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A warning light in the shape of an amber-coloured spanner appeared in the instrument panel of the Clio recently, along with a message advising that a service was required.
I checked Renault's servicing requirements. They stated that a service should be carried out at 18,000 miles or a year, whichever comes first - which meant that this light had come on prematurely because the Clio had only done just over 2,000 coronavirus-restricted miles and had been registered around eight to nine months previously.
With the manual stating that the spanner symbol means I should drive 'very carefully to an approved dealer as soon as possible' and that doing otherwise risked damaging the vehicle, I decided to not take any chances and call my local garage at Aylesbury. Unfortunately, they said they would no longer be a Renault dealership from the start of September, and were fully booked for the two weeks between my call and that date.
So I turned my attention to the dealership in Watford, which from my house is about twice as far away in terms of time. Like Aylesbury, it too had trouble seeing me anytime soon - the earliest date I could get was the third week of September, which was five to six weeks away - and like Aylesbury it cited a Covid-19-related backlog as the reason for the wait. Watford added that a recall had been issued for the Clio - something related to updating the radio and maps - and that could be dealt with at the same time.
I asked both garages if it was OK to continue driving the car. Aylesbury was cautious about giving advice that might lead to potential damage, while Watford said that as things stood it was fine to carry on driving, although if a second warning light appeared I should seek assistance.
However, with a three-hour drive to Cheshire planned for a minibreak I needed an expert to assess whether the journey could be completed without damaging the car, so I called Renault Assistance, the manufacturer's breakdown arm. I was told a mechanic would be with me in around 90 minutes. Interestingly, I was also told that with an amber warning light it would usually be advisable to follow the "50/50 rule" - that is, driving at speeds of no more than 50 miles per hour and covering no more than 50 miles, which would rule out the visit to Cheshire.
After a follow-up call from Renault Assistance requesting more details, I received another, this time apologetic, call asking if it was OK for the mechanic's visit to be cancelled due to high demand, and moved to the following day (Saturday) at a time slot of my choosing. I went for 8-10am.
However, during the call I received a text informing me the mechanic would be with me in 45 minutes' time! When a recovery vehicle didn't show up within the hour it confirmed I'd been right to assume that the text had been sent in error.
At 7.50am the next day I opened the bedroom curtains to see an RAC van at the back of the house (Renault Assistance is provided in partnership with the breakdown firm). I thought the mechanic was 10 minutes early, but when I went downstairs and saw I had a voice message on my mobile phone and a calling card through the letterbox, I realised the mechanic had been to the house already, not had a response from me (either through answering the mobile phone or the front door - I'll assume he knocked and didn't ring the bell because it was early), and was sat in the van with the engine running, possibly planning to get to his next job. After I'd called and he had returned to the driveway, he revealed he had been told the job was for 7.30-8.00am!
A quick check of the car confirmed there was no problem with taking it to Cheshire, and that the 50:50 rule could be ignored. The warning light, he suspected, was probably caused by a software fault.
The Clio made it to Cheshire and back without any problems. However, rather than wait for the dealership appointment to resolve the issue, we exercised our journalists' privilege to get the vehicle seen sooner by Renault itself. It turns out the car thought it was due a one-year service because it was working from the factory build date rather the date of registration. Problem sorted, and service no longer required.
OK, so a supermini-sized car was never going to be an option for a weekend trip to Norfolk for a family of five. There were too many bags for a Renault Clio boot because we were having to bring beach towels etc. as well as ourselves. Plus, there was parental sanity to consider, given that the three siblings would think that being shoulder to shoulder in the back would justify the non-stop verbal and physical war they would wage on each other for the three-hour journey.
However, if you're short of options when it comes to the size of vehicle available to you, and have to pack the boot and squeeze three onto the rear seats (and can handle long-limbed teenage moans about limited legroom), the Clio's in a better position than its rivals to handle the challenge. That's because, firstly, Renault says our diesel model's boot measures 366 litres with the seats up, which blitzes the opposition. Both the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 208 come in at 311 litres, while the Vauxhall Corsa provides 309 litres of luggage. And secondly, the Clio is also wider than its three rivals, measuring 1,836mm across, with the Corsa at 1,765mm, the Fiesta at 1,756mm, and the 208 with 1,745mm.
