The fifth-generation Renault Clio is here to be the king of the sales charts. I am happy to report it will be a worthy recipient of that accolade.
There is a new Renault Clio on the road and that is big news. After all, this is the biggest selling car in the country. Renault have been the leader of the Portuguese market for 22 consecutive years and while the Mégane used to be the big daddy, the previous generation Clio snatched the top spot from its bigger brother and never let it go again.
In 2019, the French constructor sold 10,649 units of the Clio in Portugal, which meant the small hatchback accounted for 4.8% of the passenger car market and one in every three Renaults sold. Renault themselves held on to a 13% market share, selling 29,014 cars.
The thing to remember here is that the Clio remained on top despite the fact there was a change of guard between old and new model, meaning dealers had to manage the logistics quite well to be able to fulfil any orders.
It’s never easy to replace a model that has done so well (the Clio was the best-selling car in its segment in most European markets) and Renault decided it wasn’t going to mess around with the design. The new Clio looks pretty much the same as the last one, only that bit more modern, more detailed and ultimately more appealing.
However, what has been changed underneath is enough for me to use the word “revolution” – and you sense it when you drive the car.
2020 marks the 30th birthday of the Clio and it really has matured into a very grown-up car. A new platform – called CMF-B – is the biggest news and the single most important element that makes the driving experience a step above the previous model. It will also allow the Renault to incorporate a hybrid-system in the near future and integrate some form of autonomous driving.
Every panel is new and the body-in-white is 22kg lighter. The car is also 14mm smaller than before, the wheelbase lost 6mm and height has come down by that same amount. All in all, the Clio has a smaller footprint, which is always important for the dynamics of a car.
The car I got from Renault Portugal was a top-of-the-line petrol RS Line 1.3 TCe with 130 horsepower, mated to a dual-clutch, seven-speed gearbox. This is the same engine you will find in a Mercedes A200, a car costing almost twice as much as the Clio, but also in many other Renaults, such as the Kadjar, where it also works a treat in its 140hp tune.
Oddly, it seems to have much more soul in the Renault (maybe it’s that lightness again). Just leaving the press carpark, I was already surprised by the fire in this French hatch belly. It wanted to go and not mess about. The next four days only served to confirm those initial thoughts: a great engine strapped to a great chassis equals a terrific car.
I know this fifth-generation looks a lot like the fourth-generation but, trust me, it takes less than one minute driving for anyone to realise they are worlds apart. In fact, I am going to go out on a limb here and say the new Clio is a better car than the bigger, more expensive Mégane. It feels better put together (that platform again), it rides better, it corners better and just exudes a bigger depth of engineering. The steering has more feedback coming through the wheel, I felt more in tune with the car through a better driving position and the seats were very good indeed.
The turn-in, specifically, is such a surprise you start throwing the Clio into bends more and more aggressively to see where it will understeer, but it just doesn’t. Front-end grip is astounding.
Inside, it seems the French designers took their revenge for not being able to create a new exterior language for the car. Revolution is the name of the game here. One can say they have taken a minimal approach to things, but it seems to have worked beautifully. Clean horizontal lines give it a modern vibe, whereas the tablet-style central screen (and minimal smattering of buttons) show Renault understands the customers of today. It all seems very sophisticated and techy but, mostly, it feels quality has taken quite a leap forward.
Because the RS Line is meant to be the sportier of the range, the press car got a 9.3in touchscreen, LED headlights with automatic high and low-beam functions, a rear view camera, front parking sensors and a cabin that wants to emulate the true RS models (which it does quite well, I might add). Sportier front and rear bumpers also make it the most aesthetically appealing of the lot.
Now, prices. The RS Line 130 TCe starts a nudge under €24,000 but you can have a similarly specced car with the 1.0 litre engine for €4,000 less. The range starts with the Clio ZEN SCe 75 at €15,700, but please add some bits to it or even for so little money you will feel short-changed. My advice is, if you can, go for the RS Line with either 100 or 130 horsepower.
The new Clio is a winner. I confidently predict it to keep on leading the Portuguese market for many years to come.