Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
With a little more power than our recommended Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95, you’d expect the TCe 100 engine to make the Clio to feel more muscular on the road, but, sadly, it doesn’t. With a lower torque output, it doesn’t perform as well from low revs, and requires you to work the engine hard to make progress. Get it spinning past 5000rpm and A-road overtakes are possible, but the Seat Ibiza or Volkswagen Polo are far more flexible and therefore easier to drive. With that in mind, we’d avoid the less powerful non-turbocharged SCe 75.
The 1.3-litre TCe 130 feels like a big step up, delivering far more urgency below 2000rpm and pleasingly brisk performance that is unmatched by cooking versions of the Polo and Fiesta. That makes it much more appealing if you regularly find yourself outside of the city limits. It’s only available with an automatic gearbox, but at least it works well with this; it responds well and changes down at appropriate times to make the most of that extra power.
We’ve not tried the diesel yet, although we suspect those prioritising efficiency would be more interested in the E-Tech Hybrid anyway. It’s not quite as quick as the TCe 130, but usefully punchier than the TCe 100. Even running in its fully electric mode, there’s a surprising amount of poke off the line, but you’ll find yourself waiting a couple of seconds after treading on the accelerator pedal hard before the petrol engine really starts boosting performance.
Suspension and ride comfort
Although by class standards we wouldn’t describe the Clio as uncomfortable, there’s no doubt that the Volkswagen Polo is a far more absorbent companion on bumpy roads. The Clio can’t quite round off imperfect road surfaces as well as the Polo, fidgeting more than its German rival and resulting in a choppy ride.
More of concern, though, is the way potholes and ridges thud through the car’s body as the suspension fails to soak them up, even on the smaller 16in alloy wheels. Such impacts never cause the car’s body movements to feel uncontrolled, but anything except freshly laid Tarmac leaves you shuddering in your seat.
Pitch the Clio into a corner briskly and you’ll find that body lean is kept nicely under control, yet there’s little sense of fun to be found in driving the Clio down a winding country road in a spirited manner; unlike the case with the Ford Fiesta.
The steering feels a bit vague and you have to turn the wheel a little more than you’d expect when manoeuvring at slow speeds. It never gives a great sense of connection to the front wheels, either, although selecting the Sport mode, where fitted (it’s standard on RS Line models), does add weight to the helm for an extra bit of reassurance.
One thing’s for sure, start to push the Clio hard and you’ll feel it gently and safely run wide at the front before the stability control kicks in to reign it back in. It’s safe, but the Fiesta and Polo both grip more evenly from front to rear.
Noise and vibration
If you try to pull away from a standstill at low revs with the 1.0-litre TCe 100 petrol engine, you’ll notice some vibration through the steering wheel, pedals and gearlever. The gearshift itself is hampered by an overly large gearknob, which isn’t particularly comfortable to hold, but is at least set nice and high in the centre console for easy reach. Fifth gear, meanwhile, requires a deliberate hand to engage.
The 1.3-litre TCe 130 emits a distinct whistle when you’re revving it hard and can sound a little strained, but it quietens down at a cruise. It is much smoother than the TCe 100, though, and doesn’t cause quite as much disturbance in the driver’s seat. The automatic gearbox responds promptly and there’s only a small lag before it changes down when you ask for a burst of pace.
As for the E-Tech hybrid, there’s a bit of motor whine when it’s running on electricity, but when the petrol engine chimes in it does so with barely a murmur and is smoother than the Yaris hybrid’s. The E-Tech’s engine is also quiet when accelerating, only getting vocal when you really push it. The brakes feel quite sensitive, but you get used to them quickly. There’s quite a lot of wind noise at higher speeds in all models, and this combined with the vibrations coming from the engines can make for a slightly tiresome driving experience.
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