Review and road test of the Renault Clio (2001 - 2005)
THE FRIENDLY FACE OF PROGRESS
By Jonathan Crouch
Many breathed a huge sigh of relief when Renault updated the Clio in 2001. Not that there was a great deal wrong with its predecessor, but with it went the naming conventions that made choosing a Clio about as straightforward as explaining Fermat's Last Theorem to Victoria Beckham. The 2001 model year car changed all that, bringing with it Renault's 'family' dihedral grille and big headlamps.
As a used buy, this Clio makes sense to those looking for an affordable and fun supermini of the old school. The 172bhp and 182bhp models make cracking driver's cars and the V6 is a monster. The diesel models have sold well and these tend to attract strong residual values.
(3/5dr hatchback, 1.2, 1.4, 1.6, 2.0, 3.0 petrol, 1.5 diesel [Authentique, Expression(+), Dynamique(+), Billabong, Privilege, Initiale, Renaultsport 172, Renaultsport 172 Cup, REnaultsport 182, Renaultsport V6, Renaultsport V6 255])
The Mk 3 Renault Clio superseded a model that had only been on sale for three years but which had re-established the Clio as one of the pre-eminent superminis. When it arrived in 2001 it took a little getting used to, adopting twin element headlamps similar to those used on the SEAT Arosa. With built in indicator units, they form a huge pod smearing upwards and outwards. The grille was treated to a completely different look, representing the latest family face of the Renault brand as first seen on the ill-fated Vel Satis executive saloon. Two new powerplants were offered, a 1.2-litre 16v petrol and 1.5-litre dCi common-rail diesel unit, the diesel being initially offered in 65 and 80bhp guises, the petrol unit generating a straightforward 75bhp.
At the opposite end of the range, the acclaimed Clio Renaultsport 172 underwent some changes aimed at improving low speed flexibility. At launch, the petrol-powered range comprised a 60bhp 1.2 8v, the 1.2 16v, a 98bhp 1.4, 110bhp 1.6 and the Renaultsport 172. Diesel buyers got the two 1.5dCi variants, bringing the Clio diesel range well up to date. A luxury Initiale version, reminiscent in spirit of the old leather-lined Monaco variants, also debuted in summer '01. A stripped out version of the Clio Renaultsport 172, designated the 'Cup' was launched in Summer 2002. The Renaultsport Clio V6 was uprated to 255bhp in spring 2003 and gained a number of chassis modifications to make it easier to drive as well as, belatedly, the latest Clio nose.
Then, for the 2004 model year, the Renaultsport 172 received 182bhp and changed its name accordingly. A 100bhp version of the 1.5-litre dCi engine was introduced and the whole range received revised front bumpers along with various specification tweaks. Next to arrive was the lightweight version of the 182 - the 182 Cup. An all new Clio went on sale in October 2005, although this 2001 to 2005 model remained in production at Renault's Slovenian factory with budget models sold in the UK badged Clio Campus.
What You Get
The original petrol-powered range consisted of a 60bhp 1.2 8v, the 1.2 16v, a 98bhp 1.4, a 110bhp 1.6 and the Renaultsport 172 2.0-litre (later 182), offered in standard and even sportier 'Cup' versions. The 3.0-litre Renaultsport V6 255 Clio tops the range and diesel buyers get to choose from various 1.5dCi variants - the power outputs were changed as the engines were tweaked to meet changing emissions regulations. As for trim levels, well, where to start - there are so many.
Renault kicked off the Clio range with the Authentique and Expression trims with an engine choice that included the 65bhp dCi diesel engine that probably makes more sense than the 1.2-litre petrol units most buyers choose. Every model comes decently equipped with ABS, four airbags, power steering, electric windows, a four-speaker fingertip control stereo and so on - though if you want air-conditioning, you can only get it on Expression models - and then only by paying extra. At least at Expression level, you get a wider engine choice, including the faster dCi 80 diesel engine and the 16v petrol 1.4.
