2013 RENAULT CLIO REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Light five-door hatch
Price: $17,790 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 66kW/135Nm 3cyl turbo petrol | 5spd manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.5 l/100km | tested: 7.1 l/100km
Road testing the econo-boxes in the light car segment can sometimes be a bit of a chore: more than one or two are buzzy, underpowered and cheaply finished.
But Renault’s thoroughly competent new Clio hatch is different - this one has what it takes to take the game up to the established brands.
Well-finished, surprisingly refined and appealingly styled, it's certainly good enough. Of course, there's a caveat: can Renault get the word out?
We stepped into the mid-spec Expression for this review. At $17,790 it sits above the price leader in the range, the $16,790 Authentique, but is still very keenly priced.
For a few more dollars - another $2k - it can be specified with a 1.2 litre turbo four-cylinder automatic. We opted for the 0.9 litre three-cylinder tied to the five-speed manual.
Quality: Want to know that the Clio does that will most upset its competitors? You’ll find it here. The interior of this car is an absolute masterstroke, complete with finishes that put Audi’s A1 on notice.
It's really smart. Throughout are soft-touch plastics, geometric-patterned vinyl coverings, lashings of chrome, and rich piano-black embellishments.
We found a couple of creaks and noises, but, for the money, an interior of this quality is rare (you have to go to the Polo to find a better one).
Comfort: It’s also hard to fault the level of comfort on offer. Priority is given to front seats, with plenty of fore-aft adjustment and a finely adjustable recline mechanism.
Lumbar support is light-on though and in the Expression there’s no centre armrest.
A car full of fun-seekers of average height (say 5’9”) will fit in happily, front and back, but put anyone taller up front and rear-seat legroom can be tight.
The up-swept rear glass doesn’t favour those of short stature, the hipline on the rear doors is a bit high.
For the driver, over the shoulder vision is also hampered thanks to tiny windows and massive pillars.
Equipment: Among the Expression’s standard armoury are gloss black interior trims, leather-wrapped wheel and gear knob, steering column mounted audio controls, cruise control, smart card keyless entry, front and rear fog lights, manual air conditioning, front power windows, powered mirrors and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Audio is provided by four-speaker Arkamys audio incorporating CD, radio, Aux and USB inputs as well as Bluetooth telephone and audio connection and satellite navigation. The touchscreen interface is a dream to use, simple and lag-free, but the Bluetooth connection stuttered constantly, making it infuriating to use.
Storage: Boot space measures a healthy 300 litres with the seats up, and, although the loading lip is high, the boot floor is deep and the lower opening quite wide.
Tip the 60:40 split seatback forward and up to 1146 litres of space is unlocked.
Around the cabin are deep front door pockets, a generous compartment at the bottom of the centre stack and plenty of cup holders, although they’re all on the small side.
An open shelf above the glovebox is just the thing to hold phones, wallets and MP3 players, but the glovebox is tiny.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Think light cars, think city. Keep this in mind and the Clio is a joy.
On paper the 898cc (yep, 0.9-litres) engine yields a rather pedestrian 66kw at 5250rpm and 135Nm at 2500rpm. For comparison, Ford’s EcoBoost triple pulls 92Kw and 170Nm.
But in practice the Clio has just the right amount of zest. It can get away from the lights smartly, and thrives on being wrung out before slotting into the next gear.
To extract the best out of this package, it needs some tough love - to keep pace with traffic you’ll need to be liberal with the throttle.
The gearshift itself is light and easy-to-use, with just a little vagueness, but a shortish throw.
It’s a shame however that the clutch is so titchy, with a very limited bite-patch located at the very of the pedal travel. Novice driver’s beware.
Giving it a week of curry netted us 7.1 l/100km on our city-biased test; a way off the claimed 5.6 l/100km urban figure (or 4.5l/100km combined) but still not too painful.
Refinement: Three-cylinder engines of the past haven’t always ticked the refinement box, but no such fears with this unit. It keeps the distinctive, thrummy, off-beat triple growl but does so without harsh noise or vibration.
Out of town and on the highway there is surprisingly little tyre roar or wind noise. Just a bit of engine accompaniment at 100km/h but certainly nothing raucous.
Ride and Handling: As expected in this class, front suspension is via MacPherson struts with a rear torsion beam. Comfort over pock-marked, train-tracked, cobble-stoned and patchworked city streets is top notch.
The Clio is quite fond of a corner too. There’s a bit of roll through bends, but otherwise it has an eager and grippy enthusiasm for a winding road.
The soft ride can become a little 'wallowy' on the highway however. Combined with electric power steering that’s imprecise just off centre, it was enough to trigger carsickness in this hardened reviewer.
Braking: Sticking to the class norms again, up front are 258mm discs with drums at the rear. Not the greatest technical specification, but no trouble stopping the lightweight Clio.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - this model scored 35.87 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Dual front and dual side/head airbags are standard, as are anti-submarining seats, load-limiting front belt tensioners with height adjustment and adjustable head restraints for all seats.
Stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution and ABS brakes are also standard.
Important to note: front head airbag is an extension of the side bag. Curtain airbags are not available in the Clio range, despite this Euro NCAP determined the Clio to be the safest car in the light-car class when tested in 2012.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: five years/unlimited kilometres (for private buyers) with five years free roadside assist.
Service costs: Service intervals are set every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever occurs first). Capped price servicing is available at $299 per service. Terms and exclusions may apply, consult your Renault dealer for more info.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Volkswagen Polo Trendline ($16,990) - To save a few pennies you could opt for the entry level Polo. It is every bit as bland as the Clio is avantgarde, but it boasts an appealing, simple, well-finished interior.
The equipment list is quite a bit shorter, and the base engine lacks fizz - but it is still good motoring for the money. (see Polo reviews)
Kia Rio Si ($18,990) - Spend a few extra pennies and the Rio Si offers a touch more space and quite a bit more power. It isn’t as customisable as the Clio but is solidly built and strongly equipped.
On the road it carries more pace, and offers greater comfort for out-of-town jaunts. (see Rio reviews)
Ford Fiesta Trend ($17,825) - We like the Fiesta here at TMR, it offers good handling and is a well-rounded city package. It is such fun to drive, but the interior in particular is trounced by the Clio.
We’d like a more willing engine, that’ll come with the 1.0 litre EcoBoost Sport arriving soon. The Fiesta however remains one of the standouts. (see Fiesta reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If the city is your playground and style is your domain, then the Clio is hard to pass by.
Its bright colour-palette looks like a concept car brought to life, it can really sit apart in a crowded carpark.
And, nicely finished inside and out, as well as fun to row the little three-cylinder turbo around, the appeal is more than skin deep.
It makes practical sense too: the Clio is bigger inside than most in the segment but easy to shuffle around tight streets and laneways.
It's not perfect, it's a little soft on the highway, but is head and shoulders above most others in the segment.
Add a strong features list and Renault's surprising Clio is certainly good-value buying.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Clio Authentique TCe 90 - manual - $16,790
- Clio Expression TCe 90 - manual - $17,790
- Clio Expression TCe 120 - EDC auto - $19,790
- Clio Dynamique TCe 120 - EDC auto - $23,290