Is this the best European light car to hit the Australian market?
The arrival of the all-new Renault Clio is the start of a new chapter for Renault in Australia, as the French brand seeks to take on the Japanese and Europeans in the hotly contested light car segment.
The fourth-generation Renault Clio has been a big hit in Europe since it made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year. The French brand hopes the Clio’s contemporary design and European attributes will see it continue the success of the Clio brand, which has seen more than 12 million sales since it launched in 1990.
The new Renault Clio is priced from $16,790 for the entry-level Clio Authentique TCe 90 MT, positioning it $1000 above the Mazda2 and $200 below the Volkswagen Polo Trendline – the two light cars Renault is targeting.
From the outside it’s easy to argue that the new Clio is the best-looking light car on the market. It oozes a French design flair that the conservative Germans and Japanese fail to match. On the road its dynamic proportions and curvy lines help it stand out like Bruce Lee in a sea of Steven Seagals. It’s a car designed for the fashion conscious, which is critical in the light car segment.
Its trump card is that it looks more expensive than it is.
Renault has gone all out to ensure the new Clio is more than just a pretty face, though. It’s the accumulation of Renault’s championship-winning Formula One experience (something neither Volkswagen nor Mazda can match) that has gone into the design of the car’s two engines on offer in Australia.
An 898cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine equipped with stop-start engine technology, which Renault says delivers the performance of a 1.4-litre naturally aspirated engine, starts the range.
That performance and racing experience results in 66kW of power and 135Nm of torque – slightly more than the Polo’s 1.4-litre engine (63kW and 132Nm). It’s also more fuel efficient, at 4.5L/100km, compared with the Polo’s 6.1L/100km. It’s not often the French outdo the Germans for both power and economy with a smaller engine.
The only downside to Renault’s three-cylinder engine is the manual-only option, which is why the 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the mid- and high-spec Clio models is available with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The capacity increase sees the Clio jump up to 88kW and 190Nm of torque – again beating the Polo’s 1.2-litre turbocharged equal by 11kW and 15Nm. Fuel economy is rated at 5.2L/100km, bettering the Polo by 0.3L/100km.
With the raw data out of the way, it’s important to put some perspective on things. While the Clio trumps its German rival on power and efficiency, it’s a different game behind the wheel.
The Renault Clio provides more than adequate pulling power, given its power to weight ratio, but doesn’t match the Polo for off-the-line briskness. Nonetheless, put them next to each other and there’s not much between them in a 0-100km/h dash (Clio at 12.2 and 9.4 seconds vs. Polo at 12.1 and 9.7 seconds for the two variants, respectively).
The 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine coupled to the automatic transmission tends to struggle getting away from the lights, and at times we found it a challenge to perform a simple overtaking manoeuvre as a result. It does improve with a bit of inertia, but there’s certainly no sense of urgency from the Clio’s drivetrain.
Behind the wheel the first thing one notices about the Renault Clio is the high quality interior. Though the plastics are hard and the actual cabin itself is not too different to its competitors, the use of textured plastics and a highly customisable cabin gives the perception that you’re in a luxury European vehicle, rather than a small city car made in Turkey.
The front seats take some adjusting to get comfortable in. The rear provides enough room for two adults, but like all cars in its class, it’s not the ideal place to sit.
There are thousands of very affordable customisation combinations available for the Clio’s interior and exterior (more details in our Clio news story) but just the fact that customers have so much choice in personalisation is a first for the segment and price range.
On the road the new Clio is an incredibly competent little machine. Ride and handling are equal to the best-in-class Polo while the noise intrusion levels are even better. We spent more than two hours in Melbourne traffic and were impressed by the car’s ability to keep out the noise while the stereo system, which makes use of newly designed ‘bass reflex’ speakers, did an impressive job of coupling to our iPhone 5 both via USB and Bluetooth audio streaming.
Perhaps the only critical component of the Clio’s ride and handling characteristics is the steering feel, which is vague at best. There’s no ‘feel’ from the wheel to tell you what the front-wheels are doing. This is a non-issue for a city car, but given just how much better the new performance-orientated Renault Clio RS200 (which comes out early next year) is, we felt this could have been better.
The contentious part of the new Renault Clio is safety. While it received a maximum EuroNCAP rating of five stars and was awarded Best Supermini of 2012, it does miss out on rear curtain airbags, meaning it comes with only four airbags, compared with six or more in most of its competitors.
Renault freely admits that it decided to spend more money on B-pillar sensors that are capable of triggering the side/thorax airbags more quickly in the event of a side impact. This means the safety emphasis is particularly high for the front passengers, but not so much for those in the rear.
That aside, it's hard to fault the Clio for what it is, a stylish and well equipped European city car.
The list of standard equipment makes the mid-spec Clio Expression the best of the lot. For an extra $1,000 over the base model, the addition of a seven-inch touchscreen with two more speakers (up from two to four) and satellite navigation, front and rear foglights, uprated interior trim with leather steering wheel, 16-inch alloys (over 15-inch steel wheels) and body coloured electric door mirrors makes the decision a no brainer.
The lack of an automatic transmission on the base model is likely to see most of the sales go to the mid-spec Expression with a 1.2-litre engine couple to a dual-clutch transmission ($19,790).
Overall, one only needs to look at the overall value equation that the Clio offers. Couple the Clio’s many great facets as a city car to a five-year warranty with fixed priced servicing of $299 per service for the first three years – plus five years of free roadside assistance and it starts to make a lot sense. Renault also offers very competitive finance rates and has recently started doing its own insurance, making the whole purchasing experience a one-stop shop. Not bad, Renault, Not bad at all.
- Renault Clio Authentique TCe 90 MT – $16,790
- Renault Clio Expression TCe 90 MT – $17,790
- Renault Clio Expression TCe 120 EDC – $19,790
- Renault Clio Dynamique TCe 120 EDC – $23,290