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Clio to hit Renault showrooms below $17K

Comeback kid: Renault's fourth-generation Clio will land in Australia mid next year and do battle with sales champs like the Mazda2 and other Euro light cars like the Volkswagen Polo.

Renault will return to the light-car segment with its lowest priced hatch


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3 Oct 2012


RENAULT’S standard Clio range is heading back to Australia to bother the Mazda2, Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, giving the brand its best chance yet of cementing a spot on the short list of light-car buyers.

Pencilled in for a local premiere around August next year, the strikingly styled fourth-generation model – the first complete vehicle under the fresh gaze of former Mazda designer Laurens van den Acker – should be keenly priced from around $16,500.

Controversially, the Clio will only be available as a five-door, as Renault will not manufacture a three-door option.

The latest model has grown in most dimensions over its eight-year old predecessor (available only in hot Renault Sport guise Down Under), and gets improved handling, refinement, safety, specification, and technology – including a dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The Clio IV also brings high levels of personalisation and multimedia applications, as well as a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating – a feat achieved without curtain or rear-seat occupant airbags.

Renault says this is thanks to greater structural integrity, and the use of four (rather than two) side-impact sensors for much faster seatbelt pre-tensioner reaction.

The French engineers have also managed to pare upwards of 100kg of weight, leading to fuel efficiency gains of more than 20 per cent for the small-capacity TCe turbocharged petrol and dCi turbo-diesel Euro V engines to be released first-off.

According to Renault Australia managing director Justin Hocevar, the Clio IV will compete on equal terms against the Mazda and Polo, and ought to be one of the brand’s best-sellers.

“For me, the sweet spot in the market is between the best-selling Japanese hatch and the best-selling German hatch,” he said.

“It represents the next surge for Renault in Australia. It marks the return of automotive emotion in the light-car class.” Within about six months of the local release, the Clio IV Estate and long-awaited RS 200 hot hatch replacement will join the range, while the recently confirmed Clio-based light crossover SUV is highly likely for Australia from 2014.

The latter will take on the new Peugeot 2008, Ford EcoSport, Holden Trax and Nissan Juke – if the latter gets the green light.

All are set to give Renault the most comprehensive and competitive light-car line-up in the company’s long and chequered history in this country.

Developed over two-and-a-half years in France, the car underwent five million kilometres of simulated driving and 20,000 hours of dyno testing.

Built in the Parisian suburb of Flins or at the long-running Bursa plant in Turkey (which has supplied some Megane models to Australia since 2004 and will make the mainstream models for us), the Clio IV is essentially all-new, although the B-platform architecture is derived from the previous model that will still be available in some markets (but not Australia) as an entry-level runabout.

Losing weight was a priority, so the tailgate is plastic for the first time, while various grades of high-strength steels, sheetmetal blanks, and a hollowed-out (rather than solid) anti-roll bar all help shed kilos.

Dimensionally, Clio IV grows just as arch enemy Peugeot shrinks its competing 208. Length increases 35mm to 4062mm, width 24mm to 1732mm, wheelbase 15mm to 2589mm, and tracks 34mm/front and 36mm/rear to 1506mm, although height drops 45mm to 1448mm.

Sitting low and wide, the upshot is that the driver enjoys a cabin that feels almost as roomy as an Astra of about a decade ago.

The same also applies from a rear-seat perspective, though the sharply rising waistline limits reversing vision, as does the relatively shallow rear window.

Existing owners won’t know what hit the new Clio inside, thanks to an eye-catching blend of bang-up-to-date analogue and electronics.

Ensconced within a curvy, flowing dash of agreeable tactility, interesting trim patterns, Audi-esque dials, and an iPad-style central tablet operating what might be the world’s easiest sat-nav and media interface systems, the Renault’s warm interior represents a big step forward for the marque.

The basics are spot-on too, from the wide-opening front doors and pleasant three-spoke steering wheel that tilts and telescopes for a great driving position, to the obvious positioning of all essential controls and large cargo area. Renault has been making cars for 114 years, and is one of the true supermini pioneers.

Volkswagen-levels of isolation from engine and road noise came as a surprise, but the Dumbo eared exterior mirrors conjure up a fair bit of crosswind rustling in some scenarios.

So what didn’t we like? Not everybody will rate the ostentatious patterning that comes with the optional (and unconfirmed for Oz) ‘Sport’ trim, or the ‘Trendy’ pack’s large swathes of dash-top colours.

The front seats seem a tad too broad and flat for sufficient support when cornering, while the rear doors are quite small for larger folk to negotiate.

Plus, all our iPhone 4 pairings suffered from occasional musical streaming hiccups and track skipping. A fix is under investigation.

Renault says it chose to go bigger inside and out because the overwhelming number of B-segment buyers are moving down from larger C and D class cars, while only about 10 per cent are moving up from the A or sub-B sizes.

Yet a good deal of downsizing has gone on beneath the stylish bonnet.

Probably the entry engine for Australia is the TCe 90 – a 0.9-litre turbo-charged three-cylinder petrol unit delivering 66kW (or 90bhp – hence the name) of power at 5250rpm and 135Nm of torque at 2500rpm.

Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox with quite long throws and a notchy reverse selector (a six-speed dual-clutch transmission called EDC will be made available), this powerplant immediately belies its bijou proportions to offer respectable perky performance right through to the 6000rpm rev limit.

