First Drive: Renault Clio
The fifth-generation Clio feels well equipped for a shifting fleet market, says Alex Grant.
SECTOR Supermini PRICE £14,500+ (TBC) FUEL (WLTP data TBC) CO2 95-119g/km (NEDC Correlated)
Renault’s product overhaul has come full circle with its European best-seller. Having spearheaded the new model range seven years ago, the Clio is breaking with tradition in its fifth generation. Where previous models abandoned any visual links to their predecessors, the latest iteration is hiding an all-new car behind styling changes subtle enough to be overlooked as a mid-cycle facelift. Clearly Renault has become very comfortable in its own skin.
Rightly so. Customer clinics suggested design had been a big selling point of the outgoing Clio, so much so that UK sales were growing even in its twilight years. So the newcomer takes that familiar, popular shape, underpins it with a lighter new platform, packs it full of new technology and systematically addresses its weakest points. Renault might be comfortable, but it’s not complacent.
This is most obvious inside. Benchmarking German superminis, cabin fit and finish is worthy of a premium car; soft, matte plastics with aluminium-accented switchgear and optional colour-contrasted panels. Tactility and consistency of materials was a focus, but it’s also much more user-friendly, including details such as seats shaped to maximise occupant space and over-shoulder visibility, cruise control settings moved to the steering wheel (at last…) and storage and cupholders within easy reach of the driver.
The cabin’s centrepiece is a large, portrait touchscreen with a new operating system featuring tablet-style movable, scalable home screen tiles. All Clios include 4G connectivity for three years, enabling navigation-equipped cars to receive over-the-air map updates and with the potential to communicate with fleet management systems in future. It’s an intuitive setup, if a little laggy when switching into full-screen navigation, and strikes a good balance between digital and physical controls. The settings most used on the move (including climate control) are still changed using buttons and knobs.
Big car sophistication is also noticeable on the move. The aerodynamic body reduces high-speed wind noise as well as fuel consumption, while added insulation makes for a quiet, confident motorway car with comfortable space for four adults. Yet it’s also lost none of the light-footed agility of older Clios, with quick, naturally weighted steering and a high-set, short-throw gearstick, giving a real sense of driver focus. Low-speed ride quality isn’t as settled as the Mégane, but it’s an impressive all-rounder otherwise.
The UK will get a choice of four engines at launch. There are two three-cylinder petrols at 75hp and 100hp, the latter available with an optional continuously variable transmission, and a 130hp four-cylinder from the Kadjar, which is always paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch ’box and used on the sporty R.S. Line trim. Diesel accounts for 7% of UK sales, almost all of which are to fleets, so Renault will only offer one in the new car; an 85hp unit, now equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox, thereby optimised for the high-mileage motorway users who are likely to opt for it.
Renault expects the mid-spec petrol to be the best-seller at launch. It’s a lively performer with impressive refinement for a three-cylinder, while CO2 from 100g/km CO2 is only 5g/km more than the diesel. The carmaker is also looking at fleet opportunities for the first-ever petrol hybrid Clio, launching in 2020 and locking horns with the Toyota Yaris. Renault reckons it could sell diesel-esque volumes in the UK, offering heavy electric assistance in town with an efficient petrol engine for high-speed driving. It could be an interesting alternative, provided its whole-life proposition can be positioned correctly.
In the meantime, the Clio offers plenty of reasons to look a little further than skin-deep. It’s a household name that can still shake up the top of the class.
What We Think:
Stylish, sophisticated and good to drive, the Clio is a well-rounded supermini with plenty of end-user fleet appeal. Clever technology and a well-timed hybrid version offer some new reasons for business users to take note.
Key fleet model: Renault Clio TCe 100 Iconic
Strengths: Quality cabin, technology.
Weaknesses: Too subtle a visual change?
FW Rating: 5/5