A few weeks ago I tested the Renault Clio dCi “Sport Tourer.” Today I had another chance to sample the exact same model. This time I noticed something else, something about the steering. Something unwelcome.
I observed this: sudden inputs to the steering around the straight ahead don’t result in sudden changes of direction. If you jerk the wheel left the car doesn’t suddenly point left. The car changes direction smoothly after a small, smooth delay. The jerkiness of the input is smothered. It’s not as if the car understeers (in a noticeable way). And it’s not as if there is play in the steering around the straight ahead: every bit of a degree of turning of the wheel encounters resistance. This means that when you turn the wheel you must make an effort but the effort does not turn into a change of direction.
What the Clio is not is that it is not in any way darty. Renault have concealed a rather dull steering set-up with artificial resistance. In the old days (whenever that was) resistance in the steering signalled resistance at the road. And if you dialled in a change in direction you got real feedback and a change in direction. If a manufacturer wanted to dial out feedback you ended up with play around the straight-ahead which I encountered in the Volvo 340 and the Opel Corsa B (1993-2001) and some US cars. The aim there was to insulate the driver from unwanted vibrations and kickback from the steering. The other effect was imprecise steering.
What I think has happened is that the Clio has insulated steering that feels “meaty” but does a lot less than you think it does. If you want to suddenly play with the car’s direction and try toying with the steering, nothing much happens at first. Which makes the car rather anaesthetic in that regard. I missed that in my first assessment.