REVIEW DATE: 23 May 2007
Renault's Clio is still one of the strongest superminis out there. Andy Enright reports on the Clio III
Sometimes we all have to bite the bullet. Renault realised that if it was to compete as a global player, it needed to invest in new factories, new cars and new staff. One of the first fruits of this huge spending spree was the Clio III. Put baldly, Renault just could not afford for this car to fall flat on its face but looking at the vehicle, there was never much danger of that.
The figures are nothing short of stunning. Renault invested nearly a billion Euros in research, development and tooling new factory facilities to produce the Clio III. Built in Turkey and France, the Clio III is part of a root and branch reappraisal of Renault's small car philosophy that began with the Modus and was completed with the latest Twingo citycar. What's even more staggering is that this billion Euros didn't even buy a new car platform, the Clio running on the shared Renault-Nissan Alliance developed B-platform.
This latest, facelifted Clio is comfortably bigger than the old Clio II. 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.
That's not to say that the Clio II is dead and buried. Budget-priced 'Campus' models are still offered for sale as entry-level Clio versions. Renault dealers will either have to work very hard with the pricing on these variants or segregate their showrooms because once buyers clap eyes on the Clio III, the old car tends to look very old indeed. 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.
"Renault has invested a lot of money in this car. It's easy to see where a lot of those Euros have been spent"
What's rather surprising is that initial designs of the Clio III resembling a shrunken Megane were not carried through. The Clio is instead a far more conservative design than its bustle-backed big brother, the five-door car in particular 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.
The Clio III is offered with a wide array of petrol and Euro IV compliant common-rail diesel engines. The petrol engine range comprises a 75bhp 1.2-litre, a 101bhp turbocharged 1.2-litre TCE unit, a punchy 111bhp 1.6 VVT unit, a hefty138bhp 2.0-litre unit and a knockout 2.0-litre 197bhp offering, while the 1.5-litre dCi diesel engine comes in a choice of two power outputs: 86bhp and 106bhp. The list of available transmission options for Clio III is the same as for Modus and includes a six speed manual on the most powerful dCi 106. For the first time, a robotised "quick-shift" gearbox commanded by paddles located behind the steering wheel is also available.
Prices start at under £10,000 and the trim level range is split between the sporty 3-door and the practical 5-door cars although buyers can also get a Sport Tourer estate. The 3-door line-up runs from Extreme to Rip Curl, Dynamique and Dynamique S while the 5-door model is offered in Expression, Rip Curl, Dynamique, Dynamique S or Initiale form. 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 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.
Is it enough to better the Honda Jazz or Ford Fiesta? Renault have a billion Euros riding on the fact that it is.
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