The fourth-generation Renault Clio took over the entire Renault stand in Paris. Illuminated under hundreds of beautiful globe lights, which gently changed colour and bobbed up and down, an array of red, orange and yellow Clios spread out across the Renault stand as if some kind of mad, DayGlo Renault rabbits had been on a breeding spree.
The Clio is pretty vital for a struggling Renault right now. Having cut the model range to just four cars in the UK and facing losses across Europe, the company needs the new car to be a success. First signs are good.
Created under new design boss, Dutchman Laurens van den Acker - who was responsible for the series of awe-inspiring Mazda concept car series a few years back - the Clio’s got a voluptuous form and some neat detailing that’s rare in the small hatchback class. Love or loathe that new face, you better get used to it, as it’s the new Renault corporate look. We think it works, albeit with the Renault diamond looking like someone’s set a photocopier to 150 per cent enlarge.
The headline new Clio facts are this: it’s now a 5-door only - though the designers have handily concealed the rear door handle in the c-pillar, so there’s a "squint and you’d think it’s a 3-door" quality to the looks. And it weighs about 100 kg less than the last car, so it should drive better. It’s also lower and overall looks less like a squashed MPV - which we reckon most owners will think is a good thing. You can also personalise your Clio. The bright colours hint at the possibility of coloured wheels, stickers and changeable interior trim fillets, vent surrounds and the like. It won’t be quite Mini-like, but if you need your Clio to stand out, you can (for instance) whack a great number “7” graphic on the bonnet - which, if you’re the sort of person who forgets where they’ve parked, will probably help you spot it in Tesco car park.
Inside, it gets interesting for people like us, because Renault’s majored on tech. The dashboard layout’s quite normal – with no gauges under the windscreen or diddy wheel a la Peugeot 208 – but the centre console sits off the main surface of the dashboard and contains a touchscreen with Renault’s so-called R-Link system on it. This will display your usual nav, media, radio, car settings and phone info, but two things caught our eye. The first was Renault’s "sound-link generator". This is an engine noise generator, which pipes the noise of a ClioSport, Clio V6, Laguna Coupe, Moto GP bike into the cabin of your 1.2 Clio. Which, most people we spoke to thought was a huge and stupid gimmick. But was nicely presented anyway.
Second thing was that - as R-Link alludes - you’ll be able to download and buy apps for your Clio. Backstage, Renault was demoing a - fairly select - series of Apps you’ll be able to buy, in your Clio, on the fly. The Renault system will even store your credit card details, so we're sure you can tell what route that's heading down.
At the show, Renault also gave us first sight of the new RenaultSport Clio 200 – the new version of one of our favourite hot hatches. Big changes abound here too: not only is this car now a 5-door only like the rest of the range - previously it had been a strict 3-door - but out goes the 2.0L naturally aspirated engine, in its place a turbo-charged 1.6. It produces the same power, but a lot more torque low down in the rev-range. That means it will drive quite differently on the road from the old car which used to love having its nuts thrashed off. And it’s also available with a double-clutch auto gearbox only - a first in a RenaultSport. We await a drive of this one with interest, come next year.
But for the regular car, we won’t need to wait that long, because we’ll be getting a hands-on drive on its international launch in just under three weeks time. From there, we’ll get back to you on that sound generator. Oh, and the small matter of how the Clio drives.