Renault Clio long-term (2021) test: the six-month verdict

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Turns out a car doesn’t get to be this brilliant by chance. In my six months with the Clio, I loved the way it felt so special compared to other cars of its size and price, but couldn’t put my finger on how they’d done it. A video call with interior designer Magali Gouraud identified several ways in which Renault has elevated the owner experience through clever design.

Clio LTT interior

The TARDIS effect
The Mk5 is slightly smaller than the Mk4, and yet feels far bigger. How? ‘The seats are compact and structured; they’re comfortable and they save a lot of space,’ Magali says. ‘And the headrest is thin to increase visibility and save space.’ Less obvious contributors include the compact steering wheel crown and a smaller gearlever.

The great divide
Through careful angling of the controls and displays, the cockpit is subtly driver-orientated, which makes the driver feel special, and gives the front passenger fractionally more room. ‘Normally a centre console is constrained by the seat, but when you move part of the console a little higher then you have more space.’

Clio LTT screen

The real/virtual balance
The portrait-format central touchscreen is high quality, and a good compromise between menu-based operation of features you rarely need to re-set, and physical buttons for making adjustments on the move. ‘One of our aims was to give a very intuitive experience, so we have a row of six buttons, and not everything in the screen.’

Good to touch
‘We wanted to have very good comfort, a welcoming feel, and very good materials. The dash has very soft materials wherever you touch it. And there are soft fabrics on the doors, and the centre console. ‘The lighting enhances the shapes, helps emphasise the door handles, and you can change the colours. The miniaturisation of technology frees the design, to help us make it more human.’

Clio LTT seats

And affordable too
‘We saved money on some things that are not visible. The vents, for example, use the same parts for many models, which saves on tooling.’ And yet in my time with the Clio it always felt classy and good to drive, but with proper supermini economy. What a star.

Logbook: Renault Clio RS Line TCe 130 EDC

Price £20,295 (£21,655 as tested)
Performance 1330cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 128bhp, 9.0sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 42.0mpg (tested), 118g/km CO2
Energy cost 12.6p per mile
Miles this month 437
Total miles 3533

Month 5 living with a Renault Clio: maturing over generations

Renault Clio LTT side pan

You wouldn’t have expected the first couple of Clios to shine on the motorway. A little French car – that’s not what they’re all about, is it? But the current car is quite sophisticated, so when I finally drove it on the motorway for the first time I was expecting a reasonable level of hush.

That’s what I got, at least on most surfaces, and certainly when I stuck to legal speeds. I also gave the cruise control system its first proper try-out. Not so good. Or rather, it’s fine – easy to activate, de-activate and adjust – but it’s a simple, old-fashioned system, not an adaptive one, so it doesn’t do anything other than hold a steady speed. Nor did it seem to make a blind bit of difference to the fuel consumption; it was the same in both directions – cruise control on one way, off the other.

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But the few non-motorway miles I’ve done recently have been much more fun. That engine is very sweet and smooth, and the automatic shifts very well judged to make the most of it, so you focus on steering and throttle. Nobody’s pretending that RS Line trim makes this a hot RS. But it seems that, when it comes to the Clio, Renault always brings its A game.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Renault Clio RS Line TCe 130 EDC

Price £20,295 (£21,655 as tested)
Performance 1330cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 128bhp, 9.0sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 37.5mpg (tested), 118g/km CO2
Energy cost 13.3p per mile
Miles this month 179
Total miles 3096

Month 4 living with a Renault Clio: perform for me!

Clio LTT steering wheel

Much as it dents my macho pride to admit it, I’m not the world’s best parker, so I’ve been trying out the Clio’s hands-free parking, fitted as part of the £500 Tech Pack option. Press a button when you want it to look for a parking space, press an icon to tell it whether you fancy parallel, perpendicular or diagonal, indicate to let it know which side of the road you’re keen on, and await further instructions. When it’s ready, it will do the steering and throttle for you, leaving you the braking, which means you need to stay alert and attentive to the arrows on the screen and the warning beeps. It works brilliantly. Much better at parking than I am, darn it.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Renault Clio RS Line TCe 130 EDC

Price £20,295 (£21,655 as tested)
Performance 1330cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 128bhp, 9.0sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 38.9mpg (tested), 118g/km CO2
Energy cost 13.6p per mile
Miles this month 40
Total miles 2933

Month 3 living with a Renault Clio: fine-tuning

Clio LTT drive safety

Like the cast of Grange Hill with their blanket negativity about narcotics, I just say no to accidents. Like Hall and Oates, I can’t go for that. But I’m not at all convinced that the way to stay safe is to have your car try to keep you in the middle of your lane.

So I was intrigued to find, while prodding around the Clio’s touchscreen menus, that you can adjust the lane departure assistance system in nine steps. Nine sounds like overkill, but it’s something you’d set up just once, and leave forever.

There are three time/distance settings – Early, Standard and Late – that let you decide how close to the edge of the lane you are before you’re warned. And there are three settings for the vibration you get through the steering wheel – Low, Middle and High.

The combination of Late and Low works for me. I’m happy to be saved from myself if I am drifting off course, but all it should take is a gentle thrum in your fingertips, which is what you get in Low.

Go to the other extreme, Early and High, and you find yourself driving on tenterhooks, sitting up straight and holding your stomach in to avoid any suspicion that you might be deviating from a geometrically precise central line. Yet sometimes it’s the right thing to do: a wide line can give a better view of the road ahead, or avoid a pothole, or let a filtering motorcyclist past.

