The Renault Clio might be smallest member in the French automaker’s line-up, but it could actually be the most important. Now in its 4th generation and introduced in 2012, it still remains a fun, desirable, practical, and safe car, but is more grown up and refined than before.
It’s certainly one of the most popular models in the marque’s history with over 12 million sold after succeeding the Renault 5 as their most modestly sized car since 1990.
Even before the current version brought it this lovely contoured body, the Clio has always been stylish - it’s just more so here. And it has used this aesthetic edge that has given provided valuable leverage against rivals like the Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta, Skoda Fabia, Peugeot 208, and Mazda2.
That isn’t to say that its appeal only runs skin deep. Quite the contrary. Renault has improved the car as a package significantly over the years, quelling nearly all of the usual fears as to why a small French car isn’t such a great choice. The Clio, if measured on its strengths alone, in many areas leads its class.
It also can be had in a myriad of different grades, and depending on budget, can either be bought as an economical purchase or, in its range-topping spec, is quite a well-rounded package. The range kicks off with the base Authentique, continuing with the mid-range Expression and Dynamique, and topped off by the GT and GT Premium.
“Renault appears to have at last remembered why people buy its small cars: their styling. The new Clio 4 is thus as fresh and interesting as the old one was forgettable and dreary.” - Top Gear
Being a Renault, there’s an obvious inclination here to be differentiated through good looks. And certainly the fourth-generation Clio is one of the most distinctive and perhaps even the prettiest small hatch out there right now.
The way the car’s lines are only subtle suggestions upon first blush but reveal a more curvaceous contour the harder you look is a detail that certainly impresses very quickly. Matched with the brand’s bold corporate face and sporty profile that does a fair job of hiding its rear doors with a coupe-like window and roofline, Renault is certainly on to something here.
The outside flourishes are get even more pronounced if the higher-spec GT-Line is chosen, adding sportier looking lamps, darker trim accents, and 17-inch alloys.
Engine and Drivetrain
“As ever, the dual-clutch gearbox works well enough once you are up and going, though a lack of full manual over-ride can grate when exploring some of the curvier roads…” - Motoring.com.au
There are two petrol engines that comprise the Clio range, both rather small but peppy turbocharged units that deliver decent pace and impressive economy. Things kick off with the 0.9-litre three-cylinder that power the two most affordable variants: Authentique and Expression.
Displacing just 898cc, this TCe90 generates 66kW and 135Nm of torque while sipping just 4.5-litres/100km (claimed) in a combined cycle. This will get you going just fine, especially suited to deliver low-speed urge at city speeds, and even has some sprite in its soundtrack.
It’s mated to a 5-speed manual exclusively as higher tier variants such as the Expression, Dynamique, and GT use the dual-clutch 6-speed EDC dual-clutch automatic paired with the larger 1.2-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder.
Despite not really sporting much more combustion chamber capacity, the TCe120 88kW and 190Nm endows the Clio with a commendable amount of real world performance, able to accelerate the car to 100km/h in 9.2 seconds while still just sipping its fuel at a leisurely pace. Most reviewers were impressed by its unyieldingly frugal mileage numbers and fun character.
“The cabin looks modern and classy, with a tablet-style control screen on all but the most basic models dominates the nearly-button-free dash.” - AutoExpress
Evidently, Renault has invested a lot of energy to making the Clio’s interior look and feel as different and as distinctive as the exterior, though not always nailing the execution. Over its predecessors, the most immediate improvement is not felt but heard, with a better overall cabin insulation and refinement on the road.
The car feels more solid on the whole, with far less outside disturbances allows to infiltrate than was expected and gives the car a long distance cruising ability it just wasn’t able to achieve last time around.
The centre console and instrument cluster does attempt to modernise the car with another touch of that all-too-referenced French flair, but here the chinks in the armour start to show with some ergonomic difficulties popping up and a somewhat awkwardly amalgamated centre stack.
To its credit, Renault has improved their use of material considerably over the car it replaces, managing to feel like a more upmarket car that can easily rival the likes of the Ford Fiesta, though it fails to reach the heights of the Mazda2 for overall aesthetics or the Volkswagen Polo for build sheer quality.
Where it does outdo the Fiesta and match the Polo is in rear space. There’s plenty of legroom and a decent amount of headroom for taller occupants despite the more sloping roofline, though the pursuit of a coupe-like profile does mean visibility for rear passengers is a little poor.
There’s also quite a generous amount of space in the boot. For its class of car, 300-litres is above average, though it’s shy of class leaders like the Honda Jazz. This can be expanded to 1,146-litres with the seats folded, however, though there’s a significant load lip to get over before loading can even begin.
Behind The Wheel
“Latest Clio gets quicker steering than before and there's a hint of Renault Sport to the dynamics. Ultimately regular models are set up for comfort and safety, however.” - EVO
Renault has been able to combine its new strengths with its older ones. The improved refinement goes miles in making the Clio a genuinely nice place to while away the commute but when the mood strikes, the car is still agile and eager to play.
In the GT-Line, especially, with its sports-tuned chassis, is impressively talented, staving off understeer like mentalist. The small and lightweight engine up front is likely a big contributing factor, with little weight over the nose to drag it out of line.
But even with the dynamism, the Clio is still quite supple over most surfaces, even with the larger 17-inch alloys fitted. The steering too is precise and surprisingly communicative, inspiring confidence to fully explore the car’s handling talent.
Safety and Technology
“A clever feature is a new design of speakers in the front doors, called Bass Reflex technology, that give far better low-end notes than you would expect from their diminutive dimensions.” - CarsGuide
Renault has been obsessive about the safety of their cars for a very long time now and was one of the first new manufacturers to achieve the holy grail 5-star Euro NCAP rating. Today’s Clio arrives with a 5-star ANCAP score of 35.87 out of 37 points.
Standard are four airbags (though, not curtains for rear passengers) and electronic stability control, though speccing the car with autonomous emergency braking isn’t an option on any variant, which is unfortunate. Still, higher tier versions gain features such as automatic headlamps and rain-sensing wipers, and a reversing camera.
Only the base Authentique spec loses out on the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, though it still does have Bluetooth audio streaming. This means nearly all Clios come with satellite navigation, useful as none come with support for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto support. The Dynamique and GT also come with an upgraded Arkamys audio system.
This Clio is a big step forward for Renault and is an affirmation of the larger changes being institutionalised at the French firm. They have introduced a car that, on paper, delivers practicality, efficiency, and performance at a keen price. But what it does have that others don’t quite measure up against is the Clio, once driven, can hold sway from the right-side, more emotional part of the mind.
It’s combination of good looks and bewitching drive (GT) does beg the question of why don’t buyers of the Ford Fiesta look toward Renault more often come crunch time, because this is quite the talented little hatch.
Motoring.com.au - 67/100 - “…the Clio GT’s biggest competition comes from within. Unless you are a real fan of leather trim, glass sunroofs and looking at your car’s stance reflected in shop windows, it is difficult to recommend the GT over the better-riding and sweeter Dynamique.”
AutoExpress - 3/5 - “The Clio does offer plenty of kit and there's a comprehensive range of efficient engines and trim levels to choose from, but the drive still trails the Fiesta’s.”
Top Gear - 7/10 - “Renault has rediscovered its form with a loveable car in a class that lacks them.”
EVO - 3.5/5 - “Clio must also take on those perennial showroom favourites,…Lucky, then, that it has an attractive exterior, reasonably high quality interior and range of economical engines with which to do battle.
CarsGuide - 4/5 - “You get lots of French flair in the standard Renault Clio – and much more flair when you step up and personalise it to your individual needs.”