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Used car review Renault Clio 2002-2004

Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Renault Clio 2002-2004, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you're buying it.

The Japanese and the Koreans hold sway in the small car segment, they have done for years, but there are now also a number of European brands, like Renault, fighting for a share of the highly competitive market.

Renault returned to the market in its own right in 2001, but prior to that it had a somewhat chequered history under the control of independent importers.

If you were to turn the clock back 30 years ago you’d find Renault was a well respected brand with a loyal following, but that was eroded through the ’80s and ’90s when it stuttered and stumbled along and lost the confidence of the market. Buyers could never be really sure their dealer would be there when they next took their car in for service.

With that background Renault had plenty of ground to make up when it stepped in and took over the distribution of the brand itself in 2001.

It hasn’t set the world on fire since it did take back control; instead it has gone along quietly without much fuss as it has worked to rebuild the brand in the eyes of the market.

MODEL WATCH

The Clio was a small hatch that was given a tough task when Renault launched it against the heavyweights of the small car market in a category that was traditionally price driven.

To succeed Renault had to convince buyers that it was worth paying a little more for the features and refinement of a European brand.

The problem for Renault was that the mostly Japanese competition had lifted their game considerably and brands like Mazda and Honda were selling some pretty hot little cars.

But the Clio had plenty to offer anyone who cared to take a closer look. It was an attractive looking little car with a dash of French flair that made it stand out from the Japanese crowd; it was packed with plenty of features and was a fun little car to drive.

The company first hit the market in 2001 with a handful of hot 2.0-litre Clio Sport three-door models to help kick-start the brand with a sporting image.

They were followed a few months later by a facelifted model, and with that came the full range.

There were three and five-door hatches, with three levels of equipment, and a number of limited edition models that came with a few extra features.

Engine choices were 1.4, 1.6 and 2.0-litre, but the 1.4-litre was the only one available with an automatic transmission.

The engines were all double overhead camshaft units and willing little things if you were prepared to rev them.

At the entry end of the range the 1.4-litre engine put out 72 kW at 6000 revs along with 127 Nm at 3750 revs.

The 1.6-litre delivered a little more power and torque, with 79 kW and 148 Nm respectively, but it was the 2.0-litre that really provided the thrills with 124 kW and 200 Nm.

The 1.4-litre auto Expression five-door hatch kicked off the range in style by winning the trophy for the best small car in the 2002 ‘Australia’s Best Cars’ award.

When stacked up against other small cars it was well equipped with standard features like air, adjustable steering wheel, power front windows, six-speaker sound system with cassette player, remote central locking and an engine immobiliser.

Step up to the five-door Privilege or three-door Dynamique and you got the 1.6-litre engine and a five-speed manual gearbox. You also got the extra comfort of climate control air, a trip computer, lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat, and a CD player.

At the top of the range was the fun-filled Sport three-door hatch that boasted the 2.0-litre engine. Light and powerful the Sport delivered high performance with go-kart like handling and powerful braking power courtesy of its disc brakes on all four wheels.

The lesser models were more biased towards ride and quiet comfort, but still handled well if not quite as direct and precise as the Sport.

Being small there isn’t heaps of room inside the Clio. It was fine for those sitting in the front that enjoyed a comfortable time in supportive seats, but those in the rear found themselves a little cramped.

ON THE LOT

The three-door Expression can be found for $9000-$13,000; the five-door Privilege $9500-$14,000, and the Sport from $12,500-$15,000.

IN THE SHOP

The Clio is mostly reliable without any major problems.

Those problems it does have tend to be fairly minor ones, like electrical faults, warning lights staying on, and sometimes difficult starting.

Other than those there can be the odd oil leak around the engine.

The engines have a cam timing belt that requires changing at 100,000 km and it’s important that it is changed. A breakage can lead to major internal damage to the engine that’s expensive to repair.

