3 Renault Clio

The French built their reputation on fine ride and handling, and the poised Clio fits the legend

TO THIS former Clio owner, Renault’s fourth-generation model is the first interest-worthy iteration since the Renaultsport 182, which bowed out in 2006. But it’s in base rather than RS form that the Clio IV impresses me most. (In case you were wondering, I had a 2001 Clio 172 Sport.)

It’s a pity, then – for buyers and the Clio’s Megatest chances – that the threecylinder turbo TCe90 entry-level variants only come as five-speed manuals. It meant we had to opt for the dual-clutch-only Expression TCe120 four-cylinder that, at $20,290 plus on-roads, costs more than each of the eight rivals tested, and $3500 more than the base Clio Authentique.

But Renault’s new-generation supermini, to use the light-car parlance of its native France, brings hitherto unknown value and peace of mind, thanks to sharp pricing and the brand’s relatively recent adoption of a range-wide five-year warranty.

With perhaps the two biggest question marks surrounding French-car ownership addressed, my interest was again piqued.

The adoption of small, turbocharged engines is a welcome move that brings verve and flexibility found in few rivals.

The base three-pot is a charmer, but the 1.2-litre turbo sets its extra 22kW and 55Nm to work by slashing the claimed 0-100km/h figure by nearly three seconds.

We saw 10.6sec, which puts the Clio on the podium for performance in this company.

But it’s the 7.5sec 80-120km/h figure that tells the true story of a flexible mid-range that tops all bar the unexpectedly brisk Honda. Indeed, the Clio is 2.3sec quicker than the Barina and 3.5sec quicker than the wooden-spooner Yaris in this crucial acceleration zone.

Only the occasionally slow-witted sixspeed dual-clutch transmission detracts from an effective, effervescent drivetrain.

The Renault’s Getrag-developed ’box is particularly frustrating away from the mark, where it can dither indecisively before engaging its first pair of clutches.

It will also upshift at redline in manual mode, which is more forgivable here than it is in the Renaultsport version, though you push the lever forward for downshifts, back for upshifts – a rare win!

The French are not new to great engines, but they built their reputation on fine ride and handling, and the Clio fits the legend.

Ride absorbency is appreciated quickly and savoured over time. The Clio doesn’t have quite the long-stroke suppleness of the Peugeot, but it’s a close thing between the French duo (on 195/55R16 tyres) and the unfailingly polished Polo (on classstaple 185/60R15s). When the road surface rages beneath, the Clio’s suspension maintains composure where handlingbiased rivals like the Mazda 2 and Fiesta can be bullied off line.

On a truly patchy backroad, the Renault’s cabin remains a relative temple of tranquillity that, in combination with the posterior comfort, adds to an overall air of refinement. In this hushed context, the odd dashboard rattle and buzz disappoint (but don’t surprise). There’s no such problem in the likes of the Yaris, for example, though in that you wouldn’t hear a creak for the road noise...

Clio’s sense of front-end connectedness and rear-end involvement felt in the urban jungle comes to the fore in the country.

Passive rear steer worked subtly into the tune of the torsion beam helps the Clio deliver positive turn-in and a profoundly adjustable mid-corner attitude. Light, precise electro-steering delivers genuine feel, but, oddly, loses some of its sense of connection when you really lean on the nose. And the steering wheel is huge.

Comparatively potent and enviably poised, the Clio is a persuasive package.

Perhaps not class-leadingly so in pricier four-pot Expression spec, but if you’re in the manual-buying minority, we can think of few better ways to spend $16,790 than on a base three-pot Clio. – JW

The French built their reputation on fine ride and handling, and the poised Clio fits the legend

7.5 /10

RENAULT CLIO EXPRESSION TCe120

$20,840* Engine 1197cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo Power 88kW @ 4900rpm Torque 190Nm @ 2000rpm Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 4063/1732/1448/2589mm Weight 1104kg Cargo capacity 300 litres Tyres Continental ContiEcoContact 5 195/55R16 87H Economy 7.6L/100km 0-60km/h 4.9sec 0-100km/h 10.6sec 0-400m 17.6sec @ 129.6km/h 80-120km/h 7.5sec 100km/h-0 38.8m 3yr resale 55% . Styling, suppleness . Gearbox lethargy * Includes electric pack ($300) and black exterior trim ($250)

Second-hand goodness

THE Clio’s 55 percent three-year Redbook resale rating – the worst of the pack – seems about right, at least in terms of its relativity to its rivals, which top out at 74 percent (Mazda 2). It seemingly reflects the fact that buyers of used light cars will be more suspicious of a three-year-old French car than, say, a Japanese one. The Barina (58 percent) and Peugeot 208 (59) are in a similar boat, because the latter is equally Froggy and, for my money, the only thing less desirable than a brand new Barina CD is a used one.