REVIEW DATE: 04 Sep 2008
Renault's Clio Has Always Been One Of Britain's Favourite Small French Cars. In Latest Clio III Form, It Deserves Its Sales Success, Thinks June Neary
If ever a car was aimed at women, it has to be the Renault Clio. Unless you've been living in a cave for the last few years, you can't have avoided Nicole & Co, the 'Size Matters' campaign, billboard ads suggesting that we've all "lost our 'va va voom'" and most recently, the 'Britain vs France' ads. I won't air my personal views on whether size matters, but I have to agree that this little car has had a massive impact on the shape of the supermini market - past and present. The most recent Clio III version I'm testing here is much more than just an update of the second generation Clio, a car that broadened this little Gallic runabout's portfolio of virtues. The original MK1 and MK2 Clios were the kinds of cars that were fine for short trips around town, but not so good for longer journeys; this one is different - which suits me much better. With a new Clio, I wouldn't have to keep splashing out on rental vehicles every time I wanted to join my friends on a weekender up-country. The current model has a 'big car' feel - courtesy, say Renault, of a long wheelbase, which has released extra interior room. There's also a large glass area - which gives the cabin a light, airy feel. Outside, the same theme continues, with a false impression of extra width courtesy of curvy front wings, large headlamps and that unique upright tailgate with its domed glass.
I thought the Clio III to be a far more conservative design than its bustle-backed Megane big brother, the five-door car in particularly looking remarkably conventional for Renault, a company that prides itself on design innovation. Nevertheless, it's still an undoubted good looker with broad shoulders that frame the rear light clusters and a more sculpted appearance at the front end. Inside, the interior has been similarly warmed over with enhanced materials and extra equipment. The panels on the rear doors are now 'soft-feel', while the dashboard instruments mimic the design found in the Megane for a more cutting-edge appearance. On the equipment front, the height adjustable driver's seat is now common across the range and there are rear electric windows on the higher spec models. There are other minor improvements specific to certain trim levels too but, to keep things concise here, those are probably best discovered by means of the brochure.
As I've said, the latest Clio is a much more relaxing cruiser. Renault makes much of the suspension system, borrowed from the larger Megane. Certainly, the ride is absorbent - and still soft enough for it to be obvious that you're in a French car. As far as handling is concerned, I'd say that Clio is once more at or near the top of the class. It may not feel particularly sporty, but it's easy to place through the bends - even with excellently weighted power steering. If Renault's objective was to create a car you could enjoy driving on motorways and back roads, as well as around town, then they've succeeded. The dCi 86 diesel engine I tried isn't a bad unit, combining what super low fuel consumption (over 64mpg) and low CO2 emissions. Performance isn't that startling though, but if that's a problem, you could go for the106bhp version of this engine. To be fair, the 86bhp unit is reasonably flexible on the road, but it's never the kind of engine you really ever want to push hard. More surprisingly, nor is the 75bhp 1.2-litre 16V petrol unit. If you really want performance, then the story gets better the further up the range you go. I was impressed by the clever 1.2-litre TCE turbocharged petrol unit. For families, a key factor in any supermini buying decision these days is safety and the Clio II set quite a benchmark. For a start, it has 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. I don't understand what it all does but the bottom line is probably that you're as safe in this car as you can reasonably expect to be in a small runabout. My test car had Renault's clever 'additional beam cornering' headlamps, which follow round the curves of the road at night, plus 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.
Why not? Maybe the va va vroom thing works after all..
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