Overall rating: 4/5
The fourth generation Renault Clio arrives in Ireland with a brave new face, plenty of space, efficient engines and a remit to be one of the top three selling cars in its class. It's arguably Renault's most important new car in an age. Can it bear the weight of expectation?
In the Metal:
We can't deny that the Renault Clio is now one of the most striking cars in its class. It's interesting that Renault has adopted a distinctly masculine, aggressive expression for the 'face' of the hatchback while Peugeot is adamant that its buyers want the opposite. The Clio is also larger than before (though significantly lower), as Renault reckons there are more downsizers from the C-segment than there are 'upsizers' from the A class. We like the Clio's style - in particular the DeZir concept car inspired grille, headlight and oversized badge layout at the front and the haunches at the back. Official word is that there'll be no three-door version, which explains the 'hiding' of the rear door handles in the C-pillar.
There's plenty of headroom and legroom in the Clio, even if there's still a deficit of elbow space. There's been a distinct improvement in the tactility of the switchgear and all of the plastics are textured now as well, though the door cards are still a little hard in places. Nonetheless, it's an attractive cabin, especially when the R-Link satnav and infotainment system is fitted. The chromed instruments appear a little over stylised at first, with a huge fuel gauge and the digital speedometer sited centrally, but they work well at a glance and the impression is of a thoroughly contemporary car. Buyers of the Dynamique trim level can choose from four different interior colour themes, which really brighten things up.
The Clio's driving position is pretty sound, if a little high-up for some drivers. Visibility seems fine on the move, though the A-pillars are quite thick and the rear window looks small from the outside. The steering offers plenty of feel for an electrically assisted system and is well-weighted. It's relatively direct too, helping the Clio feel agile.
Direction changes are rapid and fuss-free, and if you push a little too hard into a corner the front tyres scrub off the excess speed in mild understeer. Body control is exceptional, which, combined with a little too much firmness on broken surfaces for our liking, leads us to suspect that the Dynamique test car featured suspension tweaks.
The turbocharged 0.9-litre petrol engine is new and it should be a cracking option. It produces a useful 90hp and 135Nm of torque, while emitting only 104g/km (some markets get a 99g/km variant) though it's not without its foibles. When cold there's a distinct vibration through the car, though this soon disappears and on the move it's relatively muted. That's especially true at motorway speeds, when the engine is all but inaudible. A high fifth gear no doubt helps with that, though the downside is that, on hilly roads, you find yourself reaching for the gear lever all too often to drop a ratio. It's too easy to let the engine fall out of its sweet spot. We reckon the particularly mountainous route did it no favours, but it's worth bearing in mind. Otherwise it's an eager performer with bags of personality.
What you get for your Money:
Irish buyers can initially choose from three engines and three trim levels, though Renault Ireland remains tight-lipped on the actual pricing ahead of the car's official launch later this month. The base model is powered by the current 1.2-litre petrol engine, producing 75hp. Next up is the 0.9-litre TCe unit tested here, with 104g/km emissions; and at the top of the line-up will be an incredibly efficient (83g/km) 1.5-litre dCi diesel, producing 90hp.
The entry-level Expression model will feature Bluetooth, USB and aux-in connectivity, electric front windows, LED daytime running lights, keyless entry and start and cruise control. Renault Ireland expects 50 per cent of customers to go for Dynamique, as there'll be a sizable jump up in terms of equipment. Along with standard satnav it's expected that it will come with alloy wheels and air conditioning. The top model (until the arrival of the Renaultsport version) will be the R-Link, named after its high-tech satnav and infotainment system.
We really like the look of the new Renault Clio Estate, but sadly it appears that the right-hand drive market is too small to make it feasible. However, there's no doubt that the Renaultsport Clio will be sold in these parts soon and we can't wait to try it out for ourselves. We've not even put off by the fact that it's turbocharged, only comes as a five-door and has an automatic gearbox... Another engine to be paired with the dual-clutch automatic transmission is a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol unit producing 120hp and 190Nm of torque. Renault Ireland has yet to make a decision on whether this will be offered for sale.
Style alone will sell the new Renault Clio; it's undeniably a cracking looking car. It retains its core strengths of space and value (based on our estimation of the price) while becoming more efficient than ever. New connectivity and customisation options enhance its appeal further. The Fiesta and Yaris certainly have a fight on their hands.