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The Clio’s system uses sensors detecting white lines, so if the lines are absent you don’t get any guidance. But you do still get another aid: ‘Following-distance warning’. This is like the option you get on cruise control to set how close you go to the vehicle in front, but this is independent of cruise control. It works fine, letting you adjust how close you get before warnings flash and beep, but it seems to me that if I’m really not able to spot that I’m about to ram a Transit up the backside, I should probably just surrender my licence and stick to walking.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Renault Clio RS Line TCe 130 EDC

Price £20,295 (£21,655 as tested)
Performance 1330cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 128bhp, 9.0sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 37.3mpg (tested), 118g/km CO2
Energy cost 13.7p per mile
Miles this month 179
Total miles 2893

Month 2 living with a Renault Clio: one man went to mode

Clio LTT drive modes

Well that didn’t take long. I was expecting months and thousands of miles to pass before I’d tested all the possible permutations offered by the MySense driving modes. But I seem to have exhausted all the combinations, and found a clear winner, in this month’s 93 miles.

I suspected that I’d go all around the houses and end up defaulting to Sport. But no! Sport steering is good, but Sport powertrain is a bit sudden. So I favour Sport steering and Regular powertrain. Job done, unless subsequent research reveals hidden depths to Comfort or Regular steering.
There are rather narrow limits to what you can select. In Sport mode you have to have Sport powertrain and Sport steering. But in the individually configurable MySense mode you don’t have the option of Sport powertrain. So it’s not actually all that individually configurable.

The only other adjustable elements are cabin lighting (currently a gentle orange), the climate control (favouring Regular, but I’ve not ruled out Eco – more miles in different weather should provide some answers) and the instrument layout (struggling to care; it’s not as if I drive along staring at the temperature gauge).

The shortness of recent journeys has highlighted an impressive aspect of the tech. The phone pairing via Bluetooth has been quick and flawless. I had to introduce my phone to my car just the once, and ever since they’ve been best mates. I get in, the audio system plays whatever my phone wants it to play. I get out to buy some milk, return four minutes later and the audio picks up where it left off, without needing any nudging. Sounds simple, but so many cars make a mess of it.

Having run out of steering and powertrain settings to fiddle with, I fear I may soon find myself trying out the parking assistance. The Clio really, really doesn’t need any parking assistance, but it’s fitted so I’ll give it a go.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Renault Clio RS Line TCe 130 EDC

Price £20,295 (£21,655 as tested)
Performance 1330cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 128bhp, 9.0sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 41.9mpg (tested), 118g/km CO2
Energy cost 15.7p per mile
Miles this month 93
Total miles 2714

Month 1 living with a Renault Clio: hello and welcome

Clio LTT side pan

For some reason the only photos I took were of patio furniture, but fortunately my memory of last June’s Renault Clio launch is crystal clear. The weather was glorious, the roads were good and both versions of the car I drove in Portugal were very impressive. I was particularly keen on the manual gearbox and the two-tone cabin trim of the lower-spec model.

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And for the next few months I’m driving the opposite of that: the higher-spec model with an automatic gearbox. Not complaining, of course, but it adds to the list of questions I want to answer during my months with the Clio. Because plush cabins and automatic gearboxes completely contradict what my prejudices tell me is important in a hatchback. Hatches are light and simple and require the driver to be fully engaged, not driving with one foot. We’ll see.

First impressions are that this TCe 130 in RS Line spec and Iron Blue paint is so accomplished that I’ll soon forget my pre-judgements. There’s a meatiness to the steering, a sophistication to the ride and a lively responsiveness to the engine that lifts it way above average.

But, impressively, it manages that grown-up classiness while also clinging on to some of that classic Clio perkiness.

Clio LTT wheels

With precious little driving going on at the moment, my main focus at first will be on burrowing into the details of the cabin. It’s lovely in here, and most of it is standard on this top-spec car.

Extras include £660 metallic paint, a £200 spare wheel and the £500 Techno Pack, which needs exploring. It involves hands-free parking, a 360º around-view monitor and Multi-Sense, which is Renault’s customisable driving modes. I’ve started experimenting with different combinations of engine mapping, steering assistance and ambient lighting (and I’m determined not to give up until I’ve tried every combination).

RS Line involves a duller appearance than the two-tone cabin featured on lower-spec cars, but the cloth upholstery feels lovely, as does the perforated leather steering wheel, and I like the look of the aluminium pedals. It comes with a 9.3-inch touchscreen, with DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and Apple Car Play/Android Auto included, as well as a choice of eight colours for the cabin lighting.

Clio LTT infotainment

It also comes with a high level of assistance systems, including cruise control, lane keeping assistance, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and LED lights front and rear. The 17-inch diamond-cut alloys are part of the RS Line deal too, along with these slightly different front and rear bumpers and lower grille, the tailpipes, and the tint of the rear windows.

This 128bhp version of Renault’s 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol four offers what seems like a decent real-world combination of a sub-10-second 0-62mph time and fuel consumption in the 40s. But it also comes with that seven-speed automatic transmission, which on paper seems wrong for a modestly sized, modestly powered hatchback. As I said, all my small-hatch instincts are about minimal equipment and maximum driver involvement. But in practice, the changes are smooth and quick, and you can make them yourself with the paddles, and the whole set-up feels very well balanced and set up.

But then again I’ve only done 34 miles, and have spent far more time recently exploring patio furniture than driving the Clio.

Logbook: Renault Clio RS Line TCe 130 EDC

Price £20,295 (£21,655 as tested)
Performance 1330cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 128bhp, 9.0sec 0-62mph, 124mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 42.4mpg (tested), 118g/km CO2
Energy cost tbc
Miles this month 34
Total miles 2621

About Tim Pollard

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A tech enthusiast and content writer, has a knack for simplifying complex technical information. He enjoys researching and writing about the latest gadgets and technology trends. He has a degree in computer science and is experienced in creating content for tech blogs and websites.

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