Chic Clio

Red side mirrors and tail-lights on a white car and red trimmings inside add to Clio's style.
Red side mirrors and tail-lights on a white car and red trimmings inside add to Clio's style.ST PHOTOS: TOH YONG CHUAN
RENAULT CLIO 1.2
RENAULT CLIO 1.2

A new 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine widens the appeal of the slick French hatchback

Renault has the image of a diesel car seller here.

As recently as January this year, all five models in the French automaker's local line-up were diesel cars, powered by 1.5-litre turbodiesel engines, the workhorse engine in Renault's stable.

That image looks set to change.

Since March, its local dealer Wearnes Automotive has introduced 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine versions of the Kadjar crossover, the new Megane sedan and the Clio hatchback that The Straits Times test drovehere.

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The move could not have been better timed. A new Vehicle Emissions Scheme, which kicks in next January, will test new cars for five pollutants, not just carbon. It slaps higher surcharges on diesel cars, making them more expensive.

While the 1.2-litre petrol engine may have been introduced out of necessity to keep Renault cars competitively priced, it also has another effect on the Clio: It makes the already chic car even more appealing.

The diesel-powered Clio - the facelift of the fourth-generation model - was launched here in 2015. It was the prettiest hatchback on sale then and it still is now. The car has not aged even a bit in two years.

It has a wind-swept profile and perky rear end. The handles of the rear doors are hidden in the C-pillars. From the side, the Clio looks like a two-door coupe. This simple design trick instantly makes a four-door car look sportier.

  • SPECS / RENAULT CLIO 1.2 DYNAMIQUE EDITION

    Price: $93,999 with COE

    Engine: 1,197cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged

    Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch with manual select

    Power: 120bhp at 5,500rpm

    Torque: 205Nm at 2,000rpm

    0-100kmh: 9.2 seconds

    Top speed: 192kmh

    Fuel consumption: 5.4 litres/100km (combined cycle)

    Agent: Wearnes Automotive

Alfa Romeo popularised it, the Honda Vezel has it and so does the Toyota C-HR. One wonders why the list is a short one.

The 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine in the Clio was jointly developed by Renault and its alliance partner Nissan. The same engine also powers the Nissan Pulsar and Qashqai.

The power plant in the Clio, however, is tuned to a higher output (120bhp versus 115bhp, 205Nm versus 165Nm) than the Nissan Pulsar and Qashqai. The engine is mated to a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

The powertrain combination in the Clio makes the car eager on the move. The steering feel is sharp and involving.

While the diesel-powered Clio, which is still on sale here, completes the 0-100kmh sprint in a leisurely 12.9 seconds, the petrol-powered Clio nails it in a brisk 9.2 seconds.

It is not hot-hatch-quick, but it is still faster than other entry-level hatchbacks like the 1.2-litre Volkswagen Polo (10.8 seconds) and Golf (10.2 seconds), as well as 1-litre cars such as the Seat Ibiza (9.3 seconds), Ford Fiesta (10.8 seconds) and Audi A1 Sportback (11.1 seconds).

The Clio has a minimalist cabin. It feels spartan and simple, but not low-rent. The centrepiece of the cockpit is a full-colour 7-inch infotainment system that has the usual array of features such as Bluetooth pairing for smartphones and built-in satellite-navigation.

The car is well equipped too. There are frills like keyless access and ignition, cruise control, automatic wipers and automatic lights with daytime-running LEDs incorporated into a handsome grille.

There are 300 litres of boot space and the rear seats can be folded down if more space is needed. Young couples and small families will not find space wanting in this hatchback.

They will also welcome the five-star safety rating that the Clio has earned from safety agency Euro NCAP and the car's five-year, 150,000km warranty, one of the longest among local car dealerships.

Over a 136km test drive, the Clio recorded a fuel consumption of 8.1 litres for every 100km, against the claimed 5.4 litres.

The figure needs to be put in context. The Clio has an "Eco" mode that cuts fuel consumption by 10 per cent, but I found that the feature shifts the car into higher gears too quickly and perceptibly retards the throttle response.

It saps the fun out of driving the car, so I switched it off for most of the drive.

And I was so heavy-footed that the car's Eco trip computer, which measures how fuel-efficient the driver was, gave me a miserable two out of five stars for acceleration.

The Clio has some quirks.

The glove compartment is unbelievably tiny, with barely space for an iPad Mini to be placed flat in it.

The cupholders are too shallow. The one behind the gearshift lever is less than 3cm deep. A bottle of water that I left there got dislodged on hard acceleration and rolled under the front passenger's seat.

The more I drove and gazed at the Clio, however, the less these imperfections mattered.

The white test car comes with red side mirrors that match the red tail-lights. Inside the car, there is red stitching on the front seats and red trimmings around the air-con vents. These small touches add style to the car.

The Clio oozes slickness, inside and outside, and will appeal to younger and fashion-conscious drivers who want a ride that stands out from the crowd.

It is also proof that entry-level, sub-$100,000 cars need not be drab or boring to drive.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Chic Clio'. Print Edition | Subscribe