The Renault Clio has proved immensely popular throughout its history, combining appealing looks with practicality and good engine options. The current model continues this recipe to the letter, and with a multitude of trims and options there should be a model to suit your needs and budget.
It’s not the most modern car in the class but it still has enough going for it to compete with newer rivals. Performance fans would also do well to look at the Renaultsport version which is arguably the best small hot hatch around.
The Clio is a victim of its own ubiquity. It’s not a bad looking car, but it’s such a familiar sight on UK roads it actually loses some of its visual impact. Its slim grille and modestly-sized badge are very understated, but the big headlights and large air intake below the bumper give the front end some distinctiveness.
It has a relatively high roof and, subsequently, its windscreen and windows are larger than the norm, allowing plenty of light into the cabin. At the rear, the smooth tailgate and big rear light cluster help the chunky proportions.
Inside it features decent looking soft-touch plastics, although some of the minor controls can be a little fiddly to use on the move. The driving position is much better than Clios of old and little touches like the stalk-mounted audio controls make it feel more like a more luxurious car.
The Clio makes full use of its small footprint, with decent room at the front and rear. Getting into those rear seats is a breeze and the tailgate opens to leave a good sized boot. The loading lip is a little on the high side but the folding rear seats allow you to pack in loads of luggage.
Elsewhere in the cabin there are a few storage areas but like many cars of this size, the glovebox is relatively shallow and the cup holders won’t hang on to anything larger than a 330ml can.
Performance & handling
Performance depends very much on what engine you choose. For petrol fans, the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol gets along fine, but it’s worth spending around £1,700 more to move up a trim level and get the 1.2 TCe engine. This turbocharged unit can manage 5mpg more and emits 10g/km less CO2 than the non-turbo 1.2, yet is two seconds quicker to 62mph.
There’re fewer choices on the diesel front, but there is the option of a 1.5-litre unit with a healthy 200Nm (148lb.ft) of torque that pulls well, is reasonably refined and emits CO2 at a rate of just 106g/km. There’s also an Eco version that drops under the magic 100g/km barrier, so it’s exempt from road tax and London’s Congestion Charge.
The Clio is a pleasing car to drive regardless of the specification. Although the steering can feel a little dead in your hands at times, the suspension is nicely judged, giving a good balance between ride comfort and handling.
Economy & environment
As long as you choose the right engine, the Clio will cost very little to run. The 1.2 TCe and diesel options are the best, capable of 52.3mpg and 70.6mpg respectively in three-door form. However, it’s a no-brainer to go for the cleaner Eco diesel instead of the standard one. Thanks to aerodynamic tweaks, revised gear ratios and clever energy recuperation kit, the combined economy figure goes up to 78.4mpg, while the emissions drop to only 94g/km. It’s also 5mph faster at the top end, shaves 1.7 seconds off the 0-62mph time and only costs £250 more — why wouldn’t you?
Avoid the 1.6-litre petrol automatic if you can — despite being a small car, the combination of a thirsty engine and inefficient gearbox means it can only manage a combined 36.2mpg and a filthy 179g/km. That’s little better than the Renaulsport Clio, which can be excused due to the fact it’s a extremely fast and an absolute riot to drive.
Equipment & value
The standard equipment levels on the Clio are pretty good. Even the cheapest model in the range, the 1.2 Expression+, has air con, alloy wheels, central locking, electric mirrors and windows and a radio/CD with MP3 compatibility and Bluetooth. Renault’s links with TomTom mean you only need to step up one trim level and £1,000 to get sat-nav built in, as well as gaining cruise control. Disappointingly, you need to trade up to the high-spec GT Line model before you get ESP as standard, which is fitted across the range on some rival cars.
Renault’s safety record has been good in recent years. It has put a lot of effort into good Euro NCAP performance, so it’s no surprise that the Clio gets a five-star overall score. Most models have six airbags as standard, though the absence of ESP on all but the higher specification models is disappointing. We’d recommend getting it fitted as an option.
The Clio is arguably Renault’s best car and it manages this by being pretty good in just about every department. It’s not the cheapest, the cleanest or the most fun to drive but it is far from being a letdown in any one area.
It’s the kind of car you could recommend to a friend knowing there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be happy with their purchase. If you want a better drive, seek out the Fiesta and if it’s ultimate value you want take a look at a Skoda Fabia or even a Kia Rio — but make sure you try the Clio first.
Model tested: Renault Clio 1.2 TCi
Engine: 1.2-litre petrol
Acceleration: 0-62 in 11 seconds
Top speed: 114mph
Emissions: 125g/km CO2