New cars -- Renault Clio

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Civilised Speed

Renault have packed a very civilised 140bhp punch into the modest dimensions of their R5 usurper, the Clio. Abandoning turbocharging, a performance 16V Clio variant will appeal to a European public in two forms: The 130mph road variant will cost approximately £11,500 this Autumn in the UK, and there is a racing cousin.

The RHD public will have their appetites whetted by one make Coupé racing. Replacing the old turbocharged Fives, this is the richest single marque series to be found in Britain with a prize fund of more than £130,000. It is backed up by a trans-European series, held across seven European countries, plus a five race combined Euroseries that includes support races at two Grands Prix and the Spa 24-Hour saloon car race. We were invited to the recent past site of the Spanish GP, Jerez, to drive road and competition versions in their appropriate backdrops.

First, the road-going foundations to the racing models, which will also be available In both LHD and RHD. The Clio became the second-best seller in its French category during its 1990 launch year. That was in five door form, but for the performance variant that replaces the much loved 5GT Turbo in road and race trim Renault has created a unique three door.

Plastic deformable front wings (unstressed, they will reform after sub-10mph impacts) and steel three-quarter panels that are also flared are unique to the 16V model. The GE Plastics front wings weigh less than 2lbs per side compared to 4.41bs for the same item in steel and show great potential for wider mass production use.

Underneath those arches we found 185/55 R Michelin tyres of considerable adhesive prowess, but Pirelli is also represented. British Clios should arrive with standard alloy wheels (6.5J x 15), power steering, “plip” remote central locking, and electric operation of mirrors, front side glass and a sunroof. The major option will be effective 4-channel electronic antilock braking.

An almost square (82 x 83.5mm) 1764cc generates 140 bhp at 6500 rpm and 122 lb ft of torque by 4250 rpm; we stuck to a redline of 7000 rpm. Electronic engine management extracts this 80 bhp per litre from the inline four, using the cheaper 95 octane unleaded with a catalytic convertor in road or race trim. Official consumption figures equate to some 28 urban mpg but a fairer UTAC-coded average of 35.6mpg is more likely in everyday use.

Changes compared to the version installed in the Renault 19 are minimal but power output is 3 bhp up on the R19. No increase is quoted for the racing variants, despite revised engine management and a Devil exhaust.

Put this 1.8-litres in a 950kg/2090lb outline, coupled to an aerodynamic drag factor of 0.32Cd and impressive performance is inevitable. This Clio is likely to match the old Turbo on the 0-60mph act (expect 7.5 seconds) and has a claimed maximum of 131.6 mph.

The Clio 16V mounts a quartet of disc brakes, strut front suspension and torsion bar (beam) back axle with trailing arms upon stronger mounting points than its 5-door Clio brethren. All appear well finished and fabricated. The rear axle owes much to the 5GT Turbo, but the disc brakes are bigger than their predecessors. For road use they were extremely efficient, but the race track highlighted some limitations as Renault had not changed either fluid or pads for this onerous application.

The interior is not a major attraction. Echoes of the old fascia abound, although the 16V has cleanly presented instrumentation that embraces a trio of extra dials to monitor lubrication temperatures, pressures and level. “Spotty” seat trims are brash but accommodating and a rigid three-spoke wheel guides power-assisted steering with faint wheezes and dead sensation.

Traction away from junctions and second gear corners is well above the norm, as is the ride. The occupants are really only reminded that this is a small and sporting hatchback when crossing major tarmac disruptions at town speeds.

The engine is up to the highest Japanese (ie Honda or Toyota) 16V standards, whirring with amiable ease from 1000 to 3500 rpm thereafter rasping with understandable glee to become truly animated and entertaining in the 5000 to 7000 rpm band, all achieved with notable manners. I liked the Clio 16V very much. It needs only a little more communication (notably from the steering) to provide the same fun levels as a Peugeot GTI, but I would pick one for regular use over the Pug. Renault have remembered that road customers require increasing levels of civilisation to accompany their driving pleasures.

