Six engine choices (three petrol and three diesel) were originally available - a 75bhp 1.2-litre, a 98bhp 1.4-litre and a 1.6-litre with 111bhp completing the petrol line-up. The 1.6-litre comes with either a four-speed auto option or an automated manual, while the 1.4-litre’s feisty behaviour belies its modest capacity. The 1.2-litre sounds like it has to work harder, but still pulls strongly when required.
Renault replaced the 1.4 and 1.6 engines in 2007 with a new, greener turbocharged 1.2-litre engine offering 100bhp. Badged TCe the smaller unit matches both for performance, while offering better fuel economy and lower emissions, however it has to be worked quite hard and lacks refinement at motorway speeds. In 2006 a 2.0-litre engine was also launched and that offered 138bhp with a 0-62mph time of 8.5 seconds for ultimate Renault Clio performance.
On the diesel front, the same 1.5 dCi common rail diesel is available in a choice of three power outputs - 68bhp, 86bhp and 106bhp. This engine is superbly refined and even the entry level version