The Renault Clio is of course one of the most common supermini examples when asking anyone in Europe about the segment – having started life in the wild 1990s and now already halfway through its fourth generation.
The B segment is hotly contested on the Old Continent, and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon even as B segment crossovers are coming to snatch elements of the audience. While currently we can’t say there are new entries in the segment – unlike models such as the Toyota C-HR, Hyundai Kona, Kia Stonic or the Seat Arona in the crossover department – the Clio does have to face fierce competition. Just think about it – the Ford Fiesta is brand new, the Seat Ibiza as well and the VW Polo has also changed attire. Of course, the Renault Clio is not one of the bottom pack contenders, which is why the French automaker didn’t go for huge modifications when the time came for a midlife cycle refresh back in 2016. It’s important to note the Clio is also the forbearer of the current design language of the French brand – and we can clearly witness the evolution of styling up to the new front end signature showcased by the Megane family, the Talisman or Koleos SUV. The Clio does have lots in common with the Captur subcompact, which hasn’t been tweaked extensively either – as designers only opted for mild enhancements. Fans might argue the design department opted to sit the models out because we’re not far away from the introduction of the new generations – when perhaps we’ll get to see the next evolution of the corporate styling cues.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
The facelifted Clio came with the Initiale Paris flagship trim, which treats the small vehicle to a breath of upscale fresh air, but we still believe the GT Line treatment is the best embodiment of the current generation, here since way back in 2012. That’s because the previous, bulkier Clio was swapped for a nimbler, lowered design which best suits the more aggressive iterations – the GT Line and of course the feisty RS. Those looking to keep things pure can have the GT Line with the manual gearbox – and that’s enough for some, even though they also have to trade off the 200 hp engine. As far as the design is concerned, the first thing popping up – although the design is very much the same as before – is the use of full LED headlights – this version also packing the top of the line LED Pure Vision setup. It arguably makes the Clio look better but the biggest asset is the enhanced safety – the LED system is used for both the dipped and main beam, and the company says it emits 20 percent more powerful light than a halogen setup while also reducing glare. The C-shaped LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) are also present – though they’re not as easy to spot as the ones on the Megane family for example. As such, even with the GT Line treatment, the Clio keeps the discrete demeanor – meaning it’s both usable as a business or family model.
If you think the changes outside are way too subtle – just wait until you get inside. Renault says it has worked out a better quality for the materials, with improved texture, higher visual and tactile quality as well as adding some upscale options. For us, the most obvious changes were the adoption of a slightly modified steering wheel and of a different gear shift knob for the manual version. It looks way better than the old one, but its polished aluminum build is certainly an issue in terms of grip. Renault also notes the superior lateral support for the seats – and as far as the GT Line version is concerned, this is certainly the case. The fourth generation Clio from the start came with a lower, more dynamic stance – and this is put to good use in the GT Line, with low positioning for the seats. In addition, they provide lots of grip thanks to the “bucket seat” design that makes you feel they also belong in the hotter RS. Certainly they’re above the TCe 120’s paygrade – just like the wide exhaust tip that compliments the faux diffuser on the outside in the back. Fear not, though – the GT Line is just as usable on a daily basis as any regular Clio. While the exterior design tweaks and interior elements – such as the aforementioned seats – make you feel ready for the track, along with the suspension setup reworked by the Renault Sport team, the driver and family or co-workers will never feel any compromise. The Clio is just as always, a French model – with lots of style and its own quirks – semi-digital instrument panel or the asymmetrical automatic climate controls that are now shared with certain models from the Dacia range as well. The facelift tweaks are present – the new gear shift bodes extremely well with the blue trim and upholstery stitching. There are new door panels, as well as a visual confirmation of the air conditioning commands on the 7-inch infotainment system. Speaking of, while on the Megane one we found a neat aquarium with fish and other marine life that could be added or subtracted, the navigation system of the Clio had another neat “kids factor”. Sifting through the R-Link settings allowed you to change the arrow on the display in the GPS screen for a number of Renault models – the electric range was there, along with regular models, but so were concepts such as the Dezir or the representatives from the commercial range.
The front sporty seats are great for quick and temperamental drives, but also pleasant when going for a longer trip or facing the ubiquitous urban traffic disaster. They also don’t take up space in the back, which is usable for two adults and a child in between – but go for child seats and two of them will eat up all available space. Fortunately, the family character is enhanced by the available boot space – 300 liters are here thanks to the outside positioning of the spare tire, something we haven’t seen in a while. It does pose a problem when changing the wheel – but so does taking everything out of the trunk just to access the small size spare wheel or worse, tire kit. The design does represent a compromise – the low roof eats up into space for the backseat occupants at the head level. On the other hand, no problem finding the best position for the driver thanks to the low sporty seats – the GT Line remains a driver’s machine even if the Clio fights in the subcompact segment.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
New for the facelifted version, the TCe 120 version got a new six-speed manual transmission, with the Clio family having no less than eleven engine/transmission options to play with. The same engine can be had with the EDC dual clutch automatic – but we’re only recommending that if most, if not all of the Clio’s driving time is done in the urban setting. Other than that, the manual gearbox is very well done and eschews the older versions’ tendency to hang some of the gears – though you shouldn’t expect any sporty behavior from it. Instead, it quickly comes to grips with the TCe engine’s way of sending power – although at the expense of your green card score you need to sometimes ignore the gear shift advisor to get a measure of the engine’s performance. The 1.2 liter turbo, with direct injection and intercooler engine does feel at times under powered even though it officially comes with the 120 hp at 5500 rpm and the 205 Nm of torque from as low as 2000 rpm. The turbo lag is still present – though of course not obvious as you would feel on a larger displacement engine – the power comes smoothly but with a few moments of wait when driving relaxed. Just like any other gasoline engine, to get the most of it you’ll need to rev it closely to the redline.
That’s not going to represent a problem in terms of NVH levels – quite the contrary, I found it annoying that Renault managed to insulate so well the cabin. With the wide exhaust tip at the back you would think some measure of dynamism will be available in the soundtrack – but no, almost nothing. I wasn’t of course expecting the raspy voice of the Clio RS 220 Trophy, but the only times when the Clio voiced its qualities through the exhaust system along with the driveline was after long drives, when the pipes were smokin’ hot. Oh well, no one’s perfect – and with only 120 hp but a very nice and sporty design as well as dynamic suspension setup you would feel in need of at least 150 hp under the hood. The TCe 120 does offer a god compromise – if you’re alone in the car and on a mountain road it’s possible to have fun, while on longer trips it’s going to be economical even when encountering highways. The performance characteristics show that – 9 seconds to 100 km/h and a maximum speed of 199 km/h, with an average fuel economy of 5,3 liters per 100 km – though of course you’re looking at worse figures for the latter in real world conditions. It’s not much worse though – the Clio is playing not only the sporty card with the aerodynamics, but also that of efficiency. The Clio GT Line is a bridge to gap the distance between the regular model and the RS, but due to the high-power difference it’s a narrow one. The steering response, along with the suspension setup will leave you wanting more from the engine as the limits of the chassis are quite far away – an average driver might hit theirs first. Yes, the motorsport implication – all the way up to Formula E and F1 do trickle down even to the smallest representatives.