Recommended. After years in the doldrums, Renault comes up with a properly competitive small car. It is a bit bigger and more comfort-oriented than a Fiesta, which makes it an interesting alternative.
Tested: April 2013
The Clio had slipped a long way since the days of Thierry Henry advertising 'Va Va Voom', and the new Clio is intended to get the Clio right back into contention. In truth, the Clio of 10 years ago was never the Thierry Henry of the car world, but this one is a much more plausible contender.
It certainly needs to be - Renault sales in Britain have been doing a fair impression of Austin Rover in recent years, and the Clio is the only model that has the clout to pull the company out of its tailspin. Hence Renault has pulled out all the stops to make the fourth generation Clio as attractive as anything in the class.
The first impression is that the styling is decades ahead of its predecessor. The scallops along the bottom of the doors add visual interest (and possibly a slight reminder of a Ferrari) and disguise the fact that this is a surprisingly large car. Available only as a five door (the rear door handles are disguised to make it look more like a three door), it is one of the largest superminis you can buy. The idea is that people could downsize from a Golf-sized car into the Clio without feeling cramped.
Such people would not be disappointed by the driving experience. The Clio feels a very grown-up supermini - it is all about comfort and refinement, rather than tearing down country lanes at maximum attack (there will be a RenaultSport version to meet that need). At first, it seems a bit too comfort orientated, as the steering appears to have almost no weight or feel. However, beyond town speeds, it becomes appreciably heavier and combines with fluid handling to offer decent driving satisfaction. Meanwhile, those in the back will certainly be happy with the slight bias towards comfort: this is a supermini that can take four adults on a long journey without a strain.
But what of the elephant in the room - Renault's dire reputation for reliability? With a brand new car, it is impossible to be certain, but we know that Renault's warranty claims have been falling sharply for about five years now. It does seem that the company has learned its lesson from disasters like the previous-generation Megane and Laguna, and quality now seem to be competitive. The bad news is that fact will probably take another five years to percolate into the public consciousness.
In the meantime, we are happy to welcome back Renault to the top tier of small cars. Along with Fiat, they invented the modern supermini, and it is about time they proved they can make a truly competitive model.
All the engines are competitive, but we would suggest going for the brand-new 1.2 TCe. In eco2 form, it gets down to 99 g/km, which makes the diesel option superfluous for most people. However, the standard 1.2 TCe is 104g/km.
At first, the super-light steering and soft-ish suspension suggest a total lack of interest in handling. However, at higher speeds, the steering weights up nicely and the handling/ride balance turns out to be very good. It is set a bit closer towards comfort than a Fiesta, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
It is quiet, spacious and has a comfortable ride, so there are not many more comfortable superminis out there.
Buying a Renault might seem like marrying a reformed axe-murderer, but Renault has learned its lesson the hard way. Quality is now much improved and is competitive with its major rivals. However, the quality of cabin materials is only average: Renault could have tried a bit harder here.
As with many of the latest superminis, the mainstream Clios come with three levels of performance: traditional petrol (low cost but slower and thirstier), modern turbo petrol (refined, quick-ish and economical), or diesel. However, the 1.2 petrol turbo still only has 90 bhp, which is not great.
It has as much space as you can get in a conventional supermini. If you need more room, you are going to have to get something taller (like a B-Max) or longer (like a Megane).
These should be appreciably lower than the outgoing model. The new one looks like it will be more reliable and the resale values should be better.
Renault is trying hard not to give the Clio away - it wants to sell the car on its merits, not on its discount. It also wants clear space between the Clio and the cheaper Dacias.
Renault has always been hot on consumer electronics, so it is no surprise that sat-nav features prominently. All systems work well, and have a modern look and feel to them - Renault has clearly taken a good look at smartphone design.