A few weeks ago Renault South Africa introduced its latest hatch into the local market. Just a few days ago we got to drive the Renault Clio Intens 1,0 Turbo. 

There was a time when small hatchbacks were the go-to choice of new-car buyers. Our roads were flooded with the likes of Golfs, Kadetts and Conquests. As these models grew in size they were replaced by Polos, Yarises (Yarii?), Fiestas and Corsas. 

In it to win it

In recent times these models have been usurped by high-riding siblings in the shape of crossovers/SUVs. However, there is still a decent market for the small hatch as witnessed by models such as the Polo and i20 that are regularly near the top of the sales charts. With that in mind it is imperative for Renault SA to offer an option in this segment if it plans to gain more market share.

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French appeal 

The fifth-generation Clio stands out from the crowd in much the same way its predecessors did. This latest design has the signature ‘C-shaped’ headlamp motif, as seen on the larger Megane and Koleos SUV. There’s a hint of curviness about the shape, particularly around the wheel arches and rear end that gives the car its own appeal. 

The slim, horizontal taillamps are almost Alfa-esque in their appearance and help give the car an upmarket appearance. This je ne sais quoi is what we’ve come to expect from French design and the Clio V delivers. It won’t easily be confused for a product from Germany or the Far East. 

Step-change

The exterior treatment may be somewhat familiar as a Renault product. In contrast, the interior is a major step-change from what we’ve seen before. The cabin treatment is fresh, modern and feels premium to the touch. 

Ahead of the driver is a digital display that changes depending on the driving mode you select. A soft steering cover is the first point of contact for the driver. This same tactile sensation can be felt elsewhere in the cabin, helping to create a favourable impression with occupants. 

The tech-savvy will appreciate the large, tablet-like touchscreen infotainment interface in the middle of the facia, along with the wireless mobile phone charger in the centre console. These items, along with an electronic handbrake with auto-hold, are standard on the Renault Clio Intens derivative. Crisp graphics and an easy user interface means that one doesn’t have to spend loads of time digging through menus to find basic functions.

Thankfully the ventilation controls still take the shape of rotary dials and are not part of the infotainment system. In fact, these items with digital displays in the centre of each remind us very much of the similar controls in an Audi TT. Small touches such as these add to the upgraded interior feel.

Space utilisation

Renault has chosen a combination seat covering for the Clio. A dark, denim-type fibre is used for the centre panels of the seats. These don’t take away from the otherwise premium interior feel. Height adjustment is standard for the driver.

Rear accommodation may feel a little tight for taller passengers. Though this is probably not too far off the space provided by most rivals. The Clio counters with a deep boot that seems to provide plenty of volume. Accessing the boot is done over a high loading lip. The height and shape of the opening of the luggage area may prevent one from loading larger objects.

Streamlined range

Renault South Africa has streamlined the local Clio line-up. There is just one engine available in the new range. It is offered in three guises: Life, Zen and Intens; the latter is the one we drove for a week. This engine option is mated with a five-speed manual transmission. 

The turbocharged triple develops a peak of 74 kW along with 160 N.m of torque. The engine is quite balanced and smooth, despite that odd cylinder count, and it has that distinctive three-cylinder thrum. The engine provides adequate power and a nice shove in the middle part of the rev-range so that you’d hardly guess it was just 1,0-litre. It is not a unit that enjoys high revs as it feels as though the turbocharger runs out of puff. 

We are surprised that Renault has chosen to couple this engine with a five-speed manual. The powertrain has a narrow operating window and feels as though an extra ratio is needed. On more than one occasion we reached for an imaginary sixth gear while driving on a motorway. 

Dynamically speaking

The Clio V feels like a hand prospect From a dynamics perspective. The steering action is quick though devoid of any decent feel. This new platform, which the Clio shared with other Renault/Nissan group products, feels light and nimble. 

The handling prowess may benefit from the large alloys and low-profile rubber, but the ride quality does suffer as a result. Our test unit rode on the larger, optional 17-inch rims shod with 45 aspect ratio tyres. If you prefer less road imperfection to intrude into the cabin you may want to leave this options box unchecked.

Summary

Renault SA now offers a raft of SUVs, of all shapes and sizes in SA, but it would lose any ground if it did not offer a viable alternative to VW’s popular Polo and other A-segment hatches. It’s safe to say that Renault nailed the small hatch recipe from day one as over 15 million Clios have been sold worldwide since introduction in 1990.

The fifth generation Clio really builds on that success by offering a stylish prospect at a competitive price point. Importantly, it gives buyers a really viable alternative in a segment dominated by a few players. 

Renault Clio Intens 1,0 Turbo Fast Facts 

Model: Renault Clio Intens

Price: R349 900

Engine: 1,0-litre inline three, turbocharged

Transmission: five-speed manual, FWD

Max power: 74 kW

Max torque: 160 N.m

0-100 km/h: 11,8 sec

Top speed: 187 km/h

Fuel consumption: 5,7 L/100 km