Some Misunderstanding

Clio via Sochaux?

Image: (c)

If the seminal Renault 4 can lay claim to being the most popular Renault model ever[1] — and France’s best selling car of all time — Boulogne-Billancourt’s evergreen Clio can equally be considered the French Republic’s best-selling nameplate, with over 16 million built and sold since the model line’s inception in 1990. And not just in its home country either, the Clio has proven a resounding sales success right across Europe.

This level of sales significance, while not in the Toyota Corolla or Volkswagen Golf scale, is still mightily impressive. But whereas one can speak of the Golf collectively, despite its eight distinct generations, the Clio, owing to the fact that its design has altered so much in the intervening thirty three years remains a less distinct (and distinctive) entity.

Volkswagen, as we know, has made a considerable virtue of the Golf’s iterative appearance, whereas Renault preferred to essentially reinvent the Clio with each successive generation. This process however came to a halt in 2019, with the debut of the fifth-generation Clio, a virtual carbon copy of the previous model. Why Renault’s lords and masters elected to change direction in this manner remains unclear, but given the fourth-generation’s huge sales success (leading the European B-segment for most of its career), they may have considered an evolutionary approach a more germane one.

Image: (c)

But for many, the Clio V simply failed to move the aesthetic forward, with observers and prospective buyers struggling to identify it as the new model — which doesn’t seem to have been the best use of the Renault-Nissan alliance’s considerable investment in the (allegedly) new platform and bodyshell.

Last year, according to data from Carsalesbase, Clio sales dipped considerably, falling noticeably behind its Stellantis rivals. In sales data taken from the first three quarters of 2022[2], the Clio languished in 6th position, down 35% over the same period in 2021. The saving grace for Renault was perhaps the relative success of the Dacia Sandero, itself built on Clio platform and drivetrains, which came in behind the Peugeot 208[3] in second position.

Of course sales figures are, as we are fond of repeating here, a somewhat blunt instrument, and in the current somewhat confused environment, it is even more difficult to accurately ascribe cause and effect. But while the 208 currently appears to be dominating proceedings, Renault have seen fit to refresh the Clio V, showing its mid-life facelift in a press release last week.

Its new style is even more compelling and elegant, and its chic and distinguished interior is ushering in a new cycle with the first rendering of the brand’s new design language. The new technical front radiates vigour, the light signature has been completely revamped and channels the brand’s identity, and the new taut, exact and efficient lines give this New Clio a more striking character and make it a vibrant status symbol with a more emotional feel”, sayeth Renault’s PR.

Former Design Director at Peugeot, Gilles Vidal joined Renault in 2020, now heading their Design team. Having been acclaimed for leading Peugeot’s recent design renaissance, his influence upon Renault style has been keenly anticipated among those who have felt disappointed by its direction in recent years.

The facelifted Clio is amongst the first production cars to have emerged since Vidal’s appointment, and while it may have been under way when he joined, it is unquestionable that his stamp has been put firmly in place[4]. Whereas the Clio’s grille had previously been a more vertical affair, it is now resolutely horizontal. Graphically, the bright elements in the grille are now picked up at the extremities by the rhombus-shaped DRLs, further visually broadening the front end and lending the car a wholly different, far more aggressive demeanour.

It is very difficult to view these changes as being anything but reminiscent of Vidal’s oversight at la Garenne, or indeed to see them as being anything but retrograde — largely because they seem wholly out of character with the rest of car. But since the press photos are exclusively of the newly minted (and most sporty – ergo most aggressive) Esprit Alpine trim, we should probably await more toned down versions before rushing to judgement.

What else is new, you ask? Not much really. The Clio is now available with a E-Tech hybrid powertrain, which consists of a 1.6-litre engine with two electric motors to develop 143bhp. This will be the sole model offered in the UK, Renault having no plans to further electrify the Clio. Otherwise, apart from new tail-lamps and a new rear bumper design, the exterior is largely unchanged. Inside too, remains as before, now with fully digital instrumentation and trim enhancements.