If you've a bigger budget and can't be bothered with all that messing around, the Privilege and Initiale models will probably suit. As well as air-conditioning, you can expect to find items like an alarm, an electric glass sunroof, a CD stereo, alloy wheels, front foglamps, sports seats and velour upholstery. That leaves only the sportier versions, from the mildly sporty Dynamique to the banzai Clio Renaultsport V6 255. The Dynamique models are basically just cooking Clios with sportier clothes, but the Renaultsport 172 and 172 Cup models really are outstanding small performance cars in their own right as are the later 182 derivatives. The 182 Cup model is still viewed by many as one of the best hot hatchbacks ever made: it's that good.
What to Look For
Although mechanically pretty tough, Renault interiors have never been amongst the most hardwearing. Whilst this shouldn't present too much of a problem, it's worth checking the plastics for damage and casting a critical eye over the trim for rips or discolouration. The interiors don't feel as well built as a SEAT Ibiza or a Skoda Fabia of similar age.
One plus point is that most Clios will have escaped the boy racer brigade. The honourable exceptions here are the Renaultsport models which may well have been thrashed to within an inch of their lives. Check tyres, exhausts and front suspension alignment carefully and try to establish if the previous keeper was diligent in the car's upkeep. Earlier Renaultsport V6 models garnered a reputation for being extremely tricky handlers, so a thorough inspection for accident damage may well pay dividends.
(approx based on a 2001 Clio 1.4) Day to day consumables for the Clio are in line with what you'd expect. An air filter is around £7, spark plugs are £9, whilst an oil filter is around £7 and a fuel filter £18. Nothing too terrifying here.
On the Road
On the road, rather than offering the traditional roly-poly French ride, base model Clios offer a taut, lively feel that better suits the urban environment. Likewise, all models bar the Renaultsports have electric power-assisted steering with variable assistance and active self-centring which is claimed to reduce fuel consumption by 1.3mpg. In order to make the car quieter, Renault fitted the Clio with a revised scuttle, front subframe and engine mountings. There's also multiplex wiring, linking a whole host of sophisticated electronic options to each other. It was a measure of progress at the time that a supermini could feature functions as advanced as a combined rain and light level detector, climate control, GPS-based satellite navigation, real time traffic information and colour LCD screens. Just a few years earlier, a supermini was well equipped if it came with sunblinds and monogrammed floor mats.
The common-rail diesel engines that Renault developed for the Clio merit further inspection as these could well represent the best used buys. Making use of a high-pressure diesel injection system, for a long time these engines offered the lowest fuel consumption and exhaust emissions on the market, combined with good throttle response. The 65bhp 1.5-litre dCi unit returns 65.7mpg and 115g CO2/km whilst the more powerful 80bhp version allows you to have your gateau and eat it, delivering an astonishing 67.3 mpg and 113g CO2/km.
If you're not interested in sportiness, the dCi 80 engine is probably the pick of the whole range of powerplants on offer in the Clio. Certainly, it represents one of the most environmentally friendly cars you're currently able to buy for this kind of sum. It even manages to beat hybrid vehicles of the same era, such as Toyota's Prius, in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. The engine always feels lithe and supple, if not exactly brawny. Neck-snapping performance is not of course what this unit is all about. More important are, of course, cost and environmental considerations and the French engineers have covered those bases with some elan.
The Clio remains an enormously appealing car and one that has moved fairly successfully with the times. If you really want to impress your neighbours with a state of the art supermini, the Clio may not be the prime contender, but its cheeky character and pert driving characteristics make it as relevant now as ever before. The picks of the range are the dCi80 diesel engined cars for everyday use and the Renaultsport Cup models if you're hell-bent on performance. Only the base 8v 1.2-litre car comes across as being uninspiring, the rest of the range having something to be said for it. There's no shortage of used cars to choose from so take your time, look at a few and pick the best you can afford.
Renault Clio (2001 - 2005) review by Jonathan Crouch