Simple pleasures of Renault clio
Richard M Hammond says Renault's frugal Clio Eco2 rewards with its simplicity.
You become acutely aware that you're living through a period of shifting expectations when a car is delivered for road-testing equipped with built-in sat-nav and manually-operated doors mirrors.
Even for those lucky enough to drive the latest, greatest and most lavishly-equipped cars for a living, there's something satisfying about getting behind the wheel of an honest-to-goodness, basic small car.
Such a vehicle can resurrect the feeling and emotions experienced after first passing the driving test and getting a taste of freedom in whatever decrepit bag of bolts the budget could stretch to.
Maybe it's that, for genuine driving fans, all that's needed is six wheels – four on the floor, one in your hands and a spare in the boot – plus a stretch of empty B-road.
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These days, even basic cars are not that basic. Equipment and gadgetry becomes more cost-effective and freely available, eventually finding it's way on to cars across the spectrum. The combination of sat-nav and manual mirrors seems an odd one none-the-less, but it's explained to a degree by the status of the small car in question.
The Renault Clio Eco2 has the lowest CO2 emissions of any car the French manufacturer has ever produced. Inevitably, the quest for low emissions and the associated economic fuel consumption leads to a reduction in weight, and convenient but non-essential items like electric door mirror motors and heating elements are ideal for the chop. In many cases the owner is the sole driver, making luxury door adornments unnecessary.
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The Clio's sat-nav is an optional extra, and while built-in sat-nav is often viewed as a rather pointless addition in a non-luxury vehicle given the prominence of portable systems, iPhones etc, the Clio's built-in TomTom is very impressive with a removable SD card for updates, remote control operation, smart graphics and sharp performance.
But the Clio Eco2's main selling point is a 1.5-litre diesel engine and five-speed manual gearbox providing CO2 emissions of 98g/km and combined economy of 76.3mpg.
As is often the case with economy-focused diesel, the real attraction can be found in the way the model needs no change of tack from the driver to achieve such wallet-friendly fuel consumption figures.
The Clio uses a number of the tactics routinely employed by manufacturers to reduce emissions including low rolling resistance tyres, longer gear ratios, modified engine management software and a slightly redesigned aero package, but none of these have a noticeably negative effect on the Clio's usability.
As a small car it boasts plenty of attractive attributes. A recent facelift keeps styling up to date, while the Eco2's interior is basic but far from spartan. Auxiliary inputs are present for audio device connection and there are smart touches around the cabin including the charismatic air vent controls and the stubby column stalks.
The three door-model offers even greater value than the five-door, but is more than adequately spacious for passengers agile enough to access the rear. Boot space is also good, and the Clio squeezes an impressive amount of practicality into a neatly-proportioned frame.
Compact dimensions make the Clio a cinch to wield in town. Steering is light as is the clutch pedal and excellent visibility makes it a real pleasure to use in urban areas.
Despite its frugal engine the Clio Eco2 is no slouch with the excellent torque delivery that helps deliver strong economy aiding acceleration. Performance is delivered smoothly from low down – and taller gearing keeps revs down on the motorway.
Like most diesel units remapped for economy, the 1.5-litre dCi unit can be a little rough when cold, but there's nothing ragged about the Clio as a package.
Smart, frugal and pleasant to drive, the Clio Eco2 is one of those small cars that rewards with its simplicity.
RENAULT CLIO ECO2
Engine: 1.5-litre, 86bhp four-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission: Five-speed manual driving the front wheels
Performance: 0-62mph 12.7 seconds; top speed 109mph
CO2 Rating: 98g/km