Another reason to pick our Clio is because it provides more interior space than the model it replaced despite it being shorter, "thanks to some scrupulous trimming of millimetres from interior fixtures and fittings", as we highlighted when we tested the car last year. However, your knees will still be pressed into the back of the driver in front when you're both nudging towards the 6ft mark and they aren't willing to sacrifice their legroom.
There are a couple of other minor points to consider regarding the back end of the Clio. The first involves a return to the boot: it took a while for me to locate the button on the car that opens the luggage compartment door, so believing there wasn't one I continued, a little inconveniently, to use the keycard - until I realised what I was searching for wasn't actually on the boot lid at all but on the body of the car itself, a little lower down and just above the number plate. The other thing of note is the reversing camera - it's great, and provides a crystal clear and wide image on the large screen.
Have you ever seen that video on social media of the parents who set their two teenage sons the challenge of making a telephone call using an old-fashioned, rotary dial telephone? It's an amusing watch (if it isn't staged) as they fail repeatedly at the task, and reminded me of two incidents with the Clio, which has recently come into my possession.
The first one was watching my son try to figure out how to get into the back seats after I'd asked him to give it a go. His solution was to open the front passenger-side door and try to tilt the seat forward (you can't - you can only make the seat back more upright). That was because he couldn't see the car's signature handles on the rear doors - which are 'hidden' in the rear window frames to give the Clio a cleaner look - and because that's how he approaches getting into the third row of seats in the family Nissan Qashqai+2. To be fair to my son, who's in his first year of secondary school, it wasn't necessarily the easiest of challenges he's been set, although his efforts will always be remembered by me as the moment I could finally give up hope of him becoming the world's leading brain surgeon.
The second incident was hearing his youngest sibling wonder what the black, plastic, lever contraption sticking out from the door and into the cabin was, while she was sat in the back in her child seat before a journey she and I were about to take. I turned to see what she was referring to - and that was when it occurred to me that in almost eight years of existence the little one must only have ever used electric windows, so had never come across an old-school manual window-winder handle. Satisfyingly for me, she was able to deduce what it was before I had time to reply, although I suspect her intelligent intuition comes from her mother, while my son has been the unfortunate recipient of my intellect. Electric windows are specified in the front, but if you feel your life is incomplete without ones in the rear too, then there are two ways to get them. The first involves moving up from the Icon spec we're driving to the S Edition model. The second involves adding the optional Comfort Pack.
Another aspect of the car my seven-year-old couldn't work out initially but has learned to live with is the Celadon Blue exterior paintwork, because when I rolled up on the driveway having brought the Clio home for the first time, she was stood waiting with the front door open and a look of utter rejection on her face, which, it transpired, was brought on by the bright colour.
Meanwhile, as I'm yet to become accustomed to the infotainment screen written about in the previous report - due to driving fewer miles with the schools and offices being effectively shut and family social visits yet to crank back up to pre-lockdown levels - I have found it a little frustrating to use, particularly when inadvertently selecting stations when scrolling through a list. I've so far found the stalk behind the steering wheel much easier to use for the task.
By Illya Verpraet
Like a lot of manufacturers these days, Renault doesn't give you a whole lot of freedom when choosing options for a new car. On the Clio's mid-range Iconic equipment grade, like our car, there are three option packs to choose from, adding features like parking sensors and cameras, automatic climate control, and rear electric windows, but there are no separate options.
It means that if you want the large infotainment screen, you need to upgrade to S Edition, or work at the Renault press office, who managed to fit our Iconic-grade car with the 9.3in screen and built-in navigation.
Renault used to be pretty bad at infotainment systems, so it's quite a relief that the new Easy Link system is a substantial improvement. It is still not the best, as it can be a tad slow to respond. However, the layout is now quite clear and looks modern, most 'buttons' are large enough, and I rather like the customisable 'tiles' on the home screen that can show you, for example, navigation, media and the weather forecast, at the same time.
It's just a shame that the home screen will only show Renault's built-in navigation, remaining blank if you use Waze or Google Maps through Apple Carplay. The built-in navigation is certainly not bad, but can't match Waze or Google Maps for clarity, ease of use and functionality. It's quite a curious omission because the 'media' tile will happily show and control Spotify through Carplay.
