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Renault Modus: First drive

2004-09-23 08:07

John Oxley

Renault is going to cause a stir in the South African market when this car lands in May next year, for pricing is very keen - projected at only 6% more than the equivalent Renault Clio versions.

The Modus follows in the footsteps of the famous Renault Scenic MPV in offering unique packaging solutions and versatility - but this time the designers have excelled themselves in the ways in which the Modus can be adapted to suit its owners needs.

Based on the new Renault/Nissan B Platform - on which the Nissan Micra is based, and which will also form the underpinnings of the next Renault Clio - the Modus is extremely well-equipped even in the entry level versions.

Standard equipment includes ABS with emergency brake assist, electric front windows, and mirrors, on-board computer, dual-optic headlamps, height-adjustable driver's seat with map pockets and stowage under the front passenger seat.

Power steering

There are two front airbags and two side airbags, and the car has variable assistance electric power steering as well as height-adjustable front seatbelts and a height-adjustable steering wheel.

In addition the rear seat slides backwards and forwards to increase legroom or the load area, or the seats can be tipped forward or taken out altogether. There's remote locking with RAID immobiliser.

This equipment level is available with a 55 kW 1.2-litre 16-valve petrol engine or a 48 kW 1.5 dCi turbo-diesel.

Moving up the scale there are Confort versions which add two curtain airbags, outside temperature display, one-touch driver's window control, de-icing mirrors, a passenger reading lamp and a 2x15W built-in radio with CD player.

Engines on these versions include the 1.2, the diesel, as well as a 1.4-litre 16 valve petrol engine producing 73 kW.

The Confort Pack adds manual air conditioning with a cooled glove compartment and fog lamps.

Top versions

The Luxe versions are really well-equipped, with automatic headlamps and rain sensor, cruise control and speed limiter, electric rear windows, luggage net, drawer under the front passenger seat (as well as a hidden compartment under the passenger seat squab), 15 inch alloy wheels, a 4x15W radio with CD player, and additional headlamps which come on in tight corners.

Engines are the 1.2, the diesel, and a very lively 86 kW 16-valve petrol unit. The 1.6 versions are also available with a superb automatic gearbox complete with sequential manual mode.

Options include a special drop-down "hatch" in the rear door to allow easy loading of, say, shopping or a briefcase without opening the door (it also allows really long objects to be carried), as well as xenon headlamps, ESP with ASR and understeer control, automatic air conditioning, tyre pressure monitoring system, hands-free phone kit, electric sunroof (including a double panoramic version) .

There's also a special Velofix cycle rack which clips into slots in the rear bumper and also drops down to allow boot access, while sporty 16 inch alloy wheels can also be chosen.

On the road

Even in France, where the range of cars on sale exceeds even South Africa's, the Modus is a head-turner, and whenever we stopped the car it was quickly surrounded by gawkers.

Its styling follows very much on the Scenic II theme, but with a high degree of funkiness, while its high roof gives the car an airy feel inside while also allowing for great headroom and increased load carrying ability.

The seating position is excellent, and it's easy to find a comfortable driving position, although one cannot see the exact front of the car when parking because of the sharp drop-off - a common problem these days.

Rear seat space is good, even with the back seat on its furthest forward setting, and excellent when the seat is pushed back.

Boot space is good for this size vehicle, especially when the luggage net is used to allow floor-to roof loading.

However, the proof of the pudding is in the driving.


We started out with the 1.5 cDi, and this proved to be an extremely lively mover with an inordinate amount of low-end pulling power for a small car. What's more it is VERY quiet inside or outside, and it's hard to tell it has a diesel engine at all.

Compared to the VW Polo TDi for instance, it's like an electric car!

The 5-speed manual gearbox is very smooth with great ratios. Ride is also smooth- this is one small car that takes ride quality to new levels - while handling is nothing short of remarkable when you start to push the car.

The 1.2-litre petrol gives more than adequate power at sea level, and most drivers are going to be happy with it at high altitude, too, although I would expect those who want more wooma to opt for either the 1.4 or the 1.6 - or the turbo-diesel, which manages to give the same power at the Reef as it does at sea level thanks to the turbo boost.

The biggest eye opener, of course, is the 1.6. This goes like dirt off a shovel, handles like a little roller skate, and even with the auto 'box is a great performer.

In fact we LOVED the automatic. Flick the gear lever to the left and you change gears by just moving the lever backwards and forwards.

There's also a winter (or mud) setting that stops means you start off in second gear to prevent wheel spin, and a great feature is that the gearbox immediately gears down when you brake hard, meaning that in tight cornering you're always in the right gear to power out of the bend.


The Modus is going to ignite a fire in the South African market when it gets here.

Under attack will be the Nissan Micra, which pales into insignificance compared to its Renault cousin in terms of space, versatility and, especially, pricing (and the Renault has 5 Euro-NCAP safety stars as well), but more especially the Opel Meriva, the Honda Jazz, and even the Hyundai Getz.

Where the Modus scores is in its superb chassis, great handling response, and fabulous engines, as well as extraordinary ride quality, and pricing levels that make it very affordable, bloodying the nose of most of its competitors.

The looks are to die for, doll, and all round fit and finish will make you sit up and take notice.

I predict it will do very well indeed!


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