Can Renault’s new Clio live up to its star-of-the-show billing?
Excellent cabin a big step forward — and a sweet drive — but small items irritate
I'm often amused at the way masters of ceremonies and TV presenters say their next guest needs no introduction - and then proceed to give a detailed history of the imminent arrival's seed, breed, generation, achievements and topicality.
I feel you could accuse me of doing something similar when it comes to this week's review car. The chances are you know a fair bit about it already because thousands of you have bought the preceding model and, I expect, have monitored the arrival of the new version with some interest.
I feel justified in doing so, however, because while the name is the same, the core car has changed. Mostly for the better; a bit for the worse.
It has been bought at the rate of one a minute for the past 30 years. Its big rivals include the Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo. And it's just arrived.
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Now Renault expect a warm welcome for the new Clio five-door that as many as 2,000 of you are expected to buy next year.
I'll forgive you for looking at the picture a second time because they haven't really wrought many changes to the exterior. A bit of nip and tuck here and there, and a little piece of stylistic tinkering front and back, etc.
Not that it matters too much either, but it is now marginally shorter as well.
It is only when you slip inside that you get a sense of why Renault are making such a fuss about it.
My high-level RS Line version was smartly decked out, but even in more ordinary décor, there is no denying they have greatly improved the design of the cabin and materials. This is, after all, where you spend your time on the good and bad days (I had a sample of each in the course of my drives).
I often think we overlook how an interior of this calibre can give you a little bit of a lift on a wet morning. Lord, when I think of what passed for décor a few years back - great slabs of drab plastic - I shudder to think what sort of reception it would get today.
But sometimes Renault, like all carmakers, overcook things. I think, for starters, they need to do something with the workings of the boot lid. It's too feckity and got me wet, stooping down to bumper depth for the button. And while I'm at the nitpicking... could you manage to make a different ignition 'key' please? The current one is far too big to be dragging around. Now, aren't they small cribs in the overall scheme of things? Yes, but not when they happen day in, day out. It would drive me mad.
On the positive side, when you do get the boot open, there's a bit more room (now 391 litres). And there was good overall space when I dropped the rear seats.
My RS Line model had a good display, especially the satnav part of the touchscreen interface.
You pay for what you get in the general infotainment area these days. My advice is: go for a good mid-spec level with decent-sized screens that look like they were designed to be there, not like some stuck-on afterthoughts which blight some cars. The Clio's, with the larger screen, was clear and easy to use. That's important as it lowers distraction.
And then there are the myriad elements you don't see: the engineering underpinnings and mechanicals.
This is the first Renault built on the new platform. The impact of the modern structure is a noticeable upgrade, and improvement, in handling and ride. It also helps knock up to 50kg off the overall weight: the equivalent of a young passenger.
I found it to be a sweet driving motor, particularly nice around town; big enough for four adults but small enough to tuck into tight parking slots.
However, I would have preferred a much heavier feel to the steering. It was too light for me on longer drives, which is a real pity and would be a factor in my final decision making.
The 100bhp 1-litre 3cyl turbo petrol engine I had on test had a right decent stream of power to it. Realistically it's more than you need. There is a 75bhp naturally aspirated version that might suit most owners, second-car families, etc, a bit better. But I won't deny it was nice to have that extra bit of pep.
Would I buy it? Yes, for most elements; no for that vague steering and the feckity bits mentioned. But the pros far outweigh the cons so it's a yes overall. I reckon it lives up to most of its billing.
Facts & Figures
5dr RS Line:
TCe 100 petrol, €200 tax. Standard: 15in steel wheels, LED DLRS, electric/heated mirrors/front windows, lane-keep assist/warning, cruise control, air con, voice recognition. Additional: RS Line interior pack, 17in alloys, auto lights, rear-view camera, front park sensors, Easylink 9.3in screen/nav. Extras: 'Floating console' charger, spare wheel. From €16,990, RS line: €22,190, with options: €23,465