To be per­fectly Fran­cois

Korean war­ranty, Ja­panese pric­ing, French elan ... That’s why we love lit­tle Clio

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@carsguide.com.au

BOU­TIQUE looks at a bar­gain shop price is the pri­mary ap­peal of the Clio. Toss in af­ford­able bling to per­son­alise the car along with capped-price ser­vic­ing at $299 an­nu­ally for three years and the baby Re­nault starts look­ing like a smart buy.

Yeah, there are no rear cur­tain airbags but the lack of rear legroom means adults won’t be in there of­ten any­way.

VALUE

The range kicks off at $16,790 for the Authen­tique model with a tur­bocharged 900cc three-cylin­der en­gine and fivespeed man­ual gear­box.

The bet­ter-equipped Ex­pres­sion adds a seven-inch touch­screen with sat­nav, dou­bles the speaker count to four and rolls on big­ger, bet­ter­look­ing 16-inch wheels for $1000 more.

The next step is the same-spec car pow­ered by a 1.2-litre turbo with six-speed auto for $19,790.

The line-up is head­lined by a Dy­namique model with auto head­lights and wipers, elec­tric front and rear win­dows, elec­tric fold­ing mir­rors and push- but­ton en­gine start (bun­dled as a $300 op­tion on Ex­pres­sion vari­ants) along with 16-inch al­loys and cli­mate-con­trol air­con for $23,290.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The base en­gine is never go­ing to win ac­cel­er­a­tion con­tests but it will win econ­omy drives. It uses just 4.5 litres of fuel over 100km and with a 45-litre fuel tank can the­o­ret­i­cally travel from Syd­ney to Bris­bane with­out need­ing a top-up.

The man­ual gear­box will cop a work out up hills but in gen­eral city traf­fic it is more than ca­pa­ble of go­ing with the traf­fic flow.

Most Clio buy­ers are ex­pected to opt for the auto and big­ger en­gine. That takes fuel use to 5.2L/100km but there’s a com­men­su­rate boost to per­for­mance. The auto is a dual-clutch job so there’s a mo­men­tary lag in off-the-line re­sponse but shifts up and down the cogs are crisp at any­thing less than full throt­tle. Drive hard and the en­gine can come off the boil be­tween shifts ... that’s the flip side of fo­cus­ing on econ­omy.

DE­SIGN

It is hard to go past the Clio’s looks in the light-car class. This hatch has charisma and the ac­ces­sories list ri­vals any­thing found in the Mini and Audi cat­a­logues— at much re­duced prices. The rear seats are com­pro­mised in terms of space, as is the case with vir­tu­ally all light cars.

Things look and feel far bet­ter up front. The dash lay­out is sim­ple and easy to use, though the pol­ished chrome rings around the in­stru­ment bin­na­cle can re­flect glare from the sun and the icons at the base of the dial con­trol­ling the flow of air can’t be read fromthe driver’s seat.

Fit and fin­ish are first-rate and, thanks to the high-gloss sur­faces and touch­screen, the over­all im­pres­sion is of sit­ting in a more ex­pen­sive car.

SAFETY

The three-cylin­der ver­sions of the Clio earn a five-star ANCAP rat­ing (the four­cylin­der vari­ants haven’t been tested). Oneof the anom­alies of the ever-tougher ANCAP tests means the Re­nault Cap­tur SUV, which is based on the Clio, won’t earn a five-star mark when it ar­rives next year.

Like the Clio, it lacks rear head-pro­tect­ing airbags and the ANCAP road map states cars will be re­quired to have them from2014 to earn the top score.

DRIV­ING

It takes only a quick trip to dis­cover the Clio is more than a mo­bile style plat­form. It is one of the few cars in this class that has the as­sur­ance to tackle any­thing from pot­holed city streets to cor­ru­gated coun­try cor­ners.

There’s a Clio RS here next month— the­way for those who de­mand more pace— but the ba­sic poise of the Clio’s ride and han­dling can’t be faulted. The steer­ing is light around town then weights up well as the speed climbs. The sus­pen­sion, while fol­low­ing the Euro­pean ap­proach of be­ing firmer than Asia-Pa­cific built cars, doesn’t crash or jar over speed humps and train tracks.

The five-speed man­ual is pre­cise and it is only on steep climbs that the en­gine can strug­gle to wind its way back to the 2500 rpm sweet spot. The six-speed twin-clutch auto tested else­where is among the best of the type.

VERDICT

The Clio is a classy light car that de­serves con­sid­er­a­tion.

The three-cylin­der en­gine is a good bal­ance of fru­gal­ity and per­for­mance… but the ar­rival of Ford’s 1.0-litre Eco­Boost Fi­esta next month could re­set the field.

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