The Clio comes with a choice of five main engines (plus the sporty RS models), but we’d advise against the basic 1.2 petrol. The best options are the 0.9-litre three-cylinder petrol motor and the 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel, which each produce 89bhp. The 0.9 petrol spins up smoothly and has decent shove from around 2500rpm, but you will find yourself downshifting if you encounter a steep hill. The diesel has more torque at low revs but it’s also willing to rev; it’s easily the strongest motor in the line-up.
If you need more power, there’s the option of a turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine with 118bhp. It’s available with an automatic or manual gearbox and makes the Clio pretty nippy, but will prove a lot more expensive to run than its 0.9-litre equivalent. In the other direction you can also have a 108bhp version of the 1.5-litre diesel. It’s frugal, has good emissions, but is only available on the top trim levels, which makes it expensive.
At the sporty end of the range are the RS 200 and 220 hot hatches. With 197bhp and 217bhp respectively, and a dual-clutch gearbox, they offer more power than rivals such as the acclaimed Ford Fiesta ST.
The Clio’s suspension deals with larger road imperfections such as potholes reasonably well, but in general the car never really settles down as well as, say, a Ford Fiesta or Skoda Fabia. Even so, it’s still comfortable enough for long distances not to cause too much distress.
Paradoxically, the Renaultsport edition of the Clio has different suspension and a surprisingly supple ride for a hot hatch; if anything, it’s softer than the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST. The Trophy version is noticeably stiffer, however.
While the Clio can’t offer the kind of involving driving experience the Ford Fiesta does, no other small car does, and the Clio is probably the Fiesta’s nearest challenger in this respect. So if you’re looking for some driving pleasure, the Renault is game enough and you can easily persuade it to flow smartly through a series of bends. On motorways it feels composed and stable, while around town it’s a light and easy steer.
The RS 200, meanwhile, displays even more agility and balance through corners, which can be enhanced further if you fit the Cup Chassis option. There’s no need to spend extra on the RS 220’s suspension system, because it already comes primed with sticky tyres, an even lower ride height an extra stiff set-up to really deliver on its sporting promise.
Fire up the three-cylinder petrol engine and it lets out quite a pronounced thrum, but there’s actually very little vibration seeping through into the cabin. Once you hit a steady speed it settles down, and you’ll struggle to tell it apart from the generally smoother four-cylinder engines, which include the two 1.2-litre petrols.
The 1.5-litre diesel is one of the smoothest engines of its type, particularly when compared to the Fabia’s diesel. At speed in the Clio, both road and wind noise are noticeable, but far from distracting.
Every Clio comes with a height and reach adjustable steering wheel, as well as a height-adjustable driver’s seat, so finding a comfortable driving position shouldn’t pose an issue. In fact, the driving position feels more immediately natural than it does in a Fabia.
For the most part, all the controls fall easily to hand. Some may find the location of the stereo controls behind the steering wheel a little odd – you can’t see them and so need to learn to operate them by feel – plus the cruise control buttons spread across the steering wheel and underneath the handbrake are somewhat illogical at first.
Despite the Clio’s swoopy bonnet line, it’s easy to place the front of the car, thanks to the large glass area up front. The view behind isn’t so impressive, though, and the restricted over-the-shoulder visibility is a pain.
Rear parking sensors are only standard from the mid-level Dynamique Nav trim and not available on the entry-level Expression and Play editions. A rear-view camera (including front parking sensors) is standard on the upper Signature Nav model.
Entry-level Expression and Play trims only get a basic system, albeit with a DAB radio and Bluetooth. However, our recommended trim, Dynamique Nav, comes with a full 7.0in colour touchscreen and sat-nav as standard. The R-link multimedia system that comes on the higher-end models adds online services such as TomTom Live, for the latest traffic reports.
