First put on sale in 1991 as a replacement for the aging Renault 5, the Renault Clio has proven extremely popular throughout its 23-year history. The Renault Clio has gone through many changes, as one might expect from a model that has been on the market for almost a quarter of a century. The most immediately obvious of these is the body style which has changed from the boxy ‘square’ style of its initial incarnation to become increasingly more curved and rounded as each of the three generations within its lifespan have passed. A fourth-generation model is due to be released in 2013.
In each generation, the Clio has received a number of facelifts, including numerous changes to the front grille, bumpers, and headlights. Another trend within the lifespan of the Renault Clio is that every generation is longer and wider than its immediate predecessor.
Starting life as a three-door and five-door hatchback, a sedan model was introduced during the Clio’s second generation (1998 to 2012) in 1999. Each of the three generations of Clio has provided great value for money, impressive fuel economy, a decent amount of storage space, and great handling, all of which – in addition to a large array of standard features – only got better with each passing generation.
When first introduced to the market in 1991, the choice of engines available included a 1.2L and a 1.4L E-Type (already used in the Renault 19), both of which were replete with electronic fuel injection systems instead of carburettors in order to conform to fuel emissions regulations. The range also included 1.7L and 1.9 diesel engines.
With the introduction of the second-generation model in 1998, engine specifications remained pretty much the same. The most popular of the engines available was the 1.2L petrol engine, which had a top speed of 161km/h and an acceleration time of 0-100km per hour in a sluggish 14.5 seconds.
With a maximum torque of 95Nm and a power output of 45kW, it is clear that acceleration and power were not top of Renault’s list of priorities during the car’s conception.
It would not be until 1999 that the Clio would receive a new engine in the form of the new 1.6L 16V multi-point fuel injection system. Indeed, speed and acceleration increased considerably with a new top speed of 196km/h and an acceleration time of 100km/h in 9.3 seconds, as did the car’s maximum torque (148Nm) and power output (82kW). However, what the new 1.6L engine made up for in power, it lost in fuel economy, now using 7.2l/100km.
Of the engines available upon the release of the third generation in 2005, the 1.2L turbo TCE model arguably provides the best mixture of fuel economy and performance, using 5.9l/100km in fuel and reaching a top speed of 184km/h. This turbocharged engine also provides a good balance in terms of acceleration, reaching 0-100km/h in 11 seconds.
Handling has clearly been a strong point of the Renault Clio ever since its inception and throughout its history. The 1991 model remained flat on corners and did not roll anywhere near as much as its Renault 5 forebear. However, some critics have made reference to the roll on corners that, although improved from the Renault 19, still left a little to be desired on earlier models.
Despite this, the ride was generally smooth, but this changes slightly with three adult passengers in the back, making the tail sag slightly. Suspension has always seemed to absorb imperfections in the road with willing aplomb. Many have commented positively on the rigidity and stable feel of the driving experience, with the words ‘nimble and ‘agile’ being remarkably commonplace in many contemporary reviews over the last 23 years.
Standard kit on early Renault Clio models is basic by today’s expectations. However, adjustable seats bearing side rolls that keep the driver and front passenger in place on corners were welcome additions in the early 1990s. An innovative feature of the 1991 Renault Clio that has actually remained in place is the stereo controls on the steering column which enabled the driver to keep his or her hands on the steering wheel at all times.
By 1998, standard kit had improved to include power steering, electric windows, an electric sunroof, anti-lock brakes, central locking, and a driver’s airbag. The ANCAP awarded this version of the Renault Clio a four-star safety rating, the highest in its class at the time.
The 2005 third-generation model added satnav, height and reach adjustment controls for the steering wheel, and Renault’s keyless entry and ignition system. Modern Renault Clios have been awarded five-star safety ratings by ANCAP.
The Ford Fiesta and VW Polo are seen as the main rivals of the Renault Clio. Early and mid-period Ford Fiestas are prone to less roll on corners and have a noticeably better acceleration and top speed. Any handling and acceleration issues with Renault Clio have continued to improve to the point where one may consider the Clio to be at least on par with the Fiesta in these respects.
Another criticism of the Renault Clio is that it depreciates more quickly than the Polo, but this may indeed be good news for those looking for a great small car at a good price. In fact, the Renault Clio is one of the least expensive cars in its class.