MT business travel: On the road

The Renault Clio 1.4 really shines at a cruise on the motorway - the unexpected forte of this big city car.

by Richard Bremner
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Putting on weight doesn't merely afflict those who over-indulge - it burdens cars too. Consider this: the first Renault 5, distant 1971 ancestor of this new Clio, weighed 760 kilograms. This fifth-generation Renault supermini thumps the scales at 1,135 kg. Indeed, the latest Clio weighs 130 kg more than the outgoing edition, the equivalent of ferrying a couple of slim adults about. More weight demands more energy for propulsion, and uses more materials too. But there are upsides to this extra heft.

For a start, you get a lot more car for your money. Not only is the new Clio substantially larger than that first Renault 5, and roomier as a result, but it is dense with equipment and safety systems. A four-speaker radio and CD player, anti-lock brakes, electric windows, central locking, electric mirrors, a height-adjustable driver's seat and an adjustable steering wheel - all rarely found in anything but a top-of-the-range Mercedes in the '70s. And the Clio also wins a five-star rating in the Euro-NCAP crash tests, aided by six airbags and its protective extra bulk.

But the penalty for all this cocooning is evident on the road. Despite having a 99 bhp 1.4 litre engine, this mid-range Clio gets about with just average zest, while the lesser 1.2 even struggles to get moving without the risk of stalling. Still, performance is adequate and the Clio really shines at a cruise on the motorway, where it can easily keep pace with traffic and proves impressively civilised while doing it.

In fact, long distances are this big city car's unexpected forte. Not only is it quiet, but the ride is supple (although urban potholes occasionally crash through the calm) and the driving position is particularly comfortable for a car of this class. There's ample space for passengers too.

Around town, the Clio is pretty effective, although far less nimble than that original 5. Power steering makes light work of things, but it's an odd-feeling system that seems artificial at times, as if you were playing an amusement arcade machine. This, and the Renault's slight lack of zest, suggests at first that this car won't satisfy the keen driver. But tackle some twisting bends and you discover that the more briskly you go, the better this Renault gets, handling curves with aplomb and in great safety - you'd have to do something really foolish to get into trouble.

All of which has you warming to this car. You get used to the steering and soon start enjoying the positives of space, refinement and a standard of interior finish well beyond what Renault has offered before in this class, and a world away from that sparsely trimmed R5. But you pay a price for that extra weight - at the petrol pump. The Clio turns in around 35 mpg, whereas some of its rivals manage 10 mpg more. Quite a difference in a class that's all about low running costs.

SPECIFICATION Price: £10,250 (Renault Clio 1.4 Dynamique 3-dr) Max power: 99 bhp Max torque: 94 lb ft Max speed: 109 mph 0-62 mph: 11.5 sec Fuel consumption: 35.4 mpg CO2 emissions: 158 g/km RIVALS FIAT PUNTO 1.4 DYNAMIC 3-dr £10,000 (est): Even bigger, but weighs less and looks more stylish. But not as refined or as well finished. FORD FIESTA 1.4 ZETEC £9,795: Best one for keen drivers, and practical too, if noisy on long journeys. Finish is dowdy.

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