Giant step

Tomorrow is Saturday. Get up, have a nice breakfast, grab your iPod and go and test the new Clio under the beautiful Algarve sun. It is worth it.

There is no other way to start this except by saying the new Renault Clio is good. Very good indeed.

Cars have been my passion ever since I can remember but I have only been writing about them for four years, so I have a few favourite motor journos I have accompanied for years, especially British ones.

My absolute favourite is Andrew Frankel. He writes for MotorSport – the best magazine for petrolheads in the world – and for Autocar. About the Clio, he said, and I quote: “Renault has heaved it to somewhere close to excellence.” Now that is something he generally uses to describe the likes of Ferraris and Range Rovers, not small French hatchbacks. So now I can back up my opinion on the Clio on Frankel’s words: it is good. Very good indeed.

I drove both engines available at launch, the petrol 0.9 TCE with 90 horse power (please note the 100hp/litre) and the diesel 1.5 DCI putting out exactly the same figure.

Prices? The petrol version sells for €16,300 and the diesel for €18,600. They both came equipped with everything you can ask for and more. The TCE was loaded with cruise control, light and rain sensors, iPod connectivity, a big LCD display on the centre console (and it works properly too, very intuitive), automatic wipers, electronic air conditioning and the diesel even added parking sensors and a glass panoramic roof. The last generation Laguna didn’t have this kind of kit.

On the road, people stared and, around town, I could see them pointing and talking about ‘my’ Clio. You see, Renault made two things fundamentally right: first, the Clio looks spot on, with a modern aggressive look that is nevertheless proportioned, which seems to be hard for designers these days. Then they painted their cars red and yellow and white with black alloys and not different shades of grey – thank you very much Germans for that boring automotive landscape.

It is funky, attractive and I found myself looking down on other drivers with more expensive machinery, including more upmarket models, like the Astra, Focus or C4. I also think the Clio to be a better looking, better overall car than the Megane. I never lusted for a Megane (bar the RS of course) and I really do see myself driving a red Clio with a red interior, iPod playing and revving the hell out of that small three-cylinder petrol engine.

Mind you, the diesel is not a worse proposition. While is it more fun to drive, the TCE averaged 7.3 litres, while the DCI got 5.7, so I see more people going for the oil burner. Apart from that, the driving position was perfect, the seats comfortable, the ride smooth … I don’t think I have one complaint.

Wait, I do: the ‘fasten your seat belt’ sound is the most annoying I have ever heard. But I guess when you want 5 stars in the EuroNcap tests it comes with the territory.

So, is the Clio the right choice for an Algarve resident who does not want to spend a lot of money but craves for a good looking, well-built, practical, fun-to-drive set of wheels?

I have to say the answer is a categorical yes. I also suspect that, apart from the new VW Golf, which I have not driven yet, there is no better hatchback on the market today this side of the premium names.

I still love you Fiat 500, you are just too small…