Coupé Race Clio

The 2.62 mile Jerez track attracted few GP spectators and is to be replaced by a purpose-built Barcelona circuit. Nevertheless it is a satisfying drive in a comparatively slow saloon on a sunny day, having 16 varied corners, so that there is always a different challenge to tackle.

The competition cabin has no carpet, but the door trims remained in place. Approximately 60lbs of trim are stripped out, leaving kerb weight over 2000lb/ 920kg. A racing seat, four-point Stand 21 seat belts and a Devil roll cage complement the catalytic convertor side exhaust (not allowed in Germany, though otherwise regulations are the same across Europe), and unspecified engine management changes. There is presumably more than 140 bhp, but only the hearty exhaust note between 5000 and 7000 rpm hints of a power bonus.

No power steering is fitted, the shock absorbing characteristics appear to be eliminated and the springs are shortened into radically stiffer rates. Negative camber is emphasised at the front (inherent in the road car, owing to a widened front track) and the alloy wheels are replaced by 7J x 15 inch steels wearing Michelin S9A slicks in the Jerez sun, or the usual wet compound MXV2 road tyres in 185/55R section.

In the competition Clio at Jerez, only third and fourth were strictly necessary. You can rely on the 4250 rpm torque peak to pull you out of the final corner in all but the tightest overtaking manoeuvres, when second and 7000 rpm were rapidly and noisily available.

Clio track speeds are not staggering, circa 100 mph on the long straight and 90 mph through the fastest corner. Yet the fun factor through the faster corners is considerable; Clio settling into such mannered slides that you could provoke oversteer via the wheel, or by easing the accelerator pedal.

In slower corners the brakes were an audible deterrent, vibrating badly. Surely Renault will see that running standard pads and fluids is not very sensible by the time the UK runners arrive?

Once settled into a third gear corner you certainly feel the weight of the unassisted rack and pinion steering. On tighter terrain, Clio starts to hop unhappily away from the intended apex whilst an unladen rear wheel skims into flight.

For their 12-round Cup at purchase prices “around £12,000 each” competitors are likely to find the Clio manageable, and a more straightforward drive than the Turbo Fives. The eight factory cars supplied lacked some basic preparation (fire protection and master switches) and all needed some basic sorting, after which we can expect lap times to drop beneath those of the turbocharged model.

Renault have supported one-make racing in Britain since 1974 and the Clio Series will only add to the reputation Renault UK Motorsport have gathered for spectacular racing and generous funding. As to the Clio 16V, road or track, I believe it is a major step forward for La Regie in combining quality and civilised speed — JW

***

The Cooking Variety

Whilst the forthcoming 16-valve Clio is of the most interest to readers of Motor Sport the Clios most likely to be seen on the road are the more family-orientated hatchbacks. There will be two engine sizes initially offered on its launch at the end of March, a choice of three trim levels and the availability of three and five door models in any engine/trim configuration. These will soon be followed by a diesel variant, the luxury Baccara model and an 1800cc version. The 1.1-litre model, however, will not be offered to the British customer as it is not fitted with a three-way catalytic convertor, unlike the rest of the range, and so does not accord with Renault UK’s all-catalytic policy.

The standard specification is quite high, especially on the top-of-the-range 1.4 RT model, and includes central locking, a fairly comprehensive range of instrumentation, integral rear seat head restraints and Renault’s marvellous stalk-controlled sound system. Even power steering is an optional extra.

It faces tough competition in Britain where both the Ford Fiesta and Rover Metro hold sway, and where the Peugeot 205 also has a strong following, but Renault UK hope to get around this by a competitive pricing policy. Although prices were yet to be announced at the time of going to press, the five-door 1.4 RT is likely to cost around £9000, approximately £1000 less than the 1.4 Ford Fiesta Ghia.

A 200 mile drive across country and along motorways showed both the 1.2 and 1.4 models to be comfortable and efficient, although slightly bland, and certainly good enough to be considered alongside the Fiesta and Metro. It remains to be seen, however, whether it has a strong enough identity to replace the fondly remembered 5. — WPK