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First drive: Renault Clio III - on sale now



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Renault has big expectations for the third generation Clio. Like its predecessor it expects the supermini to be a regular UK top 10 best seller, but more importantly it plans to consistently outsell its big rival Peugeot in the B-sector.

The previous generation Clio was a popular choice for UK buyers with 72,400 sold in 2004 and Renault is not underestimating its continued importance. Consequently it plans to continue to sell this MkII version throughout 2006 as an entry-level model.

A little confusingly, the new Clio is not a straight successor to the outgoing car; instead Renault plans to replace it with three cars, the Modus mini-MPV, the new Twingo, due in 2008, and the mainstream Clio III. Peugeot is following a similar route with niche models like the 1007, but this has so far failed to sell in big numbers, a possible warning for Renault.

For the majority of UK buyers the Clio will still represent Renault’s best offering in the small hatch sector. And it’s off to a good start having already been voted Car of the Year 2006. But while the accolade is no doubt a welcome one, the task of outperforming its French rival is a tough challenge, particularly with the launch of the new 207 supermini in May.

Like Peugeot, Renault has played it safe with the styling – the Clio III is easily recognisable as a Clio. It’s based on the Renault-Nissan B platform, which also underpins the Modus and the Micra, and from the front there is a more than a hint of the Nissan, while the rear apes the Megane with similarly styled rear hatch and taillights.

It’s noticeably bigger than the car it replaces at a shade under 4m long, and is also wider and has a longer wheelbase. This results in a much more spacious interior with increased head, leg and elbow room, along with a decent amount of boot space.

It comes well equipped for safety with six airbags, ABS, electronic brake distribution, brake assist and ESP as standard on all models. Safety has become a key selling factor for Renault and it is no surprise that the new Clio has a five-star Euro NCAP rating – one of only a handful of superminis to achieve this – together with a maximum four stars for child protection.

Standard equipment is good for the segment with electric windows, a CD player with steering column mounted controls, multi-function trip computer, alloy wheels and power steering standard on all models. There are four trim levels – Extreme, Expression, Dynamique and Dynamique S.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# The most popular is likely to be the 1.4-litre petrol Dynamique, priced at £10,750, which undercuts similarly powered and specified rivals such as the Corsa 1.4 SRi and Ford Fiesta 1.6 Zetec S.

Curiously though, air conditioning is a £500 optional extra on this trim level, yet comes as standard on the lower specified Expression. Aircon is ditched in place of sports upholstery, soft-touch carbon dashboard, aluminium interior trim and electrically adjusted heated mirrors.

Clio III is available now in three-door, which Renault expects to account for 75% of sales. The five-door is launched later this month, followed by a GT version and a Quickshift auto gearbox option this spring, then a Renaultsport model in June. Once the full range is available, Clio will “at least match” sales volume of the outgoing model, says Renault.

Behind the wheel

The consequence of the Clio’s extra safety kit is a considerable weight increase and the new model doesn’t feel quite as nimble or sprightly as its predecessor.

It’s most noticeable on twisting roads and isn’t helped by the variable assisted power steering, which although works very well in town driving and is ideal for parking, doesn’t provide much feedback and can feel very artificial at higher speeds.

The driving position is much improved compared with the previous Clio and the car certainly feels more solid and stable on the road. On the motorway it also feels very accomplished, and the 1.4-litre engine is peppy enough to pull along happily in fifth gear without having to constantly change down.

Strengths: Wide choice of engines and trims, quality interior
Weaknesses: Vague steering
Opportunity: Improved quality increases appeal
Threat: Sector is dominated by Fiesta and Corsa
USP: New Clio raises supermini benchmark
Price: £8,895-£12,650
Engines: 1.2-litre 74bhp, 1.4-litre 97bhp, 1.6-litre 110bhp, 1.5dCi 67bhp, 84bhp, 105bhp
Performance: 0-62mph: 10.2-15.2sec; top speed: 97-118mph
Transmission: Five speed manual, six speed manual, four speed automatic
Efficiency: 37.7-64.2mpg; 117-179g/km CO2
CAP RV 3yr/30k: £3,875 (37%) 1.4-litre
Rivals: Nissan Micra, Ford Fiesta, Peugeot 206/7, Vauxhall Corsa, Toyota Yaris

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