It’s also worth checking where you will get your Renault serviced as there aren’t as many dealers around as there are for other makes. The big cities are pretty well covered, but the country isn’t.

IN A CRASH

The Clio is pretty well equipped to handle a crash. All models had dual front airbags, along with the dynamic safety of ABS antiskid brakes and emergency brake assist.

ESP was added to the Sport in 2003.

AT THE PUMP

Premium is the recommended fuel for all Clio models.

The 1.4-litre models should return 6-8 L/100 km, the 1.6-litre 7-9 L/100 km, and the 2.0-litre Sport should get 8.5-10 L/100 km depending on how hard it’s driven.

OWNERS SAY

Tony Muir replaced his 2002 VW Polo, which he describes as a disaster, with a 2003 Renault Clio Expression Verve 1.4. He reckons the Clio was a great little car. The upsides, he says were the road holding and braking, which made him feel safe, the French style, the interior, firm supportive seats, and good-sized boot, and the fuel economy. The downsides were the noise through the gears, the sluggish acceleration, the lack of rear seat room and low roofline that cramped the rear seat passengers. Tony also had the expensive misfortune to break a timing belt at four years and six months when the car had done 67,000 km. It did considerable internal damage to the engine and he says owners should be aware of the potential consequences of not changing the belt.

RIVALS
• Mazda 2 — 2002-2005 — $9000-$15,500
• Honda Jazz — 2002-2004 — $8000-$15,000
• Peugeot 206 —1999-2004 — $8000-$19,000

THE BOTTOM LINE
Sweet driving hatch with French flair, but lacks interior room and comprehensive dealer network.

RATING
70/100

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 13 comments

  • I have had my Clio 2004 since 2004. Clocked up 330,000 kms, most of which has been freeway driving between the GC and Brisbane. changed the timing belt every 100,000Kms only had some minor electrical issues in the early days, but all be good now, that said i think my alternator has chucked it in, apart from that, great lil car, great on fuel.

    Damien of Gold Coast Posted on 26 March 2014 2:13pm
  • My wife has driven a 2003 Clio for the past 4 years and 30 thousand kilometres without any problems. Granted the car has currently only covered 85 thousand kilometres but is now long in the tooth so I would expect some issues to arise....however thankfully thus far we haven't required anything apart from fuel and an annual service. Although judging by the comments below a timing belt change maybe in order as are required on most vehicles regardless.

    Gary Whitlock of Sydney Posted on 10 February 2014 7:15pm
  • Question. Does this vehicle have the "limp home" feature, shutting some sections down when the battery has failed?

    Perry Davidson of Queensland Posted on 06 February 2014 7:06pm
  • i have a 2003 Clio Expression with 208500 on the clock. had it since new. two standard timing belt changes at 100 and 200km. faulty hazard switch and minor oil leak are the only problems encountered so far. I must be the only Clio owner in Aust who has had next to no trouble with the mighty little car. I believe that only 10000 kms driven in city stop start conditions have contributed to my great experience with the car. the other 198000 have been Canberra and country driving. When I replace it the new Clio will be considered, although I will wait for some owner reviews before making the decision.

    Mick of Canberra of Canberra Posted on 14 September 2013 1:31pm
  • Heap of junk electrical systems make old BL Lucas wiring systems look great. Renault has problems with these cars

    John Thomas of Sydney Posted on 26 August 2012 9:35pm
  • I have a Renault Clio Sport 02 and am very happy with it. Hard revving engine, amazing road handling and brilliant fun for a front wheel drive car. Plus, added bonus of French hatch and best equipped car in the market for size. Recently changed timing belt, fan belt and clutch - but hasn?t missed a beat, just wear and tear after 90 000k's. Starts first time, every time. Would recommend it to anyone who wants a car that looks good, reliable and great fun.

