The Renault Clio Dynamique – French Dressing

8/17/2014 4:10:57 AM

Few cars surprised the judges at COTY (“Car Of The Year” test) last year like Renault’s Clio IV. This sparkling French light hatch won fans with its ebullient styling, and retained them with a driving experience that delivered on that visual promise. It’s enthusiastic, practical, economical, affordable and seemingly free of the issues that have hindered French hatchbacks in recent decades. The Renault Clio is a stunning little tyke from a company and a country once renowned for the breed, yet with few pedigreed examples in recent years to back that claim.

When the chance came to put one on the long-term fleet, I played the editor’s card. Partly, I’ll admit, because Laurens van den Acker’s feisty design language attracted me – a rare occurrence with cars this small. Here is a tiny tot that doesn’t overly pander to young women, or insult adults with chunky graphics and huge, childish dials and buttons. The Clio’s styling is surprisingly mature for a car aimed primarily at the youth market, and it’s my bet it’ll age well as a result.

The Clio is capable and fun without being uncomfortable or unrefined

The Clio is capable and fun without being uncomfortable or unrefined

It still packs a visual punch, though; our Dynamique looks bloody good sitting in my driveway. Especially with optional black alloys and 16-inch Continentals filling its arches.

I plumped for the 1197cc turbo four-pot over the characterful 898cc triple, and the double-clutch gearbox it’s paired with. I figured both would prove their worth in daily driving. Admittedly, 190Nm is not a tsunami of torque, but it’s 40 percent more than the triple’s 135Nm, and that has to make a difference in a 1,104kg Clio fivedoor. But it does mean I miss out on the stop-start system, which is only available with manual transmission models.

Didn’t plunder the accessories brochure much when ordering the Clio, because the $23,290 Dynamique comes ready-packed with most of my non-negotiables: cruise control, Bluetooth, remote everything and climate control.

Inside the Clio there's a generous amount of space and the cabin is of a particularly good size

Inside the Clio there's a generous amount of space and the cabin is of a particularly good size

We added the premium pack to get satellite navigation. Bizarrely, there’s a sat-nav on/off setting in the multimedia system that took me a couple of days to find. Why in the world would somebody want to disable a feature they paid extra for? Typically French, I suppose, like the placement of another normally redundant switch, the cruise control master switch. It’s buried under the centre armrest a long way from the rest of the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel. In this case it doubles as a speed limiter toggle, so its existence is perhaps justified, though its placement is not.

Initial impressions reinforce opinions formed during our 2013 Car of the Year dalliance. This is one fun and funky car that doesn’t mind bounding puppy-like along my Sunday morning road. Steering is sharp and attentive, the ride is composed, with just a dash of sporting firmness, and the brakes don’t dally.

At COTY, the Clio’s double-clutch transmission came in for criticism because it is slow to fully engage off the mark. Everywhere else it’s a light-car revelation, but this one aspect is worrying. There are a couple of intersections on my commute – can’t imagine I’m Robinson Crusoe in this regard – where a decent take-off is required to merge with fast traffic.

The Clio's boot is tall but it isn’t particularly wide or long. A 300-litre capacity is competitive, though

The Clio's boot is tall but it isn’t particularly wide or long. A 300-litre capacity is competitive, though

The 1.2-litre engine’s performance is not as sparkling as I recall – it feels tight, restrained – and fuel consumption is on the high side, given the proportion of my commute that’s on the open freeway.

But I’m hoping both will free up with a few more kilometres under the Clio’s tyres. A road trip to Sydney to visit the family next month should loosen things up nicely – for both of us.

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