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We drive the new Clio!

2006-06-12 07:25

The Clio III in three-door guise

John Oxley

It's only when you get into the third generation Renault Clio that you realise just how big it's become.

Not that it's grown a lot in external dimensions - though it IS bigger in every way than the model it supersedes.

No, it's the way things are packaged.

A few mm here, a few mm there can make a remarkable difference to comfort levels, and that's what's happened to the latest incarnation of Renault's most popular car.

With almost 5 million sold since the Clio first hit the scene - and the aim to lift this to close to 9-million with the new model - it's the most important model in the Renault range.

What's more, Renault SA wants to attract brand-new customers to the Clio with this new car.

Clio 2 was most popular with women and older people, mainly because of its high levels of value-for-money and great features for the prices.

More male buyers

Now, with more space, more power - 83

kW from the 1.6-litre 16-valve engine, and a whopping 145

kW from the Clio Sport which will be unveiled at the Auto Africa Expo in October - plus the introduction of sporty 3-door versions and a host of body add-on options, Renault wants to attract male buyers, and more specifically young trend-setters.

Although we have already told you details about the new car, we have only now been able to drive it and to sample its comfort and dynamic features from behind the wheel.

And our ride-and-drive comes at a good time, for last week I drove a Clio 2 hire car on a trip to Johannesburg, which meant I was able to do a valid back-to-back comparison with the new model.

By the way, Clio 2 will live on as the entry-level Renault cars for the time being, in 1.2 and 1.4 litre Va Va Voom guise.

That is, until the Dacia/Renault Logan gets to SA?but that's another story.

There are two trim levels in the Clio 3 range, Expression and Dynamique.

As you might expect Expression is aimed at the family driver, while Dynamique caters for those who want a bit more passion and flair.

More wooma

Our first drive, in the Expression 1.6 5-door, quickly revealed that this car has a lot more wooma than the old one.

Acceleration is crisper, and the huge mid-range torque quickly makes itself apparent, especially when overtaking.

The first section of our drive was mainly on motorway, which gave lots of time to look around the car.

Shoulder room is much improved over the old one, and almost on a par with bigger cars such as the VW Golf and the Renault Megane, while rear seat space has leapt forward in volumes, especially in terms of legroom and foot space, as well as head room.

The boot is MUCH bigger, and easily coped with our weekend luggage despite that my wife had brought both summer and winter clothes to cater for the weather vagaries in the Drakensberg, where we were headed.

However, it was only when we left the main drag and changed to secondary roads that the car's attributes came to the fore.

The first lesson learned is that Renault has not lost its ability to make a suspension that swallows rough roads and smoothes away the bumps.

Bad roads

Some of our roads have deteriorated VERY badly of late, and on one section we drove on a tar road which looked as if it had been squelched like mud, so badly rutted was it from overloaded trucks.

Then there were potholes (some badly repaired) and sharp drop-offs that could cut a sidewall to shreds, plus overgrown soft shoulders to trap the unwary.

Later, as we popped into the famous Little Switzerland Hotel for lunch, we were able to sample twisty roads that tested the Clio's suspension in another way, in terms of road holding and handling.

What a pleasure! The car turns-in with the crispness we first noticed with the Megane 2 (with which Clio 3 shares its basic platform), while handling was quite, quite neutral even when pressing on.

The brakes, too, are light yet powerful, with the added benefits of ABS with brake assist for when you need to stop quickly in an emergency.

Gearchanges were not always so positive however, although this may have been due in no small part to the fact that the cars were brand new!

More upmarket

The interior of the Clio has moved upmarket with the new car, with much better quality plastics and fit and finish.

However, we must admit we found the interior a bit sombre - with mainly shades of charcoal on the dash and centre console, it's left to grey contrasts on the lower half of the dash and on the door panels to relieve the eye; the brightly patterned seat facings are concealed by your derriere!

Moving across to the Dynamique versions, however, sees lots of contrast in the form of a satin chrome separating strip between the upper half of the dashboard and the glove compartment lid.

The climate control display (optional on 3-door), gear lever base, vent controls and instrument dials are also framed in satin finish chrome.

This trim level also features a so-called "slush" dashboard which is softer and more supple to the touch.

We swapped over to an Expression 1.4 once we got to the 'Berg, and found it largely the same as the 1.6-litre version in terms of trim levels.

Once rolling, on the road most of the time the 1400 was able to run with the 1.6-litre versions, but when it came to hills the extra power of the bigger engine (83

kW versus 72

kW) and especially the larger torque (154 Nm versus 127

Nm) showed, and the 1.6 just romped away and left us for dead?


The new Clio looks much better than the old model, with swooping, flowing lines and especially on the 3-door versions, sport styling and the sort of chic the French have always been known for.

MD Roland Buchara assures us that huge steps are being taken to ensure Renault aftersales are top notch.

We were also assured that South African parts inventories for the new Clios are already high, with even rare parts, such as on-board computers, available on overnight delivery.

Sales of the new Clio 3 are expected to start out at 5 000 a year, plus another 2 500 to 3 000 of the remaining Clio 2 versions.

With more space, more pace, and lots more safety (up to eight airbags on the top model) including a 5-star Euro NCAP rating, we predict the new Clio will take the French company to a new level in terms of sales and market penetration in SA.

Now all that remains is to drive the 60 kW turbo-diesel (there were none available at launch) and, soon, that awesome 145 kW Clio Sport!

CLICK HERE for full details.



  • 1.4 Expression R126 000
  • 1.6 Dynamique R141 000.


  • 1.4 Expression R125 000
  • 1.6 Expression R131 500
  • 1.6 Expression A/T R141 000
  • 1.5 dCi Expression R139 000
  • 1.6 Dynamique R141 000.

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