I have a bit of a soft spot for small estate cars. DTW has tested the popular Renault Clio “Sports Tourer” dCI which is a small estate car. What was revealed in the course of 361 kilometres? What??
The Renault Clio has proved to be a successful entrant in the small car market and the estate version is as numerous (to judge by its ubiquity) as the “standard” five door body. Is there a difference? Yes, one you can measure and feel. The estate´s maximum boot volume is 439 litres compared to the 300 litres of the normal car. Both models have the same wheel base. With the rear seats folded down, the volume rises from 1038 litres of the standard car to 1277 litres in the “sports tourer” or station wagon. You can see why people are
opting in large numbers for the “sports tourer”, as Renault dub it. The version we tested was the 1.5 litre diesel dCi in mid-range specification. Note that Renault allow much more daring colours inside (see the image below) and out than those shown here. Their on-line configurator is bad at showing these though.
The interior of the “sports tourer” has been thoughtfully designed. The front seats are supportive and comfortable over a long distance. The rear seats are alright too – not brilliant- but decent for this class of car. Even small passengers have a pleasant enough time since the waistline is not as high as on other vehicles we have tested recently. Autocar and others have quibbled about the hard plastics inside the car. I agree there are hard plastics such as the dash top but this is really unimportant. The only time you notice that the plastic is hard is when you tap it to check. The rest of the interior trim was well fitted and neatly finished. What you touch is of good quality and has some imaginative textures.
The dashboard has a pleasing shape at first glance with more than few interesting flourishes such as the wantonly sculptural chrome oblongs that outline the main instruments. There is also a bright frame around the control panel on the centre console though this feature can annoy in strong sunshine as it is highly reflective and causes glare. Having disliked the “floating” console on first viewing, I came to accept it and even admire its form, which is slightly asymmetrical. The audio controls work well enough, vastly better than those on the Megane we reviewed last week. And the ergonomics of the HVAC controls are first rate: easy to use and with a nice, smooth, buttery action. The dials (hooray!) are right next to your hand as it rests on the gear lever. This might not be true of higher spec-versions of this car, note. They have a more complex interface.
I find myself at odds with Autocar over the diesel engine and the ride. I found the motor noisy but more than adequate in terms of performance. They thought the reverse. Overtaking was easy and stress-free. From 1300 rpm the car had plenty of urge and on two occasions during the test I found that 100 mph was achieved with no bother and I could imagine being able to hammer the car on a long autobahn trip for extended periods. It felt stable and secure and devoid of wind-noise. The passengers did not notice the speed.
The main gripe I have with this car is the ride quality which is not terribly good. (Autocar thinks it´s fine). Even my passenger who knows next to nothing about cars, observed the poor quality of the ride on ordinary roads. You feel as well as hear the thumps and crashes of imperfections at the road surface. In other regards, the Clio does well. It´s got good grip, unnoticeable body roll and adjusts itself according to throttle inputs meaning narrow roads and roundabouts provide opportunities for silly micro-hoons. I tested the car on my “forest stage” track and it performed well, being easy to guide and it dealt with the bucking road surface quite well. The “gravel section” was also well handled, as the car can float (as did the Megane) over the rough, unmetalled surface. Which is odd, as when driving over fairly ordinary roads the Clio is jittery and unsettled.
I found the steering nicer than the Megane, being less wooden and requiring less effort. Turn-in was direct though not very communicative. It had a blank neutrality to it. I suppose this is the best we can expect from most cars these days. One of the nice aspects of having a small, cheap car is that you are not forced to accept a six –speed gearbox. The Clio´s five are well-judged and easy to access. You know where you are. The one thing I noticed, which may be down to my lack of experience with the car, is that on slow, sharp bends you can find yourself wishing there was a gear between first and second. First was too low and second too high sometimes, so I ran into a flat spot before the engine speed rose enough for the car to take off out of the corner again.
Outward visibility can be described as good all round and, to compare again, much better than the Megane. Junctions proved to be effortless to deal with thanks to the glazing and placement of the pillars.
The Clio returned 49 mpg over the test route. The fuel tank holds 10 gallons which means you can expect 490 miles between fills. On the standard DTW Calais-Cap Ferrat route, you will stop for petrol between Grenoble and Marseille and have half a tank left when you reach Cap Ferrat.
Turning to the boot again: the raw statistics were given qualitative meaning when the car took all the falderal we threw at it with aplomb, without having to put the seats down. It´s a genuinely useful boot for such a small car. It´s well shaped, with a low sill and there are
curry hooks on the left and right to allow shopping bags to be hung up. This means you don´t have to use the rear footwells to secure groceries, for example. The load bay is almost flat when the seats are down, which is a feature I like. Renault have only fitted one interior light, on the left side of the boot, which is a pity. I´d pay extra for two. The tonneau cover had a nicely sprung clip to make fitting and removal a painless task.
The other emerits amount to trivial matters. Every car should have a good central roof light. Anyone who has to buckle children into a child seat at night or look for things in the extended load bay will curse the absence of light on those occasions. The rear exterior door handles are not well positioned for left hand use. Half the time you will find you are using the wrong hand to open them or need to put whatever you are holding down. The rear of the front seats are finished with a nice-looking matte plastic material. But it shows up dirt immediately. The old-fashioned choice of vinyl may not look so lovely but it was incredibly practical for a car like this where small children will quickly find ways to make foot impressions on the interior.
I would ask why anyone would choose the “standard” car over the “sports tourer”. In days gone by the estate version of a car was a variant derived from the standard car and felt and looked as such. In the case of the Clio, it seems almost as if it is the five-door hatch that is the unnecessary deviation from the standard estate. Put another way, the standard car seems unnecessary.You could view the “sports tourer” as the standard and the five-door hatch as a version which does less for no real gain. I don´t even think it looks better than the “sports tourer”.
Secondarily, the Clio is in many ways a nicer and better car than the Megane. Declining Megane sales are probably not only a function of its age relative to its peers in the same class but also that some sales are being captured by the comfortable and competent Clio. If only the Clio rode as well as the Megane, it would be perfect. The existence of the Clio´s very good HVAC controls (on certain models) also makes me wonder why Renault did not re-design the Megane some time ago to use the same system. A Megane with the same controls as the Clio would be an excellent, slightly bigger car.
In summary, the Clio dCI Sports Tourer is one of the better cars I have driven lately. It has a lot to commend it and even the jittery ride is not enough to put me off assessing this as a very fine addition to the pantheon of useful, fun and nice-looking small estates. Do check what HVAC controls are fitted to any model you are considering. The higher spec-version, which I have not tried could be a deal breaker.