Even the touchscreen systems feel a little out dated by today’s standards, missing features that rivals offer such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto that let you operate your smartphone’s apps from the screen. Also, the screen’s icons are small and fiddly, the menus are slow to respond, and the graphics look rather basic. Anything including the Polo, Fabia, Micra and Kia Rio offer much more up-to-date systems.
The Clio’s cabin looks fresh and modern, with plenty of gloss-black plastics. A facelift has increased the number of soft touch plastics on the doors and around the dash but there are still a lot of cheap-looking, scratchy surfaces on show. So while the Renault’s perceived quality is comparable with a Ford Fiesta’s, it falls short of a Skoda Fabia’s or Hyundai i20’s.
The Clio offers a good amount of space in the front seats. Even tall adults will find head and leg room perfectly adequate, and there’s a decent amount of shoulder room, too.
It’s a bit weak on storage options though, with a small glovebox and door bins, and nowhere obvious to put your mobile phone while it’s charging.
Two grown-ups can fit into the Clio’s rear seats without too much effort. Mind you, if they’re tall you’ll probably hear dissenting voices if you inflict a really long journey upon them; leg room is average and the sloping roofline limits head room for anyone over six-feet. Rivals such as the Skoda Fabia or Kia Rio are better choices if you regularly carry adults in the back.
Generally speaking, apart from the Honda Jazz’s clever rear seats, we don’t really expect radical flexibility from a small car’s seating arrangement. The Clio proves not to be an exception; its rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split in case you need to increase the boot capacity - although they don’t go down completely flat – and that, we’re afraid, is it.
The Clio’s boot is on a par with those of most rivals at 300 litres. What does that mean in the real world? Well, you should easily fit in the family’s weekly shop, although larger clobber, such as a toddler’s buggy or pram with a chassis, may prove more of a challenge. The rear seats fold down to free up more space, although they leave a large step in the extended floor area when you do; this can make it awkward to slide in larger, heavier items.
For a Clio in a decent specification – we’d recommend the Dymanique Nav trim – it’s not the cheapest cash buy, with the Skoda Fabia for example, costing quite a bit less. Still, most will be bought on finance, and with appealing finance offers and dealers willing to offer discounts if you haggle, you should find a competitive monthly rate.
Running costs should be decent, too, with reasonable real-world economy from the petrol engines (we recorded a respectable 43.5mpg in our tests on the 0.9-litre petrol) and even more frugal diesels, plus low insurance and road tax rates. Traditionally, though, resale values have been poor, so don’t expect your Clio to be worth a fortune when you decide to sell.
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Even entry-level Clios get a fair amount of standard equipment; Expression models bring USB connectivity, electrically operated front windows, LED daytime running lights and cruise control. You’ll need to move up to at least Play if you want to swap wheel trims for 16in alloy wheels and add air-conditioning, though.
Step up to the centre of the range, and you’ll find our favourite Dynamique Nav trim. This comes with a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment set-up, automatic lights and wipers, keyless entry, along with a mix of plusher materials that give the interior a real lift. Dynamique S Nav is rather pricey, but adds handy rear parking sensors, climate control, 17in alloys, LED headlights a front centre armrest and rear electric windows.
Signature Nav carries the upgraded infotainment system with online features, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, and part-leather heated front seats.
The RS models are based on the Dynamique S Nav trim, but add features including a dual-clutch automatic gearbox (with manual change paddles behind the steering wheel), lowered sports suspension, launch control, sports seats, and aluminium pedals.
The Clio hasn’t appeared in our most recent customer satisfaction surveys but Renault as a whole has a questionable reliability record. In our most recent survey it finished 21st out the 37 manufacturers surveyed, and behind most of its major rivals.
Every Clio gets a reasonable line-up of safety equipment, including six airbags, anti-whiplash headrests and Isofix child seat anchorage points on three of the five seats. All versions also come with electronic stability control.
However, some of the more modern features that can be had on its competitors, such as automatic emergency city braking, blind spot monitoring, or lane assistance aren’t available on the Clio.
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