Car (South Africa)
In the case of just about every group test we’ve done, there’s been a tendency for distinctive characters to emerge among the cars in the running. We know the Polo’s role in Volkswagen’s portfolio is that of a more grownup offering that democratises big-car features in a smaller, affordable package. The 208, for better or for worse, places a premium on non-conformist style; while the Honda – despite certain aspects we’ll address later that preclude it from an apples-with-apples comparison – provides a taste of practicality with oddball Nipponese charm. That leaves the new Clio as the entertainer of the group. Since its inception more than 30 years ago, the Clio’s styling, packaging and overall character that perennially leans towards the sportier end of the small-hatch spectrum make it one of the most iconic products in Renault’s portfolio. South Africa’s affair with the Clio began with the second-generation model back in 2000, and those traits met with a receptive audience.
Twenty years and two more generations later, it has chalked up sales of close to 80 000 units in SA, cementing its place in a local market inclined towards products from Germany and Japan. It bears mentioning that nearly half of the Clio’s local sales have been attributed to the fourth-generation model. So it’s no huge surprise that while the new car has undergone some noteworthy changes under the skin, Renault was never really going to mess with the formula that made its predecessor such a big hit.
The new car’s styling is certainly an evolutionary affair, retaining the taut sheet metal, narrow brakelamps and coupémimicking rear door handles secreted away in the C-pillar. Underneath, the Clio V is underpinned by the Renaultnissan CMF-B platform. Though that offers improved torsional rigidity it does render it just slightly smaller than the outgoing model. Even so, the interior serves up a tad extra passenger space, with the 635 mm of rear legroom a shade short of the Polo’s. The exterior’s sportiness is echoed in the cabin’s design, with a crisp portrait-oriented infotainment screen angled towards the driver. The most supportively bolstered seats of the quartet, a chunky moulded sports steering wheel and 7-inch TFT digital instrument binnacle with a sporty-looking graphic interface are preludes to a drive that’s probably the most dynamically fulfilling here.
At the heart of the Clio beats a new version of the Renault-nissan HR inline-three turbopetrol engine. This H10DE unit now displaces 999 cc, as opposed to the outgoing unit’s 898 cc, and ups the outputs from 66 kw and 140 N.m to a healthier 74 kw at 5 500 r/min and 160 N.m of torque. While it feels suitably effervescent on the road, our testing unearthed noticeable turbo lag; as a result, the Clio posted the slowest zero to 100 km/h time at 12,23 seconds. Once you’ve pierced that barrier of low-rev lethargy, though, it proves a lively little unit, which mates well with a snappy fivespeed ’box that makes the task of staying in the powerband a cinch.
We’ve always loved the way the previous car handled itself when pushed, and the new Clio feels even sharper. The steering now has a touch more heft and feelsome gearing and the braking performance proved the best of the lot, returning an “excellent” rating. Allied with plentiful frontend grip and the chassis’ sharp yet composed recovery from swift directional changes, the Clio was the car from which all test team members emerged beaming after their stints on twisty back roads. Yes, it may not ride with quite the finesse of the fluid Peugeot or well-balanced Polo, but the Clio is a pleasant car to pilot about town and, barring some national-speed boominess from the engine owing to a lack of a tall sixth gear, it is civilised enough on the motorway.
As a value proposition, the Clio impresses in this company. It boasts a wealth of standardfitment niceties such as keyless ignition and entry, lane-departure warning, climate control, auto lights and wipers. Even with the Option Pack – which includes a smartphone-ready infotainment system with a 9,3-inch screen, sat-nav and camera-assisted PDC for the front and rear – the Renault’s pricing remains very competitive, especially when you try to get its rivals to comparable spec. The only black marks are a rather modest boot and the shortest service plan, spanning two years and 30 000 km.