    Angus of Sydney Posted on 12 May 2011 2:34pm
  • I've had a Clio Privilege since June 2002. It was serviced by the dealer (Rick Damelian) who replaced the timer belt at 58,000 k (this was the 100,000 k service as I mainly use it for inner city driving). They replaced it again 12 months and 11,000k later (toxic fume warning lights on the dash). 26000 k later (and after 3 separate complaints to Damelian that there was a mechanical problem with the car stalling in traffic and driving sluggish) the Clio died totally ? the failed timing belt had led to a total engine meltdown and almost $5000 repair (towed to an NRMA recommended independent mechanic who seems to have done a good job). I don't know if it is Renault's fault for flawed parts, or Damelian's for faulty installation. But 4 timing belts and kit in 8 years and 95,000 km is excessive by any measure.

    Joanna Mendelssohn of Sydney Posted on 06 December 2010 7:10pm
  • I've had a Renault Clio Expression since 2004 when I bought it new and it's still going great. It's had a few parts replaced over the years but with regular servicing has been very reliable overall. The downside is of course it is more expensive to get the parts as they come from France and it can take a few weeks to get them in. But I don't know why this article said the 1.4 Clio Expression has a a cassette player because mine had a CD player?

    CGilllespie of NSW Posted on 01 October 2010 3:06pm
  • I have owned my 1.4 Clio since new in Dec 03, it has done 155,000 km (timing belt changed at 100K) regularly serviced and so far the only problem was the hazard switch which wouldn't turn off and was a $85 replacement. I get 6.3l/100km albeit country driving. Servicing done by a Pug/Renault specialist in Canberra. IMHO a terrific car. If it is still going fine at 200,000km I will get the timing belt replaced again. I leased a Clio 2 diesel in France for a month and got a steady 4.3l/100km, shame they aren't sold in OZ. One aspect of the Clio is very annoying, replacing the headlight bulbs. What a mess! You need mini-me hands to do what should be a simple job. Still love the little car though.

    Mick Carr Posted on 25 September 2010 9:12pm
  • I second Kate's comment below - the electrical problems are anything but minor. My wife and I had a 2002 Clio and, for a while, we thought it was a fun car which handled brilliantly. But then a succession of electrical issues hit home (including a dead alternator). Unlike other brands, we couldn't get generic parts for this little French car so repairs were especially painful. I'd say over 12-18 months we spent an extra $2,500 above normal servicing just keeping it on the road. Despite it's good points, I'd avoid it.

    Anthony Johns of Australia Posted on 26 June 2010 12:22am
  • I have one of the original 2001 Clio Sports. A brilliant little car. I've driven it 20,000 kms in the last year, now at 102,000kms. City driving into Adelaide city for 30mins each way gives 6.0lt/100kms! More typically I get 6.4l/100. If I drive it hard through the hills I get mid 8l/100kms. Got to be happy with that. I'm very happy with Renault and the service I've had from Main North Renault.

    Glen Deards of Adelaide, SA Posted on 14 May 2010 10:37pm
  • Noting Tony's comments, I had my timing belt replaced after a prompt from Renault at the approved dealership in town at 40,000km. My 2002 Clio Privilege was in excellent condition. After the timing was installed, the Clio locked into 2nd gear straining with acceleration. After a week's driving, I took it back and the Workshop Manager drove it around the block and would not believe something they did accounted for there being no first gear any longer. I went in again and it was their belief that everything was in order. It took a call from my son who is in the car industry, 2 months later, to help convince them that the car was unsafe and indeed there was what I had described having taken it for a test drive. The mechanics in the workshop this time agreed with the diagnosis and took the car back. However, now, there is a tendency for the car to easily slip into second gear from first with the damage previously done.

    Shirley Grubert-Gardiner of Melbourne Posted on 27 January 2010 12:45pm
  • I would class my 2002 Clio privilege as a disaster. This thing is a money pit, constantly in the garage from year one started with the gear breaking after 10 months, too the latest a new alternator…

    Kate McClure of Australia Posted on 08 July 2009 5:22pm
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