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First Oz drive: Clio adds to French flavour

Express yourself: Clio Expression is the entry-level model but still gets four airbags.

Renault reveals its full range of Clio small cars, but an auto is hard to find

13 Dec 2001

ALL of a sudden, we're being flooded in French cars. The rebirth of Renault, a plethora of Peugeots. Even Citroen is making sales inroads.

This week it's Renault's turn to show off new metal, this time in the shape of the full Clio range, rather than the limited edition Clio Cup which arrived when the brand was relaunched back in May.

From mid-December, the hot little 2.0-litre three-door is joined by four five-doors, three powered by a 1.4-litre four-cylinder including the only automatic transmission variants, and one powered by a 1.6-litre four.

That's right, if you want to buy an automatic Clio you'll have to go for the smallest engine in the range, which seems at odds with accepted thinking. Not in France though, where just four percent of small car buyers opt for the self-shifter, compared to 60 per cent here.

Hence Renault's decision to engineer just one engine for the auto. Which seems to say, while it espouses internationalist ambitions, the French giant still has a way to go before completely embracing the concept.

In all other aspects the Clio range seems to be well catered for and priced to compete with its European rivals, the Peugeot 206 and the Volkswagen Polo, the latter soon to be updated with an all-new model (check our first drive via the search function on the home page).

Kicking off the Clio range is the 1.4 Expression manual, which is the only version under $20,000 at $19,990, then comes the 1.4 Expression auto, the 1.6 Privilege manual and the 1.4 Privilege auto, which is the most expensive five-door at $24,490.

The Clio Cup - now called Clio Renaultsport - tops out the pricing at $32,990.

Expressions are well equipped, with standard front and side airbags, ABS with brake force distribution, air-conditioning, remote central locking, power front windows and steering column mounted audio controls.

The Privilege adds a trip computer, climate-controlled air-conditioning, 15-inch alloy wheels, a rear storage bin and replaces the Expression's cassette player with a single in-dash CD audio system.

The Renaultsport goes another step or two, including Alcantara and leather upholstery, six-stack CD player, xenon headlights with washers and rain-sensing front wipers.

We get this updated Clio in Australia just months after it was launched in Europe - albeit also some months after it was originally expected on sale here. The previous Clio was a little cutey with a rounded look, but we get a car that's gone much more angular, with over-sized front headlights, an angry looking grille and an emphasis on big Renault badges front and rear. It's all part of Renault's new corporate design language.

Underneath the look lies a conventional small front-wheel drive hatchback. The transversely-mounted 1.4-litre engine produces 72kw at 6000rpm and 127Nm at 3750rpm, the 1.6 79kW at 6000rpm and 148Nm at 3750rpm and the Renaultsport 124kW at 6250rpm and 200Nm at 5400rpm.

Fuel consumption claims are all miserly, as low as 6.2l/100km on the highway cycle for the 1.4 manual. The Renaultsport tops out at 9.0l/100km on the city cycle.

Suspension is via MacPherson struts and lower wishbones up front and a H-style rear axle, although the three-door has different geometry and damper settings to reflect its sporting intent. The Renaultsport's brake performance is also boosted, gaining discs all-round compared to the disc/drum combination on the five-doors.

Renault Clio Expression 1.4 $19,990
Renault Clio Expression 1.4 (a) $22,190
Renault Clio Privilege 1.6 $23,990
Renault Clio Privilege 1.4 (a) $24,490
Renault Clio Renaultsport 2.0 $32,990


FROM our Clio Cup experiences we knew what to expect from the Renaultsport and it continues to deliver - in spades.

A rorty engine that revs enthusiastically all the way to its 7000rpm redline, a slick short-shifting gearshift that's a joy to punch from gear-to-gear, needle-sharp steering with oodles of feel and grip that just never stops.

Accelerate as hard as you can out of a second gear corner, quickly into third, then hard on the brakes, rip back to second, turn in and hard on the gas again. The mountain road back to town has never been more fun.

The interior may not quite be up to the styling and quality heights of some rivals, notably the Germans which are almost invariably more expensive, but the front seats are still body-hugging, the steering wheel small and grippy enough to do the job and the drilled alloy pedals make heeling and toeing a breeze.

It's no wonder Renault Australia expects the most expensive and least user-friendly member of the Clio family to account for a disproportionate 33 per cent of the 1000 annual sales it estimates the range will achieve over the next 12 months.

So, is the five-door a let-down after that? Not at all, it's still feels quite tight, poised and confident on bumpy Australian highways and byways, but in a much more dampened and softened way than the three-door. There's still plenty of zip from the 1.6 without it getting noisily intrusive and it mates well to the manual gearbox.

Again, the interior doesn't quite have the quality of a Polo, but it's still impressive and cohesive. A big Renault badge stares back at you from the centre of the imposing steering wheel, and the instruments sit deep within a well-hooded pod. The colours seem quite restrained, matching light and dark shades to create a pleasant ambience.

Rear seat space is surprisingly good for even full-size adults - although not somewhere you'd like to spend all day, and entry and exit is easy via the wide opening doors.

We'd love to give you an impression of the 1.4 auto, but there were none on the launch program. We hope Renault Australia will be confident enough of the car to put it on its test fleet for us to try later.

The Clio presents a bold face to its European competitors, and some potential Japanese competitors as well. The lack of a 1.6 auto means the range is somewhat flawed, but Renault has done its best to cover that with good equipment levels and competitive pricing.

Add to that the fact that the five-door Clio at first taste appears to be a fine little car to drive, joining an outstanding vehicle in the Renaultsport, and it seems the latest French addition is another one to welcome.

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