'Nicole' is all grown up

The new Renault Clio is bigger and bulkier than its predecessor. But what has this middle-aged spread done to its performance? David Wilkins finds out

Price: £10,250
Engine: 1.4-litre petrol
Performance: 0 to 62 mph in 11.3 seconds, 42.8 mpg
CO2: 158g/km
Worth considering: Nissan Micra, Peugeot 206, Volkswagen Polo

Renault's new Clio has a very grown-up feel about it. Its styling is certainly attractive, but it's nothing like as bold as that of the company's current Megane, or past efforts, like the Avantime. The youthful exuberance of those old TV commercials for the first generation Clio (remember Nicole?) seems to have been left far behind.

The interior is rather sober, too, with a preponderance of muted grey shades, while the dashboard is uncluttered and the switchgear rather nicely constructed.

The optional satellite navigation system, instead of taking up lots of space and attention, communicates its guidance discreetly through a small, slot-like display at the top of the dash, which it shares with the radio, an arrangement that is much more effective than you might imagine from my description.

Much of the rest of the Clio's equipment - such as the keyless entry system fitted to our test car - is also of the sort that is mainly found in more expensive cars. The cabin is also spacious, with a very usable rear seat, and the ride comfort is good, too.

So, given the evidence, it's tempting to think that Renault has pulled off the difficult trick of making its little Clio behave just like a big car. However, what it's actually done is something rather less impressive, although it may be just as welcome: it's simply made the Clio bigger.

There's a lot of this about these days, of course; most cars are bigger and heavier than their predecessors, and, generally, it's not a drawback. You might need a bigger parking space but you don't usually need a bigger wallet to afford these expanded vehicles, because in today's competitive market, mainstream manufacturers don't have much power to push their prices up.

The only real drawback in the case of the bigger Clio is a certain loss of zip. Our test car was fitted with a 1.4-litre petrol engine, and not so long ago that would have been enough to guarantee fairly lively performance in a Clio-class car. In this case, though, the amount of shove on offer is merely adequate. Shortish gearing helps a bit, although it means that the engine sounds a little busy at motorway speeds. However, it remains well muted at all times, in keeping with this newest Clio's general air of refinement.

In all, I think what we have here are the unmistakable signs of automotive middle-age spread. Still, Nicole must be getting on for 40 now, so I suppose even she may have put on weight and slowed down a bit. It comes to us all, including, apparently, the Clio.

Andrew Morris and Alison Morris, telecoms engineer and artist from Malvern

Deceptively larger than its small car look, with unexpectedly good knee- and head-room. Sure-footed on some unconventional road cambers, with effective braking. The steering is possibly too light, and the "return-to-centre" feature might annoy some. A first-time encounter with no-key locking triggered reservations: that the start button also stops the car, and required two attempts when it wasn't held down long enough, gave rise to questions about reliability. The SatNav system is simple and non-distracting, though the database is not good on one-way streets.

Paul Coulson, director of an internet marketing company from Malvern

I found this a rather pleasant car to drive. The standard of the interior trim and finish was very good, and there was excellent adjustment on the seat and steering wheel to give a comfortable driving position despite my 6ft 4in height. However, the performance was disappointing - I would have expected it to be a bit nippier as a 1.4 litre. Would I buy one? Maybe, if I was in the market for a small, economical city car, but there's nothing in particular that stands out as being great about the new Clio. It's not going to set your world on fire.

Steve Baker, sales manager from Bristol

As first impressions go, the new Clio scores surprisingly highly. Outside it is functional but still has a taste of Renault quirkiness in the headlights. Inside there is thankfully not a sea of grey plastic; the car has some really driver-friendly basics as well as a clever mini SatNav as a nice extra that is simple to work. The push-button start is satisfying and reassuring, and the key is always safe in your pocket, never to be lost. The drive is standard and competent but exciting would not be the word - and nor would brisk. It's a city car that is quiet and versatile just as long as trips on motorways are kept to a minimum to avoid the drastic acceleration delay.


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