In seven years of motoring journalism and among the countless long-term test cars I’ve run, never has an engine freed up so well over time as that in the Renault Clio.
As mentioned in my last report, I handed the little 1.2-litre turbocharged automatic hatchback over to a colleague for a 2000km-plus Sydney to Melbourne round trip, which ticked the odometer to just over 6000km.
Some warning lights had come on during the freeway trip home from Melbourne, with a picture message sent from colleague Jin to prove it. But when I saddled back into the freshly washed Clio for the first time since its return, all was well with the car … but perhaps a little too well.
Barely 500 metres from the office, I wondered if the Clio Expression Tce120 had been tuned while it was away – it feels incredibly toey off the line now, punchier through the mid range, and properly free-revving rather than breathless up top.
One of the few criticisms of this Clio – and the reason it meant I liked it rather than loved it – came down to the engine and transmission. The four-cylinder turbocharged unit was a bit characterless and flat, the six-speed dual-clutch automatic slow off the line and ditzy when deciding on a gear. Now, I realise, the engine’s lag was compounding the auto’s doughy reluctance off the line, because the two partners are finally working in sync.
Jin owns a modified Honda Accord Euro, so did he perhaps have an under-bonnet fiddle in response to the same frustrations? Did the warning lights kick in because the Clio was ‘overboosting’?
Jokes aside, Renault actually says the service-check and stability control warning lights came on because the diagnostic system stored a brake switch fault. This had nothing to do with the brakes themselves, but rather a communication glitch between computer and the brake switch.
Whatever, ‘my’ grey guy now shines a lot brighter on the road, with the sort of pep and enthusiasm for which I love in light cars. Another colleague, Alborz, scolded me on my personal Facebook page for posting a pic of the Clio following a return from a work trip to Japan that read – “Great to have my baby back. And great to be back to good cafes - only Italy can surpass Aus for great coffee. Had withdrawals in Tokyo!”
Trouble was, I also had a Nissan GT-R Black in the driveway that weekend. But trying to find a parking spot for that within cooee of an inner-city café really is a bit like Godzilla squeezing into a one-bedroom apartment.
Whether pounding over appallingly wrinkled pavement common to the City of Sydney or mincing speed humps, the Renault’s suspension tune is always lovely. The steering, while a bit vacant in the first movement off centre, is quick to turn in yet progressive and feelsome, too. In short, it’s always a pleasure to drive this car … often much more so than high-priced exotics.
So what did Jin think of the Clio over the Melbourne trip?
“I was a little worried about driving it down to Melbourne and thought it would struggle at 100km/h-plus,” he admitted. “But to my surprise the engine sat at 2500rpm and consumed barely any fuel.
“On the freeway, it did struggle a little to overtake at higher speeds, but it was very manageable.”
For the trip down, two fills saw consumption of 8.0L/100km and 7.3L/100km, versus trip computer claims of 6.7L/100km and 6.5L/100km respectively, rising to 9.3L/100km on the return leg when the warning lights activated – the trip computer was still reading 6.7L/100km. Only once did the Clio reach 602km on a single tank.
“I didn't find the car that pretty to look at initially, but by the end of the trip I had caught myself looking at the reflection of the car in shop windows numerous times,” Jin added. “I think this makes a great little city car, with the ability to take on long distance drives with modern features to match.”
Jin also liked the intuitive media interface with the ability to skip songs on his phone-run app Spotify via the Clio's touchscreen. The display also shows a complete iPod playlist which is handy, he told, and the navigation system was rated as "very user friendly."
The ability to do most parking in a single manoeuvre, with great visibility the whole way around, was mentioned as another positive, although there are no rear parking sensors or a reverse-view camera.
At the top of the dislikes list are the too-light steering (we had a bit of a punch-up over this), auto wipers that take too long to engage, and a fuel gauge that sits at full for a while, then drops drastically, which is especially an issue, Jin correctly asserted, on the freeway with such large gaps between petrol stations.
A note I was going to raise in this issue was what Jin calls the ‘babycino’ sized cupholders – they don’t fit 600mL bottles, relegating them awkwardly to the door pockets.
He also mentioned – unprompted – that the Clio was sluggish off the mark “particularly with a full load”, and felt breathless at higher revs.
Just as the grey Renault Clio Expression Tce120 is hitting its stride, however, it has gone back to its maker. We’re swapping into a white Tce90 for the next three months, the five-speed manual version of the Clio that trades 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo for 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbo for $2000 less.
Having sampled this configuration at the Clio’s international launch in September 2011, it could well be the sweet spot in the range. Actually, given the four-cylinder’s newfound grunt, it is pretty hard to beat for sweetness now.
Finally, in the last days of ownership, I loved it.
Renault Clio Expression TCe120
Date acquired: November 2013
Odometer reading: 6002km
Travel this month: 2407km
Consumption this month: 8.1L/100km
Renault Clio Review: Long-term report one
Renault Clio Review: Long-term report one