- Max Speed
Is that actually a new car?
Fair question. The Clio is box-fresh in every panel, and has a new platform underneath. But the old one was a real looker, and people bought it by the thousand because of it. So the new one takes the same visual themes and just sharpens and tidies them. It's also a little shorter, yet bigger within.
Subtle stuff. So why not just buy a nearly-new old one?
Because the new interior is terrific. At the planning stage, Renault wanted to match the materials quality they expected in the next generation of VW Group cars. Then when the Polo and Audi A1 appeared, with their cheap hard plastics, Renault found itself right at the top of the class, alongside the new Pug 208.
Yup, it's a major turnaround when the French are beating the Germans for the lushest cabins.
Presumably they added a load of tech…
Yup, that's a Clio thing. Over the three decades of four previous generations, the Clio was a serial pioneer in superminis: ABS, column-mounted stereo controls, cruise and speed limiter, multiple airbags, keyless opening and start, colour screens.
This time there's standard LED headlights, and bigger screens than you'd expect model-for-model, nearly all with permanent web connection and excellently integrated CarPlay/Android Auto.
For parking, an all-round camera is a cheap option. All Clios have emergency braking and lane departure warning and road sign recognition. On the one with the autobox there's the option of level-two driver assist for motorways and main-road traffic jams.
Bose hi-fi is also on the list – important for the lucky blighters who'll have a new car as their first car.
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Looks big for a tiddler...
The Clio was always one of the larger superminis, yes, but this one is fractionally shorter. But roomier inside. The front seats hold you really well. Yet they're not bulky so the back-seat room is competitive. And the boot is one of the biggest in the class, at nearly 400 litres.
Thanks, but I'm more interested in what's at the other end of the car.
Nearly all the sales will be for the 100bhp three-cylinder or the 130bhp four. They're clean and modern and do really rather good fuel figures. There's a weaker petrol, and a diesel, but not many people will go there. We're waiting for the RenaultSport, but don't have specs.
The TCe 100 is very quiet and unobtrusive, only striking up the three-cylinder warble when you push it, as push it you must for main-road overtakes. It comes with a five-speed manual (remember them?), which is actually all you need in this case. But you might well wish for a snappier lever action.
The TCe 130 is decently gutsy and also fairly quiet. It's hooked to a seven-speed DCT, which chooses ratios intelligently and shifts them smoothy. Just as well as there's no proper manual over-ride.
Is it one of those soft-riding body-leaning little French cars?
It is not. Though our first drive was in a place that didn't show it up, now we've got the Clio to the Cotswolds we find the suspension is actually pretty terse. This keeps a sense of solidity at big speed, but in town and on B-roads too you're biffed around a fair bit. For a softer ride, look to a Polo.
The steering is quicker than before, but feels inauthentic, at least at normal cornering speeds. So for the small engine the whole setup feels a bit over-wrought and unnecessarily fake-sporty.
It does make more sense with the TCe 130 engine, where the extra performance (and 70kg more at the nose) give the tyres more work to do. Then you find there is a bit of feel at the limit and a good cornering balance – even some lift-off tweakability – and no bother from torque-steer.
What about the prices?
They're attractive. The mid-range TCe 100 Iconic is very ownable: £16,295 and 99g/km. Step up to just beyond £20k for the RS Line TCe 130 DCT. Renault is doing zero per cent finance from launch, and a £1,000 scrappage allowance. Three years' servicing is just nine quid on top of your monthly finance payment.