By Jonathan Crouch
This fifth generation Clio supermini, launched in 2019, proved to be familiar, yet thoroughly different, returning Renault to a position of real credibility in the small car sector and offering the kind of complete package that the brand hoped could return this model line to its old position as one of Britain's favourites. Tougher segment competition certainly forced the French brand to up its game with this 'BF'-series design, particularly in terms of cabin technology, fit and finish, and the company responded impressively here, ticking these boxes while also adding in greater practicality, extra safety, more sophisticated media technology and a sharper look. There's plenty to like here as a used buy.
The Renault Clio. It's the definitive expression of this French brand's vast experience in the supermini class, building on the company's reputation for creating compact cars that are characterful, comfortable and technically accomplished. These are qualities that go back all the way to the famous Renault 4 and 5 models of the Seventies. But were brought right up to date in 2019 with the fifth generation chapter of this popular model line.
Back at the turn of the century, the MK2 Clio was the first small car to properly prioritise safety - and that subsequently had a lot to do with the fact that it became one of only two models ever to gain the coveted European 'Car of the Year' award on two occasions. But the MK3 version of 2005 rather lost its way, as Renault unwisely took its eye off this core contender and invested heavily elsewhere in an electrically-powered motoring future the market wasn't quite ready for. The fourth generation design of 2012 had to be better - and was, billed by stylist Laurens van den Acker as the car that would 'make people fall in love with Renault again'.
He styled this fifth generation model too, but the big news here was found inside. Where the MK4 'BH'-series Clio looked quite smart in the showroom but felt somewhat cheap once you took a seat in the cabin, this one upgraded you quite a lot. There was also a stiffer, lighter CMF-B platform that enabled the design team to deliver the impressive conundrum of smaller exterior dimensions but a more spacious interior, including a class leadingly-large boot. Overall, around 85% of the components in this MK5 design were new and on the engine front, there were fresh 1.0-litre and 1.3-litre turbo petrol units, in 2020, Renault launched an E-Tech petrol full-hybrid variant. Safety and infotainment both also took a step forward with this MK5 Clio and original customers could even specify a mild degree of autonomous driving technology. The car sold in this form until mid-2023, when it was heavily facelifted and the range reduced to just the E-Tech full hybrid model.
What You Get
Like its direct predecessor, this fifth generation Clio aimed to act as a standard-bearer for Renault's renaissance in its approach to vehicle design, with inspiration that, like that previous car, drew heavily on Dutch stylist Laurens van den Acker's futuristic 'DeZir' concept car of 2010. This means that at first glance, you might think it very similar to the MK4 model it replaced - same pinched-waistline door mouldings, same upturned rear window sills, same one-box silhouette: the profile window aperture is actually identical to that of the previous model. But look closer. For a start, this was that rarest of things, a replacement car that was actually smaller than its predecessor - though not by much. And beneath the skin, around 85% of all the stuff you couldn't see had been completely redesigned. In short, this was about as different as an all-new car tended to get back in 2019.
And when we tried it back then, we said that we couldn't immediately think of a bigger step forward in interior design and quality in any car we had recently tested. That feeling of second class citizenship delivered by previous Clio cabins was well and truly banished here. In favour of soft-touch trimming, tactile touch-points and a distinctly Audi-esque feel to parts of this completely revitalised design, particularly the fascia-wide ventilation strake and the circular ventilation dials that sit mid-way down the centre stack. Smart piano key switches feature just above, plus various satin-finished metal embellishments and the redesigned, more enveloping seats also played their part in helping to push this car a little more up-market. Jump out of a Fiesta, a Corsa or something Korean from this period into one of these and you'd feel like you'd been upgraded to Business Class. Various screens help of course with the whole more sophisticated demeanour, particularly the central 'EasyLink' portrait display, available in either 7-inch or, as on plusher variants, in 9.3-inch forms. You can also view another screen through the re-designed three-spoke steering wheel. Plusher variants got a 7-inch TFT configurable instrument display which, at the top of the range, could be upgraded by original customers to a wider 10-inch monitor (though hardly anyone took up that option).
In the back, the thinner front seat backs freed up an extra 26mm of extra knee room in this fifth generation model but even so, one tall-ish adult can still only just about still behind another - and you wouldn't really be wanting to do that for very long, room for knees and legs being at something of a premium. Headroom isn't great either, thanks to that somewhat swept-back roof line which was 43mm lower in this MK5 model. Some overall figures might help give you some class perspective here; legroom in this 'B5'-series Clio measures in at 620m, with headroom at 910mm. In contrast, a rival Volkswagen Polo from this period gives you 690mm of leg room and 950mm of headroom. As one writer pointed out at launch, it was all rather more 'Asterix' than 'Obelix'. But does that matter, given that for the majority of buyers, these rear seats will be used only occasionally for adults and more regularly for children? Only you can decide.
We'll finish with a look at cargo space. Where this Clio atones for its somewhat restricted rear seat surroundings by somehow managing to serve up the largest boot in the supermini segment. There's 391-litres of storage capacity in a petrol variant; that's actually more than you get in a Focus or a Golf from the next class up.
What to Look For
Most Clio owners we came across were pretty satisfied, but inevitably, some issues were thrown up by our survey. A small number of mark 5 Clio is made between June and November 2019 experienced power steering failures. This was preceded by a warning message on the instrument cluster and noticeably less steering assistance. General Clio problems include issues with the boot block mechanism causing the boot remain locked, an issue that can happen intermittently. This problem is caused by a faulty actuator/solenoid. You'll need to make sure that the infotainment system has got the latest software updates so that it can function as it should.