Even with three adults on board and the (effective) air-con, over hilly Tuscan terrain, this Clio is endowed with an infectious, willing perkiness that ought to convert even the most fervent triple-cylinder doubter.

Just watch those overtaking manoeuvres, however, because a bit of planning is necessary. It hits the 0-100km/h mark in 12.2 seconds, on the way to a v-max of 182km/h.

Assisted by idle-stop and brake-energy recovery tech, the TCe 90 – which tips the scales at 1009kg – will average just 4.5 litres per 100km on the Euro cycle and return a carbon dioxide emissions figure of 104 grams per kilometre.

Whether Australians experience the ECO version that drops the latter to 99g/km while shaving 0.2L/100km off the consumption figure is unknown.

More optimised (read: less peaky) torque delivery, remapped pedal electronics, reduced-output air-con, lower rolling resistance tyres, improved aero aids, and higher gearing help achieve such exceptional parsimony.

Yet it isn’t a dullard to drive. A balanced and oh-so-controllable chassis underscores the cool, calm, and collected nature of the TCe 90’s handling.

Background first. Being based on the previous model’s platform, suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam set-up out back, while the electric rack-and-pinion power steering system has undergone a thorough overhaul, with a quicker ratio for more eager responses.

Rivals benchmarked included the previous Fiesta (for handling) and Polo (for quality, noise/vibration/harshness suppression) and old Clio for ride comfort, since Renault says it was deemed best in class anyway.

That said, at low (parking) speeds, the TCe 90’s helm is overly light. But the faster ratio from 30km/h upwards transforms the car, ushering in a welcome dose of agility, heft and feedback.

Accordingly, the Clio can scurry around a corner precisely and without drama, hanging on the chosen line and keeping everything under control. Hurried along in rain, the Renault’s grip proved to be quite reassuring.

Just as endearing is the dCi 90 – a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel producing 66kW at 4000rpm and a hefty 220Nm from 1750rpm.

Words like quiet, refined and revvy don’t normally apply to baby diesels, but this muscular little tourer piles on the torque for effortless and seamless oomph, pretty much from the moment you tickle the throttle.

Where prodigious gear shifting (helped out by a dash light indicator) is par for the TCe course, the dCi can lope around lazily in top gear around town, yet whoosh forward with determination when rapid actions are required.

On the economy front, the diesels lead, with figures of 3.4L/100km and 90g/km. If Renault imports the ECO version the ratings tumble a further 0.2L/100km and 7g/km for near-record frugality, and astounding for a car of this size and dynamic aptitude.

Far from feeling like a lead arrow (the dCi is 62kg heavier at 1071kg), the diesel Clio hunkers down and holds on tight to the tarmac below, while the steering feels meatier for having that extra mass over the nose. Given more steering feedback, the Fiesta would have some fierce dynamic competition.

As with the three-pot petrol, the ride quality seems good enough to be from the class above, while noise-vibration-harshness levels are near class leading (meaning almost Polo-like). We’re a little disappointed that four-wheel disc brakes aren’t standard as with the Polo (drums feature in the rear), but otherwise it is obvious the latest Clio is a great little car to drive.

At this stage Renault won’t bother with the 54kW/107Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine – the entry-level powerplant in the European-market models.

But a Clio variant that might make it to Australia is the TCe 120 – a 1.2-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol unit offering about 90kW/190Nm, and is said to match a regular 1.6 for performance. Like its three-pot cousin, this engine features a timing belt that requires no maintenance.

Renault once promoted the Clio as a “small car with big car features.” To that end, every model now includes hill start assist, along with four airbags, ESC, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist tech.

Also standard is the tablet-like 18cm touch screen incorporating radio/CD/MP3/USB audio, world-first distortion-free ‘Bass Reflex’ vented acoustic speakers, Bluetooth connectivity with microphone, cruise control with speed limiter, front power windows, remote central locking, air-conditioning, and lane-change indicators.

The Clio also introduces the option of R-Link – a multi-media package with real-time internet connectivity, as well as a large screen for audio, (optional) sat-nav, vehicle functionality accessibility and text-to-speech capability.

Other options new to Clio include parking radar, a rear camera, leather upholstery, climate control and myriad personalisation accessories including alloy wheel choices, decals, cabin trim highlights and even an app that synthesises various engine sounds via the speaker system.

Last but not least, Renault says it has made concerted efforts to improve quality with tighter shut lines, better welding techniques and improved paint processes.

More than 12 million Clios have been made, and the current model helped spearhead Renault’s return to the local market in late 2001 with only moderate results, before unfavourable currency rates forced the company to market only the RS versions.

So what do we make of the reborn Clio’s chances of success in Australia? Even standing still, the Renault is a revelation. Its bold lines ooze personality and Latin masculinity in a way the Polo – effete by comparison – cannot emulate, while the interior on our pre-production examples looked as Italian as an Alfa Romeo’s, yet with a Germanic solidity and precision. Hefty doors add to that impression.

And while a Fiesta might feel a bit more agile dynamically, the Clio in both TCe and dCi turbo guises is still an invigorating drive, yet also manages to embrace the comfort and refinement of a Polo.

If this all sounds like a potential segment champion, you’re not hearing things.

The Clio is not only back, but Renault has at last truly arrived.

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