Image: (c)

With conventional Euro B-segment stalwarts like Ford’s Fiesta and VW’s Polo set for the axe, the sands of time are clearly running short for the Clio too — amid the more affluent areas of Northern Europe at least. No longer built in France, the Clio will probably continue serving those Southern and Eastern European markets who are finding the EV transition more difficult — and Latin American markets of course.

Next year Billancourt will introduce the reanimated 5 as its full-electric B-segment contender[5]. With the advent of the nouvelle Cinq, the Clio’s slow demise will begin in earnest. But after 16 million cars and counting, not to mention 33 years of success, it remains a nameplate with a lot of equity. And if Renault can play fast and loose with a name like Espace, we should expect the Clio name to come to a crossover near you before too long.

[1] It has come to my attention that the Quatrelle was not in fact France’s best seller, that palmaré resting with the Peugeot 206, which is believed to have sold in excess of 10 million — not all in France, obviously. 

[2] European Sales figures for the year to December 2022 appear to remain unavailable.

[3] The first three quarter B-segment sales for 2022 show Peugeot 208 sales to have almost doubled those of the Clio.

[4] “There is a real love story with the Clio in France and all around the world actually. So we wanted to celebrate the core values of this icon, and bring it to a next level by transforming it.” Gilles Vidal, VP Design, Renault Brand.

[5] Likely to resemble something akin to a super-Super-Cinq.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

28 thoughts on “Some Misunderstanding”

  1. Good morning Eóin. The current Clio has made very little impression on me, so I had to find an image to compare with the facelifted version. Here it is:

    It’s not a bad looking car, with nicely sculpted surfaces but, as you say, it’s too similar to its predecessor and looks much older than a 2019 model should. Well, the facelifted version is different, but busier and it’s debatable as to whether or not it’s an improvement:

    Personally, I don’t think so, especially as the grille seems to have been inspired by that of its French rival:

    Those grilles, with their arrangement of individual bright points on a black background (I wish I could think of a more succinct way to describe them.) are popping up everywhere and becoming something of a design trope:

    1. The best of the Clio today is the interior, a big step compared to its predecessor. So actually the Clio is a good offer with a loot of space, a fine interior and no major drawbacks. But the greatest problem of the Clio is the Dacia Sandero which does not longer look less modern, less robust or cheaper than its brother.

      In the last years price tags of subcompact cars became higher and higher. That is the problem of all those competitors that does not look as posh as the 208 or as sporty as the Corsa. Unless you are the bargain of the class like the Sandero or the Citroen C3.

      I like the new look of the Facelift-Clio. All Renaults wearing those headlights with that useless fussy claw do not suit my taste at all.

    2. Isn’t the “useless fussy claw” still there, just in a different form?

    3. I never liked the old Clio in Daniel’s post. Is that the Clio IV? Bumper, grill and headlights: way too many forms, shapes and what not. No thanks. I also don’t like the two bulbs in the roof that I presume cover the hinges of the rear hatch.

      I can say pretty much the same for the new one. It’s a different mess, but still a mess.

    4. Hi Freerk. The first Clio in my comment above is the pre-facelift Mk5. Here’s the Mk4:

    5. Thanks, Daniel. The IV looks cleaner, but I still don’t like the curves in the front bumper. The curves on the sides are also a bit too much, but I can see what they were trying to achieve here.

  2. Hmmm. The Clio IV hasn’t become any less attractive since launch, it still looks better than Clio V or V facelift or any comparable Peugeot. I really do like the Clio IV Estate.

  3. I’ve seen that type of grille referred to as having ‘diamond pins’ by Mercedes-Benz. I’m not sure that’s a very good description, though.

    I guess the blue colour is an Alpine reference.

    I find it all a bit underwhelming. The Dacia makes much more sense to me, and judging by the sales figures, to many others, too.

    1. Hi Charles. Speaking of Dacia, there are quite a few around where I now live, including the new Jogger MPV:

      New cars are VERY expensive* in the Republic of Ireland, so Dacia’s value for money offer is very attractive here. The Jogger seems to be doing for MPVs what the Škoda Superb did for non-premium large saloons and estates; proving that there is still a market for them.

