Renault Clio GT Line: An Engaging Drive

By Lee Pang Seng

IT’S been a while since we drove a Renault and the Kangoo was the last model that came to mind. Our memory of this French make – from the early days of the Renault 10, 12, 16 and 17 (1970s) to the more recent Kangoo, Megane and Espace (2000s) – had always been on the comfortable ride that appears to be a hallmark of cars from that country.

When the Renault Clio GT Line came our way, we had more or less expected a similar experience but this ‘entry level’ hatchback was certainly a lot more engaging to drive. It might be dimensionally similar to the Perodua Myvi although shorter and with less elbow room, but you couldn’t ask for more in the appreciable ride comfort.

During the weekend we had the Clio, we covered about 200km and had four on board while driving around a fair bit. It was a snug fit and everyone travelled in good comfort, despite having to endure a bit of traffic snarl at some points along the way. And the luggage space was adequate too, as it was more than accommodating for what we wanted to bring along. If we had wanted more space, the 50:50 split rear seatrest could be folded away to expand space beyond two fold.

We also drew our fair share of looks as the Clio did stand out among the run-of-the-mill cars, more so when it is decked out in GT Line trim. It might not be as aggressive looking as the Clio R.S. 200 but with its GT Line specification, this Clio variant wouldn’t lose out on turning heads with its sporty aura.

The eagle-like contours of the headlamps, the fairly sharp taper of the nose and the lower apron with the vents and LED (light emitting diode) daytime running lights on the flanks combine well to raise the aggro factor. Having those striking five-spoke 17-inch anthracite dark alloy wheels with 205/45 R17 Michelin tyres added more beef and gravy to the brawny stance. And we are talking ‘entry level’ here; so you have to be impressed.

It’s not all looks either. It may be powered by a 1.2-litre engine but the keyword here is the turbocharger. This is almost a squarely configured engine with the bore and stroke at 72.2mm and 73.1mm, which makes it slightly undersquare, to displace 1197cc. Add on the direct fuel injection and mild pressure turbocharger, output is strong at 88kW (120PS) at 4900rpm and 190Nm from a low 2000rpm, especially the favourable power-to-weight ratio.

The transmission is an Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) six-speed automatic, which by design of operation made initial take-off somewhat laggy. It also made crawling along in traffic a bit of a jerky affair and would need some getting used to. Once the Clio was on song, we had little to pick with car as the turbo power spirited us away as others tried to keep up. With the police stepping up traffic enforcement, it would be prudent to keep your excitement in check or you could be in for more than your share of summons and demerit points.

Renault says the Clio 1.2 can accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 9.9 seconds; if that isn’t quick for a 1.2-litre car, we don’t know what is. For the top end, it has decent pace too at 199km/h and from the few instances that we achieved 160km/h briefly, we believe that this is fully achievable if we had more open roads.

You can select ECO mode by pushing a dedicated button on the central console, near the gearshift, to change the engine management system to be more frugal in acceleration. This ought to stretch your fuel mileage nicely. Renault says this Clio’s average fuel return is 19.2km/l (5.2 L/100km). We were told when picking up the Clio that a journalist before us managed to drive the car for about 400km from a full tank to the halfway mark, driven fully on ECO mode.

Our fuel return was far less impressive as we alternated between ECO and non-ECO modes, and checked out its accelerating power when given the opportunity to do so. That would have accounted for lower fuel mileages and we were duly ‘warned’ by the fairly quick drop of the fuel needle each time we hit the accelerator pedal hard.

We found it equally engaging to drive through our favourite winding stretches. The Clio is sprung by pseudo MacPherson struts in front with rectangular lower arms and an anti-roll bar and a tension (torsion) beam axle at the rear with programmed deflection and coil springs. It might have leaned a little bit more than expected through the tight corners but we found the electric variable power assist steering pretty good in telling us how the front wheels were pointing.

The understeer was progressive as expected of a front-wheel drive car and choosing a good line through corners at comfortable speeds was the way to go. This Clio would certainly give most of the others a good run for the money through winding roads.

Adding to the comfort of driving this Renault compact hatchback was the quiet way in which it went about its business. This spoke of the effort to curtail road and wind noise from intruding into the passenger cabin. Its good body aerodynamics helped the Clio knife through air space with the least turbulence and that means less wind noise while keeping the car stable at highway speeds.

The engineers also took the effort to reduce noise and road vibrations coming through with good insulation and mounting bushes in key areas. We could drive along the highways fairly quick and converse without having to raise our voices or turn up the volume on the car audio system, which is another strong feature.

And of course, we continued to enjoy the French ride comfort along with our passengers. The balanced suspension tuning saw to road impacts over uneven stretches and speed bumps being nicely ironed out and cushioned. There were no rough edges to the ride but only the occasional thud to tell us that the suspension components were hard at work doing what they do best; absorbing the harshness of the bumps.

For a car of its standing, the Clio GT Line raises the bar with its gamut of standard equipment and features. You can select the height of the headlamp beam via a rotary knob on the dashboard and the standard fare includes automatic headlamps (that you can select via the steering column stalk) and automatic wiper system with rain sensor.

There is also cruise control with speed limiter if you want to rest your accelerator foot during highway drives; electrically folding door mirrors that would be useful when parking in tight spots, and electric windows all round. For the third item, that for the driver’s window is the one-touch all up or down operation that we appreciated when paying toll, and we did quite a bit of that during our weekend’s impression drive.

This Clio came with navigation system via the 7-inch touchscreen located centrally on the dashboard but the program installed couldn’t detect the places that we wanted to go, forcing us to rely on Waze instead via our handphone. Perhaps it needed a better program package?

In driving assistance, it has the full range: ABS (anti-lock brake system) with EBA (emergency brake assist), EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution), ESC (electronic stability system), ASR (anti-slip regulation) and HSA (hill start assist). Impressive for a car of its ‘entry level’ standing.

An item that some of our passengers didn’t like was the SBR (seat belt reminder); it beeps when the seatbelt is not used and that annoyed some of our not-so-law abiding passengers who were forced to belt up for some peace and quiet.

These are just some of the extensive range of features that we could recall for the moment. However, there is a slight downside to this, a higher price to pay. Compounded by the fact that the Clio GT Line is a fully imported car, its price of RM121,497.19 on the road with insurance and GST (goods and services tax) can be a dampener.

On the other hand, it is surely worth the price to stand out among the crowd on the road because of the Clio’s fewer numbers. In a way, that’s exclusivity of a nice kind to enjoy.

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