2019 Renault Clio review - French fancy with hidden depths
The new Clio might look like a gentle facelift but subtle styling updates mask serious changes under the skin
The Renault Clio is Europe’s best-selling B-segment car and has been for most of this decade. Since it was launched as a replacement for the 5 in 1990 it has sold 15 million units. Yet in the UK it’s not even in the top three sellers, left behind by the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and VW Polo.
Whether through badge loyalty or badge snobbery, the Clio is in the shadow of these three but Renault aren’t taking this lying down.
In the last couple of years all-new versions of the Fiesta and Polo have appeared, the ancient Corsa is, thankfully, about to be replaced and a brand new Peugeot 208 has just been launched. Now the Clio is mounting a renewed challenge and this fifth generation car is all-new as well, based on a new lighter and stronger platform.
A quick look at the exterior might not give that impression, it’s very much an evolution of the mark 4’s slightly droopy, slippery style. But it’s actually lower and shorter before, with lots of little design tweaks to give it a wider, more squat and “athletic” look. There are new folds, lines and creases along the body along with redesigned all-LED lights. Side by side, you also notice the black plastic trim is dramatically reduced and has been replaced with more chrome brightwork. This, says Renualt, is to create a more premium appearance.
It’s an approach echoed inside, where the cabin has been given a thorough scrubbing up. Simple things like adding more soft touch materials to the most visible and often touched surfaces and more chrome finishing aim to bring a step up in class. The knurled finish to the switches is reminiscent of an Audi and, overall, it’s tidier and more mature looking than the Fiesta but not quite up to the style of the Polo.
It’s also more spacious than the best-selling Fiesta and, in fact, every other car in its class. Despite being shorter than the last model, there’s more space in the Clio than before thanks to reshaped seats and smart packaging. There’s also class-leading storage in the 391-litre boot.
Renault Clio Iconic
|Engine:||1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol|
The Clio has also long been among the class leaders for safety, often pioneering technology in its segment. This new model brings autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and lane departure warning with lane keep assist as standard, with traffic jam assistance available on top RS Line spec.
Also standard across the range from the £14,295 Play trim are LED lights, cruise control, air conditioning, DAB radio and smartphone connectivity, although a touchscreen with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay isn’t fitted to basic Play cars. Higher specs bring keyless entry, alloy wheels, parking sensors and camera, climate control, a seven or 9.3-inch media screen with a new, customisable interface, and digital instruments. RS Line adds sporty styling touches inside and out and can be fitted with a “techno” pack featuring wireless charging, parking assist and a 360-degree view camera.
We tested that spec with the top-of-the-range 128bhp petrol engine and seven-speed DCT gearbox, as well as the predicted best-selling 99bhp petrol Iconic model.
The RS Line is up against the 138bhp Fiesta ST-Line in the warm hatch stakes. It looks the part with RS-inspired trim, 17-inch alloys and sports seats. It’s also pleasingly nippy to drive. The 128bhp engine features in the Megane, Scenic and Kadjar and in the smaller Clio feels lively and willing, covering the 0-62mph run in nine seconds but returning 50mpg on our test. Its sport mode adds some more urgency to the throttle and responsive transmission as well as beefing up the steering feel. It’s a lot less vague than many other Renaults and across the range the steering has been sped up to feel more engaging but it’s still some way behind the Fiesta for immediacy or feedback.
The lesser 99bhp engine is even more surprising in its responsiveness, feeling more powerful and quicker than the on-paper figures suggest. But like the RS Line, the standard car just feels less precise than an equivalent Fiesta. It makes up for this with a more settled, smoother ride and a little less road noise, as well as that more spacious, comfortable interior.
The other engine choices are a non-turbo 74bhp petrol and a solitary 84bhp diesel. A hybrid will follow in spring 2020.
Among the recently updated models in its segment the Clio feels like it has moved on enough to remain competitive. It occupies a middle ground between the less mature but better to drive Fiesta and the more upmarket but duller Polo, and is priced smartly to undercut them. We'll just need to wait and see if that's enough for it to finally break into the top three.