      * The Porsche Boxster starts at £51.8k in the UK, equal to €58.7k at the current exchange rate. In Ireland, the entry price is €105.6k. The equivalent spec to mine would cost €118.6k. I better make mine last, as I certainly won’t be buying another!

    2. Hello Daniel – crikey, I wonder where they get prices from.

      Re the Jogger, it’s quite a clever commercial strategy – re-enter a segment that everyone has left and grab all the remaining sales.

      Speaking of Škoda, there’s a new Superb coming along soon, so I’ll be interested to see it.

    3. Buick called that pattern “Fashion-Aire Dynastar”. Useless information R Us! 🙂

  4. I actually like this facelift and the original Clio V too, actually. When it came out in 2019 I thought it improved on the IV even if it took me a long time to tell them apart. The Clio V interior is a different matter, of course, much better in my opinion to that of the Clio IV, in design and materials.

    The Clio IV is a likeable super mini, but to me it always looked too soft. Its surfaces, with their large radii, lacked tension, and everything was curvy, with no straight lines to give it visual strength. The Clio V addressed all this with more tension in its surfaces and just the right amount of character lines to stress the point. Of course, my observations on the IV are very minor, because overall, I like the Clio IV very much, just not as much as its contemporary, the Peugeot 208, for example.

    The Clio IV Estate, or “Sport Tourer”, in Renault speak, is a different matter to me. I really liked it and actually came “this close” to buying one, settling instead for a Peugeot 308 in “don´t-look-at-me-I´m-a-leasecar blue shade” (Richard Herriot dixit 🙂 ); a car I enjoy driving very much. But whenever I see a Clio Sport Tourer on the road I wonder, especially as it’s now an extint car type (the last of the super mini wagons).

    1. Interesting: I have the complete opposite reaction. To me the IV is a much tauter design, especially when you analyse its varying radii, surfaces and volumes which to me are almost unprecedented for such a mundane car – I recently learned that Patrick Le Quément might have still been involved in its conception, which explains a lot. The V, in my eyes, threw all that away for a superficial similarity to its predecessor with none of the intricacy. The interior is of course a completely different matter, being much, much better on the V. For me the “ideal” modern Clio is a IV exterior with a V interior.

      I also have to respectfully disagree with the assertion made in the article that the IV (and thus, the V) doesn’t look sporty. For a Renault supermini in particular, it does in my eyes. I think it is exactly that which made the IV popular in the first place: it’s about as substantial and taut as the “Germans”, yet retains a bit of Gallic flair. The V doesn’t quite manage the same balancing act (and is – in line with the rest of the market – a lot more expensive). No wonder the Sandero, now with quite a nice style and on an up to date platform as well, is popular. Also, I think it makes a difference in northern European markets that the 208/Corsa can be had in (relatively credible) EV form as well and the Clio cannot. The Zoe’s a nice car, but it’s ancient by now.

      OT: don’t like the facelift. Too fussy (and those “we’re not copying Peugeot because ours have an extra bend in them” fangs from the original ware already fussy).

  5. The business with the white/bright on black or black on white/bright is related to the figure-ground concept in gestalt theory. For an egg-box grille the black areas seem like figures on a continuous field of brightness; for the Mercedes and Renault grilles this inverted and the dots looks like figures on a continuous dark field, other things being equal. Figure-ground relations are always relative. The Renault grille pattern can be described as consisting of horizontally-alligned metallic oblongs on a darker background. In recent years my favourite grille pattern has been on the Vignale Fords. That was powerful and subtle.

    1. Gestalt theory – I would have writen it with a capital G – it deserves that 🙂

  6. One single reason for the relative failure of the V could be its interior styling. If I would be asked to name a single outstanding feature of all Clio generations, it is the essentially luxurious (not perceived luxury) cabin & dashboard design, materials and ergonomics.

