Class-leading handling and ride will jumpstart the Renault Clio’s launch in the light-car market next year. A lack of airbags may deflate some of that edge, at least among potential buyers who want the maximium protection for rear-seat passengers. It’s still a five-star car, though, and one of the best driving vehicles in the light car segment.
Prices haven’t been set for the Clio - it doesn’t go on sale until midway through next year - but Carsguide predicts it will be around $16,500. That’s based on Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar’s assertion the car will be priced between the top-selling Japanese model (the $15,790 Mazda2) and the best-selling Euro vehicle (the $16,990 Volkswagen Polo).
Specification likewise hasn’t been set for the local cars, but expect the base model - a 900cc turbocharged three-cylinder - to come with cruise control, keyless entry, daytime running lights and possibly even satnav as standard gear.
The optional R-Link seven-inch touchscreen is an Android-powered system developed by Renault and TomTom. It is a multimedia interface with satnav and an embedded SIM that lets it connect to the internet and download apps that (in Europe) range from alerting drivers to the nearest and/or cheapest fuel, provide speed camera warnings and prioritise internet radio stations based on users’ previous preferences.
A dual-clutch automated manual transmission will be available on the mid-range petrol engine - likely the 1.2-litre turbo - and the top-end turbo diesel. All models should have engine idle stop/start.
Outputs for the turbocharged 1.5-litre diesel aren't huge -- 66kW/220Nm -- but it has impressive economy at 3.4L/100km, making the diesel Clio the most fuel-efficient engine in its class. In Australia it will only be sold with the EDC dual-clutch transmission, so expect around a $4000 premium over the base price.
A compact, classy package with plenty of interior space should put the Clio on a lot of short lists. The 300-litre boot takes two big suitcases with ease and there’s room for two adults in the back without the front occupants having to keep their seats forward. The materials look and feel good and the only complaint is the seat is made for a bigger butt than mine.
Even then, the fabric has good grip but I’d prefer the side bolsters to have thicker padding to offset cornering forces. The front end is dominated by the big Renault badge set on a piano-black horizontal stripe across the bonnet that gives the car road presence. The scalloped door panels don’t hurt either, while the rear of the five-door hatch is solid, if not sensational.
It will be interesting to see if ANCAP adopts the five-star rating EuroNCAP has given the Clio. The light car comes with four airbags, meaning the rear passengers aren’t cushioned in a side-crash, much like the VW Up!.
Renault admits the decision was price-driven but argues the structural strength and dual-stage seatbelt pretensioners provide more than enough protection for back-seat passengers. Software includes the expected ABS with stability control and hill-start assist.
The Clio has the capacity to surprise, at least not when it comes to the 900cc engine that is expected to be the entry point for the range in Australia. The lightweight engine isn’t the quickest cab in the field off the lights but once underway it is hard to fault, pulling cleanly from low revs right up to redline.
The Ford Fiesta was Renault’s benchmark for ride and handling and they’ve come very close to bettering it, though a definitive test will have to wait until the Clio lands here. The car’s poise through corners shames much more expensive models and changes of direction are taken in its stride. Understeer eventually appears but a tiny lift off the throttle will have the car tracking true again.
The electric steering is light around town and adds effort as the pace picks up. The good news is it’s pinpoint precise at any speed. The suspension coped with rural Italy’s patched-up roads with barely a shake and while larger bumps at speed could momentarily unsettle the torsion-beam rear, it is something most owners won’t feel.
A brief stint in the diesel shows it is on a par with the best oilburners coming out of Europe, with on-the-go performance that impresses. Like the 900cc petrol, the engine is functional ahead of frisky, with low-down torque that happily copes with third gear roll-on acceleration from 30km/h.
This is the best regular Renault on the market. It drives as well as it looks and, airbags aside, will rate as one of the smarter choices in the light car pack.
Price: $16,500 (est)
Warranty: Five years, unlimited km
Service intervals: 12 months/15,000km
Engine: 900cc turbo four-cylinder, 66kW/135Nm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Safety: Four airbags, ABS with EBD, ESC, hill-start assist
Crash rating: Five stars
Dimensions: 4.06m (L), 1.73m/1.94m (W) 1.45m (H)
Thirst: 4.3L/100km, 99g/km CO2