Otherwise, the same issues apply as related to the previous MK4 version. Check the Renault key card and make sure it locks and unlocks the doors properly. If it doesn't, then the key battery might be flat. Then get in and make sure that the starter activates and lights up the dashboard. If it doesn't then the car battery may be at fault. If the engine can't be switched off once activated, then try pressing the starter button 5 times in quick succession and see if that solves it.
As for driving issues, well look for vibrations, smoke from the exhaust and warning lights on the dash. If vibrations are the problem, check tyre pressure and the condition of the tyres. We've known the diesel engines to display white exhaust smoke occasionally. This might only be due to the particulate filter, which is easy to solve, but if the problem persists, then more severe measures will be needed. Check the steering: if it feels very heavy, then the assistance motor may be faulty. Engine overheating can occur if the coolant hasn't been kept properly topped up. You might also want to check the engine cooling fan and see if there are any coolant leaks. If the engine is lacking power, the coolant is boiling or the engine oil is frothing up, then the cylinder head gasket might need replacing. We've also come across reports of issues with electricals, ranging from faulty wipers to cars that wouldn't start. There have also been issues with faulty bulbs that stop the indicators from correctly working.
We came across a number of glitches with the R-Link2 infotainment and sat nav system - things like out-of-date maps and issues with DAB drop-out. Another owner complained of dashboard rattles and window whistles. Whatever variant you're looking at, check tyres, exhausts and front suspension alignment carefully and try to establish if the previous keeper was diligent in the car's upkeep. Look for parking scratches on the alloys and evidence of child damage on the interior plastics and upholstery. All of these issues are common and could give you scope for price negotiation.
(approx based on a 2020 Clio 1.0 TCe 90) Day to day consumables for the Clio are in line with what you'd expect. An air filter is around £6. An oil filter is around £5-£11. A pollen filter is around £18-£34. Front brake discs sit in the £54-£112 bracket. Front brake pads sit in the £24 to £40 bracket for a set. A water pump is around £47. A wiper blade will cost around £6-£18. An radiator is around £109.
On the Road
Renault set out here to try and deliver a driving experience to Clio buyers that was a little different to that served up before. Previous models had something of a comfort focus, but with this fifth generation design, the brand sought to combine that with a little of the alert feel offered in this segment in this period from cars like Ford's Fiesta. It was asking a little much for the company to nail this demanding brief at its first proper attempt, but it got reasonably close. A little of what we might call 'Clio-ness' was sacrificed in the process though - this car no longer cruised over bumps with quite the ease of its predecessor. Most undulations though, are dispatched without fuss and there's a purpose to the way the car turns into bends and a level of body control that certainly wasn't there in the previous MK4 'BH'-series model. Plus of course in town, as you'd expect, it's manoeuvrable, nippy and easy to park.
Engine-wise, most buyers are going to want Renault's latest 1.0-litre three cylinder unit, available either in normally aspirated form - in the base SCe 75 variant. Or in turbocharged guise with the TCe 100 powerplant that most customers will prefer, that engine also offered from new with the option of CVT auto transmission. With forced induction, this 999cc powerplant feels agreeably eager - and is decently economic too, delivering 54.3mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and 99g/km of NEDC-rated CO2. If you want to do better, you can try and search out a rare (and short-lived) Blue dCi 85 1.5-litre diesel model. Or you can look at the 'E-TECH' 'self charging' full-hybrid variant introduced from 2020, which mated a 1.6-litre petrol engine to a clever multi-mode auto gearbox and a pair of electric motors powered by a 1.2kWh lithium-ion battery. Your other engine option is a four cylinder 1.3 TCe 130 unit, which has to be had with an EDC 7-speed auto gearbox. Whatever powerplant you select, refinement is excellent by segment standards - very nearly class-leading. Which is enough to make this Renault a more pleasurable companion on the kind of longer journey you might normally expect to find a touch wearing in such a small car.
Unlike most motoring journalists, Renault knows what most buyers in the supermini sector really prioritise; practicality, comfort, value, safety and low running costs. Attributes that have traditionally made the Clio model line Europe's small car favourite. Some of the reasons why it doesn't sell better here were answered by the changes made to this fifth generation model. Instead of getting into this Renault and, as before, being reminded that you couldn't quite afford a Polo or an Audi A1, this 'B5'-series design served up a cabin that in many respects set fresh standards for the kind of interior a small car could deliver. And there was plenty else to like too; boot capacity, media connectivity and safety provision are all difficult to better in this segment for models in the 2019-2022 period. So why did so many British supermini buyers overlook this car when it was new?
Well, as the magazines will tell you, it doesn't handle with the verve of a Fiesta. Or cruise over bumps with quality suppleness like a Polo. Still, some might feel that the kind of compromise between those two models that's delivered here isn't unappealing. There's certainly no doubt that in fifth generation form, this car was able to ride and handle more like its rivals, though for us, that wasn't really a step forward. When first trying this car, we found that we slightly missed the more comfort-orientated 'French-ness' of previous Clio models. Perhaps of more significance is the fact that in providing a big boot, Renault slightly constricted space for rear seat passengers. But if the folk in question will be children, as is usually the case with a car of this kind, that might not matter.
Which leaves us with what? A very accomplished all-rounder certainly - and a car that merits a significant place on any serious supermini buyer's shortlist. In driving it, we were reminded of something a recently disgraced former Renault Chief Executive once said: “there's nothing wrong with any car company that good cars won't fix”. This is undoubtedly one of those.