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Renault Clio Zen 2017 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Hardly anyone knows the Renault Clio exists. But the Clio Zen has that French zing about the way it looks. Its's also well-equipped, fun to drive, and has a good after-sales package.

Renault has two problems. The first is that hardly any of you know the Clio exists, and the second is it's quite a good car, that you don't know exists. And, if I'm being honest, there's a third issue - the price. On the face of it, the Clio looks expensive (even down at $15,990 for the Clio Life manual) and that's partly because, well, it is.

But up here at the Zen, with its $19,990 sticker price, the problem seems to repeat itself. Except when you look at the spec sheet, there is stuff in here you flat out can't get on its competitors at the same price. Like anything, it's all about swings and roundabouts. Let's go for a swing and a spin.

Renault Clio 2017: ZEN
Safety rating
Engine Type1.2L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.6L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$15,990

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

This Clio was born good looking, in a masculine kind of way. The front is quite French, bucking the current trend and going with big, chunky headlights that put me in mind of the Renault 12 and 16 of decades ago. 

They didn't have Renault's now-signature C-shaped LEDs DRLs, though. 

The chunky headlights remind me of the Renault 12 and 16 from decades ago. (image credit: Max Klamus) The chunky headlights remind me of the Renault 12 and 16 from decades ago. (image credit: Max Klamus)

As you head towards the rear of the car, it gets all muscular and athletic, which is unusual in a segment that goes for svelte (Mazda2) or dull (everything else).

Inside bears the hallmarks of a design idea that has persisted for almost two decades. Big friendly curves and blobby shapes abound, meaning no hard edges or shiny surfaces to dazzle you in the sunlight. It's a bit Fisher-Price, but in an inoffensive, grey plastic kind of way. 

The one concession to trend is the control cluster and touchscreen mounted on the dash, in a big piano black frame. Like most of its competitors, it's dark in here but at the same time, well made and feels like it will last for many years. Which is nice.

The touchscreen media system is the down-spec colour version of Renault's own R-Link. (image credit: Max Klamus) The touchscreen media system is the down-spec colour version of Renault's own R-Link. (image credit: Max Klamus)

How practical is the space inside?   6/10

The worst bits of the Clio are the ridiculous cupholders, which are also in the Captur. Placed between the front seatbacks, they're assymetrical and even the bigger one doesn't fit a standard-sized Keep Cup. The rear one will take a Red Bull can but it will fall over under acceleration.

Once you're over that peculiarly French foible, you'll notice the Clio is a surprisingly spacious car for its size. Front seat passengers enjoy lots of head, shoulder and legroom, and comfortable seats. Rear seat passengers enjoy good legroom but marginal headroom as the roof gently falls towards the top of the hatch.

The boot is 300 litres, although you wouldn't think it to look at it. The loading lip is high, too, which is kind of annoying - a Mazda-like falsie would be quite handy here for when you need all the space. Drop the 60/40 split fold back seats and you'll have 1146 litres to play with, which is not bad at all, despite the big step in the floor.

Drop the 60/40 split fold back seats and you'll have 1146 litres of boot space. (image credit: Max Klamus) Drop the 60/40 split fold back seats and you'll have 1146 litres of boot space. (image credit: Max Klamus)

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

The Zen is the second step in the line-up, which also includes Life, Intens and GT-Line versions. The Zen auto (there is no manual) we had starts at $19,990, $2000 more than the Life Auto and $4000 more than the 1.0-litre Life manual.

The Zen spec includes 16-inch alloys, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, auto LED headlights and daytime running lights, cruise control, six-speaker stereo with 7.0-inch touchscreen, keyless entry and start, sat nav, heated powered door mirrors, leather steering wheel and gear shifter, auto wipers and a space-saver spare tyre slung under the car.

  • The Clio Zen comes with stylish 16-inch alloys. (image credit: Max Klamus) The Clio Zen comes with stylish 16-inch alloys. (image credit: Max Klamus)
  • There's a reversing camera hidden in the middle of Renault's badge. (image credit: Max Klamus) There's a reversing camera hidden in the middle of Renault's badge. (image credit: Max Klamus)
  • The space-saver spare tyre is founded underneath the car. (image credit: Max Klamus) The space-saver spare tyre is founded underneath the car. (image credit: Max Klamus)

The touchscreen media system is the down-spec colour version of Renault's own R-Link. It's perfectly useable but slow to boot up and doesn't support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is a shame. Having said that, few of its obvious competitors do... if you count the Hyundai Accent as an obvious competitor.

 

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The 1017kg Zen is powered by a 1.2-litre turbocharged four cylinder, developing 88kW/190Nm. Power is transmitted to the front wheels via a six-speed twin-clutch auto and will motor the Zen from 0-100km/h in under 10 seconds, which isn't bad for such a small engine.

The Clio Zen is powered by a 1.2-litre turbocharged four cylinder, developing 88kW/190Nm. (image credit: Max Klamus) The Clio Zen is powered by a 1.2-litre turbocharged four cylinder, developing 88kW/190Nm. (image credit: Max Klamus)

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Renault claims 5.6L/100km for the combined cycle, and we managed 6.7L/100km in a mix of mostly suburban and some highway running, which is a pretty good effort. Only downside is the 1.2 prefers the good stuff (95RON unleaded).

What's it like to drive?   7/10

The thing about the Clio is that it weighs almost nothing - at 1017kg, it's one of the lightest cars in its class. That means not only does 88kW feel like 100kW in a heavier car, the Zen is light on its feet.

While it's obviously not a rip-roaring super-fun box like the RS variant, the DNA of the hot hatch has filtered down to the Zen. With light, sharp steering (that could do with more feel), the Clio darts around at will and remains one of the best true city cars you can buy. 

The ride is also impressive for such a small car, again level-pegging or bettering the Mazda2. Even when you're tossing it around a few favourite corners, the ride maintains composure while the cabin remains remarkably racket-free into the bargain. 

It can be upset by big bumps, though - the rear is held up by torsion beams - and will skip over those nasty sharp rubber speed bumps.

The engine really could do with a little less lag (its French compatriot, the 208, is peppier) and I imagine a manual version would be a hoot - as it is, the 1.0-litre manual is a barrel of (slow) laughs. Once you work out how to get around the lag, you can really zap along in the Clio and have quite a bit of fun.

The last thing we'd change is the silly, oversized credit card-shaped key. Yes it's different and we as journalists moan when things don't change, but really. When you leave it in your pocket, it's better off being smaller.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

The Clio's maximum five star ANCAP safety rating comes courtesy of six airbags, ABS, brake assist, stability and traction controls, brake force distribution and reversing camera.

Frustratingly, unlike Mazda's class leader, the 2, there isn't even the option of forward AEB.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

Renault claims its five year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with five years roadside assist is a first for a European manufacture, bringing la Regie into line with Korean manufacturers. Also offered is three years of capped-price servicing.

New Clios (except the Clio RS) from May 2017 have long service intervals, set at 12 months or 30,000km, whichever happens first, and pricing is capped at $299 per service.

Verdict

The Zen is well-equipped, fun to drive and has a good after-sales package. In Europe, the Clio runs rampant, partly because the cars that tread all over it here are more expensive and partly because the car is designed to European tastes.

While Renault has improved the value proposition of the Clio, it is still missing a couple of bits and pieces that are important at this level - mostly around safety - and a few more trinkets in the interior would bring it right up to speed. The Zen hasn't got a price problem so much as a perception problem.

Which is a pity, because it is my personal favourite light hatch, even if there are better overall cars out there. It's got that French zing about the way it looks and, if you buy one, you'll definitely stand out.

Does the 2017 Clio, with its extra bits and bobs, have any chance of luring you away from Japanese or German light hatches? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$20,489
Based on 51 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$15,990
Highest Price
$24,994

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Authentique 0.9L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $8,580 – 12,100 2017 RENAULT CLIO 2017 Authentique Pricing and Specs
Dynamique 1.2L, ULP, 6 SP AUTOMATED $12,650 – 16,830 2017 RENAULT CLIO 2017 Dynamique Pricing and Specs
Expression 0.9L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $10,230 – 13,970 2017 RENAULT CLIO 2017 Expression Pricing and Specs
GT 1.2L, PULP, 6 SP AUTOMATED $13,530 – 17,820 2017 RENAULT CLIO 2017 GT Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Design7
Practicality6
Price and features7
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Driving7
Safety7
Ownership8
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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