REVIEW DATE: 23 May 2007
In sporty Dynamique trim, Renault's Clio III promises a welcome dose of verve. Andy Enright reports.
Put yourself in Renault's shoes. Its previous generation Clio sold on the basis of cheeky styling and a driving experience that few of its rivals could approach. Since that car was developed, the goalposts have shifted. Size and safety are also required by demanding supermini customers and marrying this with a sporty look and feel is no easy task. Renault thinks it has pulled it off with the Clio III Dynamique models.
I'm not so sure. The balance seems to have swung away from the sporty side of things to a focus that's a little more middle-aged. While younger buyers may groan, the Clio III is undoubtedly a more competent all-round proposition than its predecessor and there are seriously sporty versions to satisfy the petrolheads. Therefore it's not worth getting too harsh on the Dynamique's lack of sporting credentials. Take it as a normal Clio that just looks a little sharper and you're off on the right footing.
Three engines are offered in Dynamique trim. The first is a 1.2-litre 16v 75bhp petrol unit you should try and ignore in favour of the more modern 1.2 TCe turbocharged petrol engine, priced from £11,395, which cranks out 100bhp. The promise behind the 1.2 Turbo 100 is that it offers the torque of the old 1.6 VVT 111 engine, the power of the old 1.4 16v unit and the economy and emissions of the Clio's 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 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 replaced.
"The Clio III is undoubtedly a more competent all-round proposition than its predecessor"
The diesel engine offered with this Clio is the 86bhp 1.5-litre dCi. It's aggressively priced at £12,345 and gets a super-low group 3E insurance rating. There's also the option of a Sport Tourer estate bodystyle, sitting alongside the more familiar three and five-door hatches, offering around 50% more luggage capacity at prices around £900 more than the comparable 5-door hatch. Whichever bodystyle you choose, you'll want to know exactly what you get when you opt for this trim level. Sixteen-inch 'Canasta' alloy wheels are supplied as standard as is a CD stereo with controls mounted adjacent to the steering wheel. Sports headlamps and front fog lamps are also fitted and there are also auxiliary driving lights to make the front end look a little more purposeful. The interior benefits from aluminium detailing to visually lift the fascia and there's electric front windows, air conditioning and central locking.
Comfortably bigger than the outgoing model, Renault have now been able to take a leaf out of General Motors' book and allow the utility models (like the Modus) to concentrate on family duties, freeing the Clio up - as Vauxhall has done with its Astra - to be a bit sassier than before. Therefore the lines are sharper and sleeker than the rather bulbous previous two generations and there's greater production emphasis on the sportier three-door model, a car which is expected to account for over 75 per cent of UK sales and which works well with the Dynamique branding.
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 have worked the compromise between space and styling better than both.
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 brake force 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.
Along with the Modus, the Clio III is the first car in its segment to offer additional beam cornering headlamps, while double distance xenon headlamps are also available for enhanced night visibility. The Clio III's structure includes a number of programmed deformation zones and has been designed to function with Renault's third-generation System for Restraint and Protection. This includes up to eight airbags, incorporating two adaptive front airbags complete with load limiter and double pretensioners for the front seats. If you must crash, at least have the foresight to do it in a Clio III.
The Dynamique trim level is a decent compromise between pared-down French charm and a decent level of creature comforts. The pricing is realistic and the range uses four of Renault's best engines. Although a little of the Clio's personality may have been excised along the way, the Clio III is a very impressive proposition. The Dynamique looks the best of the current bunch.
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