Renault's new Clio is much better built than the last one

The once chic little runaround has been turned into a bit of a porker, says Michael Booth

Would suit: Nicole but, if we're really honest, Papa was always too old for a Clio.
Price: £12,650 (as tested)
Maximum speed: 118mph, 0-60 in 10.2 secs
Combined fuel consumption: 42.8mpg
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It was a classic Parisian parking pincer. I had been well and truly sandwiched by, ironically, an original Clio to the front and, to the rear, a Range Rover Sport (the voiture du jour in the French capital). Each had given me no more than two centimetres to extricate my new, rude-red Clio.

This is fairly typical of Parisians, who display an odd mix of courtly manners and an indifference verging on hostility so that, for instance, one moment they might apologise profusely for invading your personal space while window shopping, while the next they are allowing their Afghan hound to lay a gigantic mound of steaming faeces on your doorstep without batting a heavily Lancômed eyelid.

I had no option but to wait. Ten minutes later the Clio owner - a short, coiffured older woman with the permanently startled look of one who has spent many hours under sedation while a man in a white lab coat stretched her face in the manner of a Greek fisherman tenderising an octopus - arrived.

"Pardon, but you have made me very unhappily too late," I said. "Thought you not of how one could depart over here?" (my French may have needed polishing). In response, the woman gave me Le Shrug and turned away to deposit her small dog on the passenger seat. As this was happening, the Range Rover driver - dressed, as is the fashion for posh, middle-aged men here, like Donald Sinden c.1978 - had snuck behind the wheel of his car without me noticing. But he wasn't going to get away that easily. Moving quickly to block his getaway, I demanded that he roll down his window, and repeated my speech. "Please monsieur, I am very sorry, I did not see you, please I am very sorry," he said, with such a gracious smile that I backed off, and began to mutter apologies of my own.

And so, in a matter of moments, I had experienced the two basic archetypes of Parisian social discourse: frosty disdain (the norm) and disarming charm (for use when cornered). Of course, it may all have been a genuine mistake on both their parts. As Le Figaro recently pointed out in an article about the new Clio - entitled "When the little ones grow up" - Renault has turned its chic little runaround into a real porker; it's over 20cm longer than the last version and a whopping 275kg heavier than the original Clio of 1990, not to mention over £800 more costly. Madame Rat-Dog had probably seen the Clio badge, and assumed it was as petite as her own; Monsieur de Sinden meanwhile, saw a little person's city car that was essentially designed as a buoy for vehicles such as his, and used it accordingly.

This is not a problem peculiar to the Clio, which, aside from its soggy steering and rather slothful acceleration, was a competent enough car (and much better built than the last one). Cars are, generally, getting larger, and it is all getting rather out of hand, which is why manufacturers keep having to introduce teeny weeny new models such as the Peugeot 107, Toyota Aygo or VW Fox, to fill the gaps left at the bottom of their ranges. The only thing is, until the new Twingo arrives in 2007-08, Renault has no car smaller than the Clio so, in the short term, it is filling the gap with... the old Clio (insert clever French phrase which loosely translates as "Cuh! Would you believe it?" here).

It's a classic: Renault 5

I don't remember the Renault 5 being hailed a design classic at the time, and it seems to have been all but forgotten now, having been overshadowed by more obvious icons such as the VW Golf and Fiat Panda, but, looking at it now, its simple, clean exterior and funky interior are strikingly modern.

Like all small French cars, the 5 had high, springy suspension, which was all the better for coping with rural roads. That helped give it a compliant if rather pendulous ride but its handling was greatly helped by the - again very modern - wheel-at-each-corner layout. This also meant that, though the 5 was properly small, it boasted an unusually spacious interior and roomy boot.

Though the standard 5 did suffer some dubious styling "updates" during its 25-year production, the essential design remained the same, a testament to its striking modernity when launched in 1972.

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