The Clio returns Renault to its roots as a maker of small cars that are fun, frisky and individual. Pretty as a picture and as sporty as you could ask a car of this kind to be, it claims to offer a sense of esprit that’s been recently lacking, not only from its brand but also from the supermini sector as a whole.
It’s some time since we’ve seen a really pleasingly styled little Renault. But that’s exactly what this is, a car that, to quote the styling team, should ‘make people fall in love with Renault again’, longer and wider, sitting lower to the ground and with a longer wheelbase than before. It’s a look they’re incredibly proud of.
‘Simple, sensuous and warm’ were the three design keywords and that’s pretty much what’s been achieved, with voluptuous looks that make you want to reach out and touch curving panels that gather pace around the steeply raked windscreen, culminating with assertive shoulder lines above the front and rear wheelarches. There’s no three-door model, so it’s just as well that the five-door does a good impression of one, coupe-like styling emphasised by hidden rear door handles. So visually and practically, you get the best of both worlds.
In a design has been stretched to create in this car what is arguably now the most spacious supermini in the class, with around 10% more rear legroom than you’ll find in most obvious rivals. Significantly more headroom too, which is impressive bearing in mind the lower roof height.
And at the wheel? Well it’s certainly modern, with shiny, jazzy cabin finishes that grab your attention As for the design itself, there’s yet another dash that’s been sculpted in the shape of an aircraft wing on which is mounted an overtly confident chrome-surrounded instrument cluster dominated by the kind of digital speedo. Equally eye-catching is the consumer electronic-fest that dominates the gloss black-trimmed centre console of all but base models in the form of a tablet-like display that is the 7-inch R-Link colour touchscreen. From here, as well as controlling the stereo and the Tom Tom sat nav, there’s the potential to surf the internet, email, use text-to-speak messaging, download a range of Renault-sourced apps and even get economy driving tips. It’s really very clever indeed.
The rear windows are a little small as their glass area has been reduced this time round for a sportier look, so it can be tricky to see over your shoulder when parking or at junctions. It’s also a bit surprising to find that the cruise control switch isn’t operated in its usual place off the wheel but down by the handbrake. Still, at least behind the wheel all models do get the neat control stalk for the high quality stereo. Not as ergonomic is the placement of the start button as there’s no key needed, a reach away on the left hand side of the centre stack; it hasn’t been moved across to suit the needs of righthand drive users.
Still, all markets will appreciate the practicality of this cabin, with lots of well thought-out stowage spaces dotted around. The tray in front of the gear lever that’s exactly the right size to hold your ‘phone or music player. The 4-litre glovebox. And door bins that can carry a 1. 5-litre bottle.
Efficiency, practicality and safety? All this stuff has been properly addressed here. And as for dynamics? The fun ‘chuckability’ that used to exemplify small Renaults? Yes, you also get that, balanced with the comfort that’s also a Gallic trademark. In terms of the exact balance between the two, it’ll depend a little on your choice between the two most preferable mainstream engines. Go for the light and agile three cylinder TCe petrol variant and there’s extra fun and character. Opt for this diesel and you get a more mature and sensible performer: choose to suit.
This Clio's going to be back on the shortlists of many who would never have previously considered it.
Let’s leave the final words to Renault boss Carlos Ghosn: ‘there’s nothing wrong with any car company that good cars won’t fix’. He’s absolutely right. And so is this Clio.