Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
So far we’ve only driven two turbocharged petrol versions of the Clio; the mid-range 1.0-litre TCe 100 and the range-topping 1.3 TCe 130.
With a little more power than our recommended Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95, you’d expect the TCe 100 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.
Pushing to above 5000rpm will give the Clio enough pace for an A-road overtake, but you’ll find yourself leaving it in a lower gear (to the detriment of fuel economy) to make the best progress. The Polo or Seat Ibiza are much more flexible, and with it, are easier to drive.
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.
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, 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. It never causes the car to feel uncontrolled, but anything except freshly laid Tarmac leaves you shuddering in your seat.
Let’s start with the good. Pitch the Clio into a corner briskly and you’ll find there’s not much in the way of lean, so it never feels like the body is playing catch-up with the rest of the car underneath. Yet while it’s technically capable up to a point, there’s little sense of fun in driving the Clio down a winding country road in a spirited manner; unlike the Ford Fiesta.
The steering is a bit vague-feeling, and you have to turn the wheel a little more than you’d expect when manoeuvering at slow speeds. It also never gives a great sense of connection to the front wheels, although selecting the Sport mode, when fitted, 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 have more evenly balanced grip front to rear.
Noise and vibration
If you try to pull away from a standstill at low revs in the 1.0-litre TCe 100, you’ll feel a fair few vibrations through the steering wheel, pedals and gearlever. The gearshift itself is hampered by an overly large gearknob, 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 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. As mentioned, the automatic gearbox responds well and there’s only a small lag before the ‘box changes down when you ask for a burst of pace.
Engine and gearbox aside, there’s also quite a lot of wind noise at higher speeds, which combined with the interior vibrations, can make for a slightly tiresome driving experience.