Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
So far we’ve only driven two versions of the Clio, the mid-range 1.0-litre turbo and the range-topping 1.3 turbo. With a little more power than our recommended Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95, you’d expect the Clio to feel more muscular on the road. Sadly it doesn’t, because it has less torque and delivers it higher up the rev range, making it less eager from low revs.
If you’re prepared to spin the engine to around 5000rpm, there’s enough pace for an A-road overtake, but you don’t get the sub-2000rpm flexibility that makes the Polo and Seat Ibiza so easy and relaxing to drive.
The 1.3-litre 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.
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. The Clio can’t quite round off imperfect road surfaces as well as the Polo, fidgeting more than its German rival. Still, this never gets uncomfortable or irritating.
More of concern, though, is the way potholes and ridges thud through the car’s body as the suspension fails to soak up the obstacles. Just bear in mind that so far we’ve only experienced the Clio on relatively large 17in wheels in Portugal.
Let’s start with the good. Pitch it into a corner briskly and you’ll find there’s not much in the way of lean, so it never feels like the Clio's 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.
In 1.0-litre models, the steering is largely to blame; it never gives you a great sense of connection to the front wheels, and the car feels unwilling to turn initially, even though the steering is quicker overall than it was in the previous Clio. Oddly, the 1.3-litre has much more natural responses with none of the unwillingness that we experienced in the smaller-engined version.
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 get it to pull from low revs in the 1.0-litre, you’ll feel a fair few vibrations through the steering wheel, pedals and gearlever. The gearshift itself is hampered by an overly large gearknob and a fifth gear that requires a deliberate hand to engage.
The 1.3-litre is far more impressive, proving both quieter and also far smoother at all engine speeds. Indeed, only if you really push it does it start to sound coarse. The automatic gearbox isn’t quite so good; it sometimes feels a bit hesitant if you ask for a sudden increase in speed. Driven normally it shuffles through its seven gears smoothly enough, though.
At least the Clio is pretty quiet at a cruise, with little wind and road noise and a subdued engine.