    In this regard:
    Clio I interior is like a slightly less opulent Safrane.
    Clio II interior is way less comfy and slightly sketchy, yet somehow inviting and cozy.
    Clio III’s is sober and restrained, but with a very solid, heftily built
    dash that wouldn’t look out of place on a VW.

    The relatively flimsy-feeling central console of the Clio IV signaled
    the switch to a different target-group, and its sales success relied heavily on its LvDA exteriour styling (a work of art, almost).

    On another level: I’d reckon that a significant part of the (surprising) cannibalisation of the Clio V by the Sandero is the global outbreak of bicycle/E-bike demand – fuelled by the
    restrictions & lifestyle changes of the “C19” phenomenon, many
    Europeans simply opted for a slightly “downsized” B-segment
    Renault (which the Sandero essentially is), and the difference
    in price was diverted towards some good-quality two-wheeled

    The Sandero, meanwhile, grew to have a very robust, finely assembled and surprisingly hefty-feeling dash & cabin (radiating
    an almost old-Volvo perceived sturdiness), which undoubtedly
    helped its sales figures.

    It’s time for an entirely new Clio.

    1. In the UK, the (to me, nicer-looking) Sandero starts at £13.7k, so probably about £14.5k for a really nice one. The Clio currently starts at £19k.

      I’d buy the Sandero, or more likely, buy a nearly new car.

  7. “Its new style ….. ushering in a new cycle ….. brand’s new design language …. radiates vigour….channels the brand’s identity … exact and efficient lines ….a vibrant status symbol …. more emotional feel”

    I sometimes imagine the people who write this having moments of self-doubt and despair and, sitting with heads in hands, looking for displacement activity. Proudly uninfluential as it is, there is always the chance that in doing so they might alight on the DTW site, so for that reason I will leave my thoughts on the above unwritten and wish them a nice day.

    Except to mention that long ago I remember Laurens van den Acker crowing about how he had given Renault front views the strong and positive identity that (by implication) Patrick Le Quement had failed to do. Since then we’ve probably had several more design languages under Mr VdA’s watch, and this week we’re speaking Peugeot. What a polyglot.

    1. Laurens van den Acker is widely credited with overseeing the design for the Clio IV. However, this is not the case. I have it on unimpeachable authority (literally the horse’s mouth) that both Clio IV and ZOE production designs were created under Patrick le Quément’s purview, being largely complete when he departed. The most that van den Acker could have contributed by that stage in the design process would have amounted to tinsel – which was in essence what he did contribute. Given that little else having been created under his tenure was either memorable or ‘good’, I’m minded to view his era as being a less than inspired one. (Shades of van Hooydonk at BMW perhaps?)

      We were discussing the Fiat 128 the other day. The Clio IV is another car with a slightly longer wheelbase than what might be considered normal or ideal, from a styling perspective at least. However in this case, as with the 128, it lends the car a distinct character and in my opinion, is essential to the design.

    2. Eoin. Whilst not disputing, I’m disappointed to hear that PlQ was involved. I can never like the Clio IV, since it has the most redundant piece of side glass in the history of …. redundant pieces of side glass.

  8. I’m so bored of this look now, where every car has the same aggressive inverted V-shaped lower grille/bumper arrangement. It’s time for something new.

    1. I will submit a short comment:

      As LED ilumination became available in automotive design in the past decade or so, the freedom of design they provided was the mean to free-form headlamps, rear lamps and all lamps.
      Technology provided the form freedom front and rear aesthetics, as the contraception methods promoted women’s freedom and ‘free(r) love’.

      I guess automotive design is experiencing some kind of orgasm due to that new technical possibility.

      They will eventually calm down, I hope

    1. Takes me back.. Exterior by Jean-Pierre Ploue and Thierry Metroz, interior by Ken Melville and myself. The Argos concept lent its headlights.. and we had our derrières handed to us on a plate by the Peugeot 206! Our riposte was penned by Chris Garfield (shiny bits) and George Bowen (the living space).

    2. I’ve never met Ken Melville, but he grew up a few streets away from where I’m writing this.

      The boy’s done well…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: