REVIEW DATE: 16 May 2007
A tiny turbo is the key to Renault's 1.2-litre TCE engine as fitted to the latest Clio range. Andy Enright investigates
At first glance, turbocharging seems a rather crude 1980s solution to solving issues of engine efficiency. Back in the bad old days, insurers would double premiums as soon as they heard the word 'turbo' and most turbocharged cars had all the subtlety of a TGI Fridays cocktail menu. Spool forward to today and turbocharging is returning to vogue, albeit in a different form. Yes, there are still the performance fans who want the adrenaline hit of a big turbo but nowadays there are also light pressure turbochargers that can massage a small capacity petrol engine's power figures up modestly without unduly affecting fuel economy and emissions.
That's the logic behind the 1.2-litre Turbo Control Efficiency (TCE) engine as fitted to the Renault Clio. Replacing both the 1.4-litre 16v 98 and the 1.6-litre VVT 111 engines, this powerplant has a sizeable and daunting brief.
The promise behind the 1.2 Turbo 100 is that it offers the torque of the 1.6 VVT 111 engine, the power of the 1.4 16v unit and the economy and emissions of the 1.2 16v 75 lump. That is quite some requirement for one engine to fulfil but the little 1.2 Turbo 100 just about manages it. Serving up some 145Nm of torque at 3,000rpm, this is an engine that needs a few revs on the board to give its best, and when the turbo comes on stream there's an almost diesel-like sense of midrange urge.
The latest, facelifted Clio is a big car, even by modern supermini standards. It weighs-in at well over a tonne and while progress can be sluggish with the normally-aspirated 1.2-litre powerplant doing the legwork, the turbocharged version gives it a welcome shot in the arm. This engine does its best work in the midrange and can become noisy when pressed but otherwise, the refinement in the cabin is very impressive with minimal wind and road noise. As with all Clio IIIs, there's tenacious grip and taut body control that invites swift cornering. The ride quality also wouldn't seem out of place in a car a class higher.
"With the turbo breathing rather than blowing, performance gets a subtle boost and the green bits aren't dealt a knockout punch"
You probably wouldn't call the Clio's styling adventurous, at least not in comparison to some of Renault's other recent designs but it's an appealing shape that's rendered more dynamic in three-door form and the Renault DNA is always evident. Both three and five-door variants are offered although the lower entry pricing for the three-door version looks set to win it bigger sales. At 3.99m long, the Clio III is a full 174mm longer than its predecessor and despite those elegant lines, 45mm of extra height has been slyly grafted in. The result is a car that's a far more spacious proposition without appearing frumpy or gawky. Peugeot tried this and failed with the 307 and SEAT only just managed it with the Leon but Renault has worked the compromise between space and styling better than both.
Inside, the Clio reveals its party piece - one of the roomiest interiors in the class. There's plenty of capacity for a full complement of four adults to get in and access to the rear is dignified even in this three-door car. The facia design is relatively unadventurous and the materials quality is hit and miss but it all feels very well screwed together and, the rather small stereo buttons notwithstanding, easy to use.
Three-door versions of the Clio 1.2 Turbo 100 are offered in Dynamique and Dynamique S guises starting at £11,060 on the road. This engine is available in five-door form in the Expression, Dynamique and Dynamique S trim levels. As well as the usual five-door hatchback bodystyle, there's also the option of a Sport Tourer estate bodystyle with around 50% more luggage space, offered at a premium of around £900 over the standard five-door hatch.
All models get power steering, a trip computer, body-coloured bumpers and side mouldings, remote central locking and a height adjustable steering wheel. One of the biggest factors in many supermini buying decisions is safety and the Clio II set quite a benchmark. The Clio III has excellent neutral weight distribution and some serious brakes to prevent an accident happening in the first instance. It is delivered as standard with Generation 8 Bosch ABS plus electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assist (EBA). Other options insclude electronic stability programme (ESP) incorporating ASR traction control, understeer control and MSR engine torque overrun regulation.
Where the Renault Clio 1.2 Turbo 100 really scores is in the field of cost of ownership. The combined fuel economy figure of 47.9mpg will come as a welcome sight to drivers who want to keep fuel bills down but don't want to drive a diesel. Likewise, emissions are pegged at just 140g/km which will mean cheap road fund licence, netting the private buyer a saving over both the 14-litre and 1.6-litre engined Clios that this model replaces.
The inevitable upshot of this is that residual values will be good. The Clio range as a whole already enjoys some of the healthiest used prices of any supermini models and once word gets out that this 1.2-litre Turbo 100 is the engine to have in the petrol Clio range, pence per mile figures will inevitably reduce. Insurance is also very reasonable, turbocharger notwithstanding.
Fitting a turbocharger to an existing engine doesn't at first strike one as the most effective way to guarantee excellent efficiency and cleanliness but inspecting Renault's installation in the Clio 1.2-litre Turbo 100, it's clear that the French company has worked hard to manage exactly that. The key is in not getting too greedy with the power output the turbo can deliver. Sure, if you turned up the wick a bit, this engine would probably be able to punt out a reliable 130bhp but emission and economy figures would take a hit as a result. With the turbo breathing rather than blowing, performance gets a subtle boost and the green bits aren't dealt a knockout punch.
While the engine is undeniably effective at what it sets out to do, it's important to remember the rest of the car's qualities. Bigger than the average supermini and better riding to boot, the Clio is also one of the more cost-effective, with the range opening at a highly affordable level. Aside from the rather conservative styling, there's not a lot to gripe about here.
The results below show the top CLIO deals on buyacar
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|Price £13,329||Save £2,966|
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|For CLIO 1.2 TCE 100 RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.2 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|
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