New Renault Clio

Andy RussellFormer Clio owner ANDY RUSSELL discovers the supermini is still great to drive.It was Renault which cheekily told us that size matters and it has helped make its Clio supermini such a popular choice and big seller.Andy Russell

Former Clio owner ANDY RUSSELL discovers the supermini is still great to drive.

It was Renault which cheekily told us that size matters and it has helped make its Clio supermini such a popular choice and big seller.

So it's also rather interesting that while the French car-maker has made the Clio an increasingly roomy little car, it is also a key player in making engines that are smaller, more economical and cleaner but just as powerful as the bigger ones they replace.

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But first we come to the new-look Clio. Renault has always been good at keeping this smooth supermini bang up to date with stylish lines and cute curves and its latest look brings out its modern, youthful feel.

The facelift takes its cues from the latest Megane with new headlamps, front bumper and wide black air intake giving it a more purposeful look while at the back there is are new light clusters and bumper.

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So, yes, it looks appealing but another of the Clio's big strengths has always been how good it is to drive with a sporty edge regardless of which engine you go for.

One of the secrets of its success is a wide range of petrol and diesel engines but with the Clio size no longer matters for Renault is going for smaller turbo petrol engines with the power and performance of bigger units but without sacrificing low emissions and fuel economy - so important to today's buyers.

While the new Scenic and Grand Scenic multi-purpose vehicles get the new turbo charged 1.4-litre petrol engine, the Clio has been given a big boost with the 1.2 TCe (Turbo Control efficiency). Starting point is the normal 1.2-litre engine but add a turbo and at 100hp it has the peak output of the 1.4 unit it replaced and the torque of a 1.6, but developed lower down the rev range, yet it is more economical and has slightly lower emissions than the non-turbo 1.2.

All very impressive on paper but it actually lives up to the promise. This cracking little engine picks up crisply with strong mid-range pull - although it can feel a little flat at low revs with a load on board until the turbo comes on song - and whips along when you wind it up with enough zip for easy, safe overtaking. It cruises happily at motorway speeds but with only a five-speed gearbox - and a rather notchy shifting one at that - the revvy engine can get buzzy. Real-word mixed driving saw 42mpg.

The Clio has always been impressive to drive and it's still one of the most fun cars in this class with sharp, responsive steering, surefooted handling and good body control through corners. The downside is the ride can get fidgety and restless on bumpy roads with the Clio becoming bouncy but it's an acceptable trade-off if you're looking for an entertaining drive.

Inside is where size does matter for the Clio is one of the more spacious superminis, able to take four adults with decent leg and headroom in the back and front seats that tilt and slide forward mean you don't need to be double-jointed to get in and out of the back of three-door models.

It hasn't been at the expense of load space - the well-shaped 288-litre boot is big enough to take a couple of large suitcases but it has a high sill. The rear seat splits 60/40 but the cushions have to be tilted upright before the backs fold down and even then there is a big step up from the boot floor.

Dynamique models and above get a soft-touch dashboard but plastic trim lower down the interior is hard and not so appealing. The fascia is uncluttered with simple dials and logical switchgear although the small buttons on the radio/CD are fiddly. All models get tilt steering but you have to go for higher-spec models or optional keyless ignition to get reach adjustment.

With a five-star crash-testing rating Renault is known for it safety and the big-selling Dynamique model gets six airbags - eight on three-door models - and anti-lock brakes. Equipment highlights include 16in alloy wheels, air-conditioning, automatic headlamps and wipers, electric front windows and heated door mirrors.

The Clio has always had a fun, youthful feel and if you are looking for a spacious supermini it's got to be on your shortlist.

PRICE: Three-door �12,370; five-door �12,970

ENGINE: 1,149cc, 100hp, four-cylinder turbo charged petrol

PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph 11 seconds; 114mph

MPG: Urban 38.2; extra urban 58.8; combined 48.7

EMISSIONS: 137g/km



WARRANTY: Three years/60,000 miles

WILL IT FIT IN THE GARAGE: Length 4,027mm; width (including mirrors) 2,025mm; height 1,493mm

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