There are no physical buttons for the central screen - it's all touchscreen-based. For some, this will be unacceptable, but I suspect a silent majority will think it's fine, if possibly suboptimal. Personally, I can live with it. The plus and minus 'buttons' on the touchscreen to change the volume are very fiddly on the move, but the driver gets a kind of stalk on the steering column for the radio controls, so it's not as much of an issue as some make it out to be. The climate control is still operated using physical dials and buttons, so no complaints there.
Beyond the infotainment system, the Clio continues to impress. It's hardly the kind of car to make one rave with excitement, but it just does everything pretty well and is pleasantly free of niggles. The interior generally is a far cry from the drab, plasticky efforts that used to be a given in small cars. The 'knurled chrome' details on many of the controls do a lot to liven up the cabin. It doesn't take any scientific material analysis to know they're actually plastic, but the effect works.
The driving position is spot-on, the safety systems aren't overzealous, all the menus and options are easy to navigate, and it's one of easiest manual cars to drive smoothly that I've come across. The clutch engagement is nice and linear, while the gear change itself is light and easy enough for anyone to get along with it, but provides just enough feedback to be engaging.
With the diesel engine, it also has the potential for excellent economy, although with the days getting warmer I've noticed that the mpg takes a serious hit when the air conditioning is on. For my local runs, the mpg readout usually shows between 55.0mpg and 60.0mpg, but because of lockdown, I still haven't needed to refuel.
By Illya Verpraet
Diesel superminis used to be the obvious choice for the high-mileage driver who didn't need a huge car and wanted something that was both extremely economical and affordable. In recent years, 'dieselgate', the improving fuel economy of modern petrol engines, and the emergence of hybrid options have conspired to relegate small cars with diesel engines to a bit of a niche.
With that in mind, when I found out we would be running a long-term Renault Clio, I was fully expecting it to be the 100 TCe, the mid-range three-cylinder petrol, partly because Renault sent me a spec sheet for one. However, when the delivery driver turned up, the noise coming from the front car was unmistakably that of a diesel engine.
Although having a diesel engine in a small hatchback has become deeply unfashionable, it does come with a number of benefits, especially in the case of the Clio. At a claimed 67.2mpg, it should be extremely frugal. The 85 dCi is also the only Clio to come with a six-speed manual gearbox, and as a result, engine noise on the motorway is nicely hushed. It doesn't have an automatic option, but then neither do its competitors.
On first acquaintance, the interior seems like a pleasant place to while away the miles, with a pleasing design and materials that are nice enough. You will find hard plastics dotted around the cabin, of course, but most of them aren't jarring. How nice the cabin is depends a lot on which equipment grade you go for. A mid-range Iconic like ours adds a leather steering wheel and the 7in touchscreen, while S Edition further adds some soft-touch, light grey accents to break up the otherwise very black decor, as well as a nicer seat fabric, a 9.3in touchscreen and a digital driver display between the dials.
In general, the equipment grades are fairly sensible; each adds £1,000 to the P11D. In addition to the interior upgrades, Iconic also adds 16in alloy wheels, keyless entry and parking sensors. S Edition further adds 17in wheels, electric rear windows, climate control, front parking sensors and a reversing camera. There is also an RS Line, which adds another £500 to the price of the S Edition, but that mainly brings some sporty visual addenda, and few truly worthwhile features.
Now, there is rather a large elephant in the room, namely that for all the diesel Clio's mile-munching capabilities, it arrived the day before the UK went into novel coronavirus lockdown, so all it will be doing for the foreseeable future is ferrying me between my flat and the nearest supermarket a few miles down the road.
Thankfully, the coronavirus epidemic won't last forever and the Clio will be with us until September, so there should still be plenty of opportunity to find out what its economy is like in the long run, and how the comfort and amenities stack up.
With that said, even using it locally, tackling a combination of steep hills and town driving that are normally terrible for fuel economy, the diesel Clio has no trouble cracking 60mpg. I must confess that my heart sank a little when I saw the 0-60mph time of 14.7 seconds on the spec sheet, but in reality it doesn't feel nearly as slow as that. Granted, with its 85hp it is definitely not fast, but the
six-speed gearbox certainly makes it easy to keep the engine on the boil.
I look forward to finding out whether I still agree with that statement in a few months, whether the reliability stacks up, and what the long-term comfort is like. Renault also recently announced it would be coming out with a hybrid version of the Clio, due to go on sale in June, so I hope to get one in at some point in order to compare the two.