Although the streets of Australia’s major cities are becoming increasingly congested the demand for small cars such as this week’s review, Renault Clio, has steadily declined, a victim mainly of the growth in sales of compact SUVs.
Despite this there is serious competition within the market segment led by Hyundai Accent, Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris. High comparative pricing meant that Renault Clio has barely registered on the sales radar in recent years. This is a great pity because this stylish little French car has plenty to offer.
The current, fourth generation, Clio has been on sale since 2012 but can still turn heads especially after a mid-2017 facelift that’s given it a stronger look.
More importantly prices have been cut at the same time as extra equipment has been added to significantly improve the value equation.
Clio’s model names have also been re-aligned to match those of other Renault models with the more elaborate names such as Expression and Dynamique being replaced with, in ascending order of price and equipment, Life (from $16,490), Zen ($19,990), Intens ($22,990) and GT-Line ($22,990).
Driveaway prices range from $18,490 to $25,990.
Clio has a slim grille that greatly expands in its centre section to frame the Renault diamond-shaped emblem. The doors are deeply sculpted in their lower areas and the side profile of this five-door has the look of a three-door coupe thanks to concealed handles at the rear. Clio’s rear end flares in slightly at the side to give a muscular look.
Exterior tweaks for 2018 on the entry-level Clio Life include body coloured door mirrors and handles, as well as chrome on the boot lid strip, sill inserts and radiator grille. There’s also a new 16-inch flex wheel design.
Clio Zen sees the addition of Renault’s new-style C-shaped frontal lighting signature including Pure Vision LED headlights, front fog lights with chrome surround, gloss black treatment for the lower rear bumper trim and two-tone 16-inch Pulsize alloy wheels.
The chrome theme continues with window trim added to Clio Intens which has 17-inch Optemic alloys. The sporty GT-Line gets extra bling through a Renault Sport rear spoiler, satin grey door mirrors, front and rear bumper inserts and 17-inch Serdar alloy wheels.
New features inside Renault Clio Life include pushbutton start, automatic dusk-sensing headlights and automatic windscreen wipers with rain sensor, rear view camera, rear parking sensors, rear power windows and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The second-level Zen adds front parking sensors and satellite navigation with voice control.
Intens also gets side parking sensors, hands-free parking, LED cabin lights, eight adjustable passenger’s seat, velvet and artificial leather upholstery, climate control and rear privacy glass.
The GT-Line gets Renault Sport-inspired blue highlights for the upholstery, aluminium sport pedals, GT-Line badging, leather handbrake handle and satin grey for the door mirrors.
Boot size is a reasonable 300 litres and the rear seatbacks fold down flat although they do sit at a higher level to the boot floor. In that position there is 1146 litres of cargo space.
Clio gets the maximum five-start ANCAP safety ratings, it comes with six airbags, stability and traction control, ABS with brakeforce distribution, parking sensors and a reversing camera.
A seven-inch touchscreens is used in all models. Audio systems rise from a basic Classic sound system in the Life and Zen to 3D Arkamys Auditorium system in the Intens and GT-Line which also get the option of Bose premium sound.
The Renault medium navigation system is standard in Zen with Intens and GT-Line getting an R-Link navigation and multimedia system. All have voice control.
Two engines are available, both turbocharged petrol units.
The only variant with a true manual gearbox is the Life with its six ratios mated to a three-cylinder 0.9-litre with 66 kW of power and 135 Nm of torque at 2500.
All other models get Renault’s EDC dual-clutch automated manual and a four-cylinder 1.2-litre turbo-petrol engine producing 88 kW at a low 4800 rpm and an impressive190 Nm of torque from 2000 revs.
Our test car was the 1.2-litre Clio Zen with the six-speed dual clutch transmission. Performance was smooth from start with minimal turbo lag and there were no problems keeping up with traffic. Indeed with its small dimensions and light weight it was sharp and agile as we ventured through the urban territory that most buyers will call home.
There’s enough torque to keep the car in higher gears at relatively low speeds although the EDC automated gearbox isn’t as smooth as some of its competitors can be annoying at very slow speeds. Once away from the city it is much smoother and its changes are almost imperceptible.
While it’s obviously not designed for long-distance touring it showed on the motorway segment of our drive route that it had no trouble keeping up with traffic at 110 km/h – hardly a surprise when you realise that 150 km/h is pretty standard on motorways in its home country.
The Clio’s front seats are comfortable and supportive with instruments and controls that are sensibly located and easy to use.
The rear seats are better suited for teenagers down but can take a couple of adults in reasonable comfort provided that the usual legroom compromise can be agreed upon with front seat occupants. But that applies to every other car in the segment.
Pricing is paramount in cars that are aimed primarily at younger buyers and Renault Clio has suffered badly at the hands of its Japanese and South Korean rivals in this regard.
That’s a real pity because with its head-turning looks and driveability there should be a lot more of them out there on our roads.
The combination of significant price cuts and extra equipment that came with the recent upgrade should now mean that Clio’s outstanding looks, driving enjoyment and five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty really should soon have its competitors looking over their shoulders.
AT A GLANCE
Life 0.9-litre turbo-petrol manual: $16,490 (mrp), $18,490 (driveaway)
Life 1.2-litre turbo-petrol automatic: $18,990 (mrp), $20,990 (driveaway)
Zen 1.2-litre turbo-petrol automatic: $19,990 (mrp), $22,990 (driveaway)
Intens 1.2-litre turbo-petrol automatic: $22,990 (mrp), $25,990 (driveaway)
GT-Line 1.2-litre turbo-petrol automatic: $22,990 (mrp), $25,990 (driveaway)
SPECIFICATIONS (Renault Clio Intens 1.2-litre turbo-petrol five-door hatch)
Capacity: 1.197 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Maximum Power: 88 kW @ 4900 rpm
Maximum Torque: 190 Nm @ 2000 rpm
Fuel Type: Standard unleaded
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 5.6 L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 130 g/km
DRIVELINE: Six-speed automatic dual clutch
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 4063 mm
Wheelbase: 2589 mm
Width: 1732 mm
Height: 1448 mm
Turning Circle: 10.6 metres
Kerb Mass: 1104 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 45 litres
Front: Ventilated Disc
Five years / unlimited kilometres