominent logo and swept, flowing lines that make it look even more dynamic than it actually is.
The GT Line pack comes to provide us with a very different looking Clio than a normal variant – onlookers were even confused as to wondering whether we had an updated model on our hands. The differences are rather major, indeed – there are numerous gray plastic stripping all around the body and the front bumper has been completely redesigned. At the back, in a sporty stance that is actually rather in contrast with the engine and transmission setup, we were treated to a diffuser and sports exhaust tip. The pack, which is not overly costly (400 euros) will add a touch of personality to the Clio, even if its main function remains unchanged – it’s a subcompact family car, and does a great job at handling its task. But then a touch of personality never hurt.
Inside the cabin the situation has remained the same as it was when the Clio was launched, and this is where the model shows its age a little bit. Still, the idea of personalization carries to the interior, as the outside color is mirrored on the seats, doors and top part of the dashboard – hello French customization and goodbye German-style seriousness and boredom. The Clio has always been a testament of style and elegance for the French automaker, with the level of quality as high as possible in the class. While there are still numerous areas of black, hard plastic, they’re well balanced by the ones that feature a pleasant to touch, soft fabric (generally the areas highlighted by the body color). Since it was presented, the fourth generation Clio was noted for its overall increase in dimensions, which were significant in one particular area – the wheelbase, standing at 2,589 mm is very close to what compact models have to offer. Particularly, that means ample front and back space – the front seats are generous in dimensions, meaning even longer trips would be handled with ease.
The seats also offer enough lateral support, even though – as you’ll see later on – sportiness is not one of the car’s major traits. In the back, three adults will have enough space in case of a short commute; while for longer trips the best setup is to have just four persons on board. There’s enough leg and lateral room in the back, while headspace is a little on the “short” side because of the sloping roofline. The boot falls in line with the other models in the class, with our test version also featuring a 60/40 rear split bench and Isofix mounts for a child seat – meaning families will have nothing to complaint when planning a trip. There’s one small mishap – the hatch door is not overly generous in terms of dimensions, so the working area to fill that boot will call for a “manly” approach as the load threshold is relatively high.
Today’s cars are all about connectivity – and the Clio comes well prepared to handle that. From the get go, you have the Media Nav infotainment system that includes a seven inch touchscreen display to handle all the duties. Additionally you can get the RLink that adds enhanced connectivity features, including applications – the system is based on Android and supplemented with Tom Tom features. A younger audience is targeted in terms of gadgets – you’ll have no reasons to complain about not being able to hook the smartphone to the car and the ergonomics are great, as always. The display with touchscreen handles all infotainment duties, the climate control area is easy to understand and most of other driving controls are located in the steering wheel area.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
The engine that is under the hood falls in the “old and trusty” category, with a twist. It’s the well known 1.5 dCi that Renault has been using for years, although the automaker continues to improve its characteristics each passing year. So, the powertrain we got consists of the absolute top of the line in the diesel line-up – the Energy dCi with 90 horsepower, mated to the double-clutch six speed automatic transmission, the EDC. With 90 hp and 220 Nm at 1750 rpm the Clio will reach in 12,9 seconds the usual speed of 100 km/h (62 mph) and then top out at 178 km/h. The setup, although subcompact cars are primarily city dwellers, enables the Clio to be an all-rounder. It’s optimally prepared to handle today’s crowded metropolis – you’ll never feel tired because of the comfort provided by the EDC transmission. And in turn, while it won’t grab any drag racing records, the power and torque characteristics will enable longer journeys. Indeed, while most small cars show their weakness when it comes to highway driving speeds, the Clio didn’t break a sweat, posting very reasonable passing skills and fuel economy even at speeds of 130 – 140 km/h, which are usually anyway the top end of EU limits.
The only regret in terms of city driving was that paring the EDC gearbox meant losing the Start&Stop system you would get using the manual transmission – but here personal choice is crucial, you either want added comfort or added fuel economy. When it comes to the age of the engine I was only reminded of it when using all its power in kick-in situations, as the noise higher up the rev counter is typical of a diesel. Those continuous improvements nailed the comfort aspect in turn – there are no tremors in any driving situation and the diesel’s growl in one case was spectacularly put to good use: when flooring the pedal in passing situations the exhaust finally sang its tune and delivered a sporty atmosphere for a few moments. The consumption shown by the official figures is, as always, out of reach in real life usage scenarios, but using the Eco button and a relaxed driving style you could easily approach the average figure of 3,7 liter. Naturally, mixing up city driving with highway trips would get you way off – we finished the review with an average of 5,7 liters.
The Clio in this particular case is a showoff – it has the looks of a sporty, toned down RS version – but the driving pattern is akin to a very relaxed, comfortable family member. The steering is not very light and gives a good feedback, but the suspension setup will show you it has been built to safely get you and your companions to the destination – any dynamic ideas should be left to the proper RS model, with its 200 hp and Renault Sport tuned architecture. The rolling motion is easily identifiable when attacking in a sporty manner the bends and while easily controllable the car will give you every major hint it’s not in its element. Safety is nothing to fret about, as we all know Renault’s reputation in this department. Offering a comfortable ride and a spacious interior, coupled with the latest connectivity features and getting a diesel engine and an automated transmission do come at a price – and adding the optional features will get you to a rather costly bill – but this is the case when you select the top end of the line.
Pro: interior space, especially for just four persons. The ride is quiet and comfortable and the Clio is an excellent all-rounder in the subcompact class. Design is still relevant and easy to personalize thanks to the available optional packs. Engine and gearbox make a perfect fit for families that don’t use exclusively the car inside the city.
Against: engine noise when accelerating shows the dCi is aging. The lack of Start/Stop impedes city fuel economy. In this “flagship” configuration the Clio is near or in line with lesser equipped compact cars.
Starting price – Renault Clio 1,5 dCi 75 Life – 9,975 EUR
Tested Car – Renault Clio 1,5 dCi 90 EDC – 13,325 EUR/ w. optional – 15, 625 EUR
Engine: 1.5L four cylinder, diesel, direct injection, turbo, intercooler (1461 cc)
Power: 90 HP (66 kW) at 4000 rpm
Torque: 220 Nm at 1,750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, double clutch
Dimensions: length – 4,062 mm, width – 1,732 mm, height – 1,448 mm, wheelbase – 2,589 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 45L
Trunk Capacity: 300 / 1146 liters
0 – 100 km/h: 12,9s
Top Speed: 178 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 4,3L/100 km, highway – 3,3L/100 km, average – 3,7L/100 km
Rating: 3.9 / 5