Review: Renault Clio Iconic TCe 100

Renault’s Clio hatchback is one of the better known small cars. With sales exceeding 15 million it has sold more than any other French car. In its 30 years it has had its flashes of fame, promoted by some charming Gallic interplay between Papa and Nicole in advertisements.

Admiring the swish styling of the new Clio, it's easy to forget it was originally a replacement for the boxy Renault 5
Admiring the swish styling of the new Clio, it's easy to forget it was originally a replacement for the boxy Renault 5

A new short film announced the arrival of the latest Clio. A young girl on a school trip to France, taken to the boat in a maroon 1993 Mk1 Clio, collected by her hosts in a yellow Clio into lovely hazy pastoral scenery. Cassette tapes are exchanged and some years later on a reciprocal trip, passionate kisses in a 2001 Clio. Later, back in France, her French friend gets married. We see the Clio go from a fairly humble car with wind-up windows into the rather swish car we have today. Adverts are bolder, too. Papa and Nicole have been replaced by two girls falling in love, with a happy ending when hubby is ditched.

Clio has grown in size since its debut last century. How long ago that seems. It arrived here in 1991 as a replacement for the Renault 5. I have just enjoyed – actually, really enjoyed – time with the latest Clio and was chatting to a chap who keeps his eyes on trends and his hands on the wheel of some very exuberant cars. Pick-ups and hefty SUVs are among his favourites.

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Strange, perhaps, that he lamented the fact that the Clio had now grown into quite a big car since the Nineties. True: it is longer by 14 inches and three or four inches wider and taller, but then so are its peers like the Ford Fiesta, the Peugeot 208, which has progressed numerically from the 205, the brand new Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen’s Polo. As for the Honda Civic…

So? I don’t know what to say. I don’t need to make excuses. They are what they are. Renault may tell you that for those wanting a smaller car there is the Twingo. It is not entirely what I would have in mind. And the Ford Ka and the Peugeot 108 also leave gaps in desire below their bigger kin.

What is clear to many and should be clear to all is that the best way to cut down pollution from vehicles is to reduce miles travelled and to optimise what you do them in. Or choose green. Renault says the Clio hybrid (here in spring) is capable of doing 80 per cent of its urban journeys with zero tailpipe emissions.

Renault’s electric Zoe is a remarkable zero emissions hatchback but still needs energy to make it run. The latest one has seat fabrics and other trim made from recycled materials such as safety belts and plastic in a textile which needs 60 per cent less CO2 to make. The patented process produces a weaving yarn without using chemicals or heat.

Climate-saving advice includes not to buy new clothes, don’t wash them/yourself as often, don’t fly, reduce or halt meat consumption, etc.

That doesn’t mean the vegan lifestyle SUV driver is in the clear, but I can find a very good rationale for a car like the Clio. For most of the year it is big enough. For most of the time its three-cylinder petrol engine has enough power. Its rating of 99 grams of carbon dioxide would not long ago have qualified for zero annual road tax and free travel in the London congestion zone.

Daily costs are low. The official economy is 54.3mpg. Without conscious effort, in other words driven normally, it returned 50mpg on a busy 50-mile “commuting” run from hill country to city centre. On a 150-mile motorway drive it averaged 55mpg, improving to 59mpg for the round trip.

It does all this with an almost benign ease. The five-speed gearbox allows cruising at 70 at 2,500rpm. There didn’t seem to be a need to have six gears. The shift action is clean. Rear drum brakes are getting rarer but with 99 horse power were up to their job. A speed limiter kept us in check. It is easy to set, using buttons on the face of the steering wheel. There’s also cruise control, but it is not adaptive and so only useful on free-flowing motorways. The navigation bleeped advance warnings of speed cameras. Obligingly, it advised of roads with restricted access, whether or not it was set to navigation. The voice command system understood requests first time without the equivalent of “yer what?”

An added attraction is that Renault has extended its new car warranty to five years or 100,000 miles. It will include latest generation Clios already bought.

By now it is apparent that I haven’t much complaint about this Clio. The 999cc engine was all I needed, making it nippy for most situations. The caveat is that usually it was lightly loaded.

Verdict: This papa likes it.