I've had my Clio for 4.5 years now. I needed a cheap temporary car, and after a few too many drinks one night and an online auction, I became the new owner of a 9 year old Renault Clio. It had 143,000km, and I've since put another 90,000km on it. Despite my tipsy state, coming from a bigger newer car, the 4 airbags, ABS, and 4 star safety were what got me interested in the Clio. I was also comforted by the fact that it was only $1800, and surely someone else would outbid me. Which they didn't.
At first everything felt strange. The seating position felt a bit hunched over, the steering wheel felt like it was at the wrong angle, and the ignition key went in at a strange angle, but as I got used to it, it made so much sense.
Likewise the flexibility, I've had a six foot step ladder and a full-size wheelbarrow in the Clio. Both at the same time, with the boot being shut properly. The base of the rear seats flip up, then lift out completely. The rear backrest folds down creating a flat boot (aside from the steel bar running between the wheel arches). All three adjustable rear head-rests come right out. The interior packaging is masterful.
I do a 70km commute on a rural highway. The Clio surprised me with its ability to keep up with traffic, especially given its 1.4 litres. The gearing is quite low, which makes a big contribution to this, but the downside is when I'm up to 110 (most of my trip), it's pretty busy at around 3400rpm. About 80-90% of my driving is highway driving above 80, mostly 100/110. According to my trusty spreadsheet, I've used an 6.47l/100km on average, which I'm pretty pleased with. It requires 95 RON fuel, but I normally fill with 98.
For such an economical car, it's probably had the highest running costs of any car I've had. I have all required maintenance done, and I have a great mechanic, but I have spent at least $1500 every year (one year was $2700) on servicing and repairs, plus tyres. It's only once left me stranded thanks to a failed coil pack, the rest being things wearing out (engine mount, strut mounts), or maintenance items needed (timing belt and the like). I don't begrudge it, but I've owned a V6 Magna for the last 3 years as well with 245,000km on it now, and while it uses a lot more fuel, its overall running costs are lower.
So why have I still got my temporary car 4.5 years later? I love driving it. It has wonderful grip on twisty roads, and theres tonnes of them around where I live. I went and test drove a brand new Clio when they first came out, and came away mightily impressed. But I got back into my own car, and something strange happened. Unlike every other time I've test-driven a car, mine didn't feel old and rattly, it felt great. So I blew the $12k I would have spent on changing over on a trip to Europe and spent 2 weeks driving around France looking at car museums.
The truth is whenever I drive this car, I have no reason to sell. It does everything I need it to really well. My only regret is that had I known how good they are, I would have taken my time and bought a Privilege spec model in immaculate condition. They have a bigger 1.6l engine (in manual), and a few other niceties my base model doesn't have.
With it's 4 star safety rating, and dismal resale, the Clio would make a great first car. Just make sure you do the preventative maintenance.