Renault's Clio might have grown up but it might just be at its best with its tiniest engine. Jonathan Crouch explains why.
Ten Second Review
Less is more is a phrase that applies very well to the latest Renault Clio, most specifically the models powered by the three-cylinder 899cc TCe petrol unit. While this might sound like not enough engine, the 90PS powerplant is characterful and will make better financial sense than the diesels for many.
In this country at least, we've almost become brainwashed into thinking that if we want to cut down on the costs of running a car, we need a diesel engine. You'll have seen the astronomical fuel consumption figures that seem to promise a whole week's driving before you need to fill the tank again, but as with many things that seem too good to be true, there are often holes in the story. And so it is with diesel engines, especially when they're fitted to small cars like the Renault Clio.
The fact of the matter is that if you bought and ran a Clio for, say, three years, we'd be willing to wager that unless you covered huge mileages, you'd be far better off with an engine like the three-cylinder TCe 899cc unit that we're looking at here. The bonus? It makes the Clio even better fun to drive.
Renault isn't alone in offering a downsized petrol engine. Many of its rivals are at it and you can get a sub-litre engine in the Peugeot 208 and the Ford Fiesta: very good they are too. Of the three though, it's hard to look past the Renault Clio TCe. For a start, it makes 90PS, which is way better than the base Peugeot 208 1.0's 68PS and also beats the base Ford Fiesta 1.0's 80PS power output. It's a fun engine to drive as well, due in no small part to the fact that it weighs so little. The front of the car is so eager to turn into a corner. You've just got to learn to trust the quick but slightly arcade game steering feel.
The first three-cylinder powerplant ever produced by Renault, this turbocharged engine features an ultra low-inertia turbo that whistles into action from low engine speeds, developing 90PS and 135Nm at just 2000rpm. In fact, fully 90 per cent of peak torque is available from 1,650rpm to 5,000rpm. It'll get to 62mph in just 12.2 seconds on the way to a top speed of 113mph but you'll need to work the gear stick to manage that.
Design and Build
'Simple, sensuous and warm' were the three design keywords used to create the original version of this MK4 model and that concept has been carried forward into its updated replacement. This facelifted version gets a smarter nose, with an eye-catching full-LED lighting signature, including C-shaped daytime running lights in the case of certain versions. At the front, the grille which houses the Renault diamond has been redesigned, as has the lower part of the grille which is wider to add a more modern feel to the front end. At the rear, the skirt has been redesigned too. Inside, 'New Clio' benefits from the use of finishing materials previously reserved for Renault's higher-end models. All the upholsteries used certainly feel more up-market and special attention has been paid to the tactile and visual quality of the plastics' grain-effect finish.
Otherwise, things are much as before. Since there's still no three-door model, it's just as well that the five-door does a good impression of one, coupe-like styling emphasised by hidden rear door handles. So visually and practically, you get the best of both worlds. Out back, there's a decent sized 300-litre boot while at the wheel, we've yet another dash that's been sculpted in the shape of an aircraft wing on which is mounted an overtly confident chrome-surrounded instrument cluster dominated by the kind of digital speedo that not everyone will like. Equally eye-catching is the consumer electronic-fest that dominates the gloss black-trimmed centre console of all but base models in the form of a tablet-like display that is the 7-inch R-Link colour touchscreen.
Market and Model
The 0.9 TCe engine is offered with 'Play', 'Dynamique Nav' and 'Dynamique S Nav' trim levels. The first pair of trims are also available in an ECO model that squeezes a few more miles from a gallon of 95RON. Prices start at just over £13,500 which undercuts several key rivals, despite the Clio being a larger car than many.
As for equipment, virtually all models get alloy wheels, air conditioning and front foglights. And absolutely all of them get daytime running lights, cruise control with a speed limiter, a trip computer, a height-adjustable driver's seat, power front windows and mirrors, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility, a decent quality USB-compatible CD stereo with punchy Renault 'Bass Reflex' speakers and fingertip control, plus Hill Start Assist to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions.
To provide customers with a range of options, the 'New Clio' comes with three different connected multimedia systems, namely Media Nav Evolution, Renault R-Link Evolution and the new, smart R&GO system which is available on entry trim levels. This is also the first B-segment Renault to be available with a BOSE audio system. In addition to its reverse parking sensor, and depending on the version, this Clio offers a front parking sensor and a reverse parking camera. Available for higher-end versions, Handsfree Parking allows the driver to fully delegate the completion of parking manoeuvres. Four new body colours have been added and there's a more extensive personalisation programme.
Cost of Ownership
The TCe petrol engine makes some very interesting figures. The standard model will return 61.4mpg on the combined cycle and 104g/km of CO2, while the ECO economy version improves that to 64.2mpg and 97g/km. But what of the alternative dCi 90 diesel model? That gets 85.6mpg and 85g/km, so it has to be a better buy, right? Not necessarily. In order to recoup this diesel variant's higher asking price back in terms of fuel economy, you'd need to drive a heck of a long way. By our calculations, if you drove 10,000 miles per year - which is a lot for a supermini - you'd need to keep your Clio for over 7 years to make the more expensive diesel model pay for itself back.
A driving style monitor (green, yellow or orange) and a Gear Change Indicator (GCI) on the dashboard help drivers improve their driving style to reduce their fuel consumption. The Driving eco?? app available through Renault R-Link provides drivers with information, helping them to analyse their driving style and take corrective measures in order to reduce their fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Buying a supermini these days isn't always as simple as it appears. For a start, there are a number of very good cars to choose from as well as a few duffers to avoid. Renault has just made the whole process a good deal easier with its improved Clio TCe 90 models. If you plan on doing typical supermini mileages, that is less than about 12,000 miles per year, go and buy one. It's that easy. You'll be rewarded with great fuel economy, low emissions, a car that's fun to drive, can seat five and which is well built and decently equipped. It's really hard to go wrong here.
Of course, the good folks at Peugeot, Ford and SEAT may deign to disagree and their wares have a decent claim on your attention in this class too, but were we spending our own money, the Clio might well get the nod. It's good to know that driving can still be fun and that fun needn't wear a huge price tag.