REVIEW DATE: 23 May 2007
Renault's Clio Dynamique S 138 offers a number of big car attributes in a compact package. Andy Enright reports
It's not often that an American can deliver a pithy quote about cars to a European and get away with it but when it comes to engines, the old adage that 'there's no substitute for cubes' is a wise aphorism. Big engines in small packages are always a promising formula and a big-boned 2.0-litre engine in the latest Renault Clio III is a formula that just can't fail. Say hello to the Dynamique S 138.
As you may have guessed, this Clio packs a 138bhp punch from its 2.0-litre VVT (variable valve timing) engine and it's a package that plays to all of the Clio III's strengths. Although the punchy Clio Renaultsport 197 may hog the headlines, it's a car that I'm not hugely fond of. From my personal perspective, the things it excels at - refinement, ride and interior space - are attributes that are well down my tick sheet when it comes to buying a hot hatch. They are, on the other hand, right about prime when it comes to choosing a less focused three-door supermini which is why the Dynamique S 138 seems a more appealing package.
With a modest price of £13,280, you're buying a lot of quality for not a huge sum. Open the door of a Clio and it feels Germanic; heavy and impeccably constructed. The same can be said of the interior with high quality plastics and an impressive attention to detail. Where this Dynamique S is really smart is in leveraging its EuroNCAP five star rating and excellent security provision to offer bargain basement group 9E insurance despite having the mumbo to accelerate to 60mph in 8.2 seconds. Wondering where the smart money goes in this sector? Now you know.
"The Dynamique S 138 is a superior selection for the discerning downsizer"
Balancing the triple requirements of a low price, cheap insurance and a punchy motor would be enough for most manufacturers. Renault is different and it really puts the thumbscrews on its rivals with a very healthy-looking equipment list for this particular variant. Sixteen-inch Lyria alloy wheels are a unique touch and there's also standard air-conditioning, a hands-free keycard and reach-adjustable steering, part-leather trim and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. On top of that lot, there are front and rear carpet mats, a Zinc grey centre console and matching dashboard inserts and air vent surrounds. That's on top of the standard Dynamique S-level trim list which includes items like extended sports front wings, tinted rear windows, a CD stereo with wheel-mounted controls, sports headlights, front fog lights and satin chrome door handles. Small wonder that the Dynamique S 138 looks significantly more upmarket than the Clio you'd pick up from an airport Avis.
This Clio is comfortably bigger than the model it replaced, Renault has 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 this sportier three-door model, a car which now accounts for over 75 per cent of UK sales and which works well with the Dynamique S 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.
This Clio Dynamique S 138 is a very intriguing vehicle. If you feel the financial burden of running a larger car is becoming increasingly onerous, there aren't too many supermini-sized cars that I could recommend with hand on heart. Most are too compromised in terms of space, comfort and perceived quality. This Renault would probably be my number one pick. It's quite a package.
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