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Having been big fans of the pre-facelift Renault Clio RS during our long-term ownership, the recent Renault Clio update piqued our interest. It’s not a car that immediately springs to mind as the forefront of the light car segment, but nonetheless it’s a stylish left-of-field option which manages to pack a fair bit of kit.
The Renault Clio Zen sits about mid-pack within the Clio line-up, priced above the entry Life but below the GT-line and Intens. Priced from $19,990 (before on-road costs), the model includes a bunch of standard equipment with the only options being metallic paint ($550) and a panoramic sunroof ($1000).
Some of the hallmarks for the Zen include the range’s new C-shaped LED headlights, gloss black trimmings alongside the skirts and rear bumper, front parking sensors and a 16-inch two-tone alloy wheel design – all additions which highlight the extent of the facelift without having to step up to the top-spec GT-line or Intens.
While inside, the update includes features like rear-view camera and sensors, keyless entry and engine start, auto wipers and headlights, Renault’s navigation media system and a six-speaker sound system.
When played against its competitors in the light car segment, the Renault puts forward a substantial argument on style and substance. It’s priced within $1000 of the Kia Rio S ($19,090), Honda Jazz VTi-S ($19,790) but arguably (at least to this reviewer), its closest competitor is the Mazda 2 Maxx ($19,790).
Both trade punches over a similarly specified list of standard kit, the Renault winning out on long-term warranty (five years versus the Mazda’s three) and satellite navigation where the Mazda only just inches out the Renault on initial price outlay and safety equipment like city-based autonomous emergency braking.
One aspect of the Renault you might find attractive against others in the segment is its turbocharged 1.2-litre, four-cylinder engine. It’s one of the only turbocharged units in the range and outputs a class-leading 88kW and 190Nm of torque at 4900rpm and 2000rpm, respectively. The Zen’s engine is mated only to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Inside, you’re presented with traditional French functionality and ergonomics with highlights arguably the three-stop-shop for managing cruise control, and the steering-column mounted media controller, right where you’d insert the key if it wasn’t push-start.
Overall though, it’s a pretty standard interior to spend your time in, neither offending or disappointing. There are less frills than you’d expect from the French brand’s update considering the stylish tweaks to the exterior, but that said it’s functional once you get to know it. And they’ve made the best of hard plastics by providing interesting textures to feel.
On first impression, the cloth front seats are nothing special in terms of comfort, however throughout the week and on a couple long trips around Victoria, we find they provide good lateral support for the front passengers. Renault sure knows how to bolster its front pews.
There are just the right amount of toys to enjoy within the 7.0-inch infotainment system, with navigation, eco displays and voice control over your Bluetooth-paired phone. It’s basically set out and fine to use, but we wish there was a dedicated home-screen button next to the screen for quick navigation of menus. Keep in mind though, that this is not Renault’s R-Link system.
For stepping up from the base model, you receive a nice six-speaker sound system including two tweeters situated right in the corners of the windscreen. It’s actually a decent stereo with a nice amount of bass and clarity, whether the audio is coming from the radio or your Bluetooth audio streaming.
As mentioned, you might be a little surprised by the media toggle mounted to the steering column. Yet after learning the basics of the controller, it made changing radio stations, volume and playback source very simple and you’re able to sneakily do it without passengers noticing.
Likewise, the digital speed readout is also simple and easy to refer to – even at a quick glance.
At hand is a small amount of storage, with coin trays and two tiny cupholders in the centre console and a small bin in front of the leather gear shifter. There’s also a shallow shelf inset in the passenger’s dash and a small sized glovebox along with narrow door pockets. And there’s a credit card-sized slot for the credit card-styled key fob – we really question Renault’s insistence on keeping this key.
Go back a row, and the story is the same. There are two map pockets and that’s pretty much the only spot to store your items. Funnily enough, there’s no rear illumination for those maps, though.
Talking passenger space in the second row, there’s enough room for most people providing the trip isn’t too far. There’s space for your feet and headroom isn’t so bad even for taller folk, but knee space is cramped, and more often than not, you’ll have to resort to sitting side-saddle to make the trip comfortable.
Around the rest of the cabin, it’s a relaxed place to sit up front with the seats being adjustable in several ways but, unfortunately not lumbar. The steering wheel is reach- and rake-adjustable as well, to fit most people’s driving positions.
With the second row of seats folded flat, the boot swallows almost 1.4 metres in length and contains 1146 litres of space overall. Rear seats up, the space is limited to 300 litres.
Sending the 1017kg light hatch on its way is Renault’s 1.2-litre engine with 88kW and 190Nm of torque, which the manufacturer uses throughout its range with various outputs. The pairing with the dual clutch transmission isn’t particularly complementary and is especially frustrating around town – which in all likelihood, is where the Clio will spend most of its life.
Although amortising the cost of developing a dual-clutch gearbox across its range might make sense for Renault, it doesn’t help the consumer. It becomes less of an issue once out of town, but at low speeds you must be forceful on the accelerator for it to shift itself off the mark quickly. And you’d better hope you never have to parallel park on a hill; that’s the stuff of nightmares in the modern day DCT-equipped Renault.
It’s better if you can carry speed into corners rather than hesitating, with the car bogging down and sometimes jittering if caught off-guard. The brakes take more pressure than you’d expect before they do any real retardation, and the pedals feel terrible and wobbly underfoot – not especially assuring.
Forgetting the gearbox, the Clio is capable at getting about the urban environment. There’s good visibility all around and the rear-view camera and sensors are clear and genuinely help you when navigating tight streets. We couldn't match Renault's fuel economy claim on test, coming in at 7.0-litres per 100 kilometres rather than the manufacturer's claim of 5.6 litres.
The Clio changes direction smoothly, with a light steering feel which will suit its intended market just fine. In the city, the suspension is nice and tame in most situations, but can be a little brittle over harder bumps. Mind you, it’s nothing that would turn you off looking at one.
The amount of power on tap is pretty bang-on in terms of how much you’ll need for 99 per cent of the time. On the highway it gets up to motorway speeds swiftly, and overtaking isn’t much of a worry with the turbocharged powertrain. And the DCT feels much more at home out on the open road, providing decisive changes in a timely fashion when you need it.
It almost bridges the best of both worlds, capable in the city and excelling out on a freeway. At night, there’s a great spread of light from the LED beams and the high-beam is very effective in brightening up the landscape.
The Clio received a five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2013, but these days it does miss out on some safety features which other manufacturers are including like curtain airbags and autonomous emergency braking.
The Renault comes with an extensive warranty, covering you over five years with unlimited kilometres – which is good for the range but the Kia Rio still wins out in this department with a generous seven years. Capped price servicing is offered across all models in the range for the first three years, costing $299 every twelve months or 15,000kms.
What might cost a little more is the recommended 95 RON fuel as opposed to regular unleaded.
The Renault Clio is still a stylish outsider in what is a range aimed primarily at younger buyers. It stays true to the French manufacturer's style in terms of looking the part, and now this update has brought a fair amount of standard equipment to the table, too.
Whether you’re interested in its European style or because of its equipment level, it’s worth a look as long as you understand that it's intended to fill a niche rather than a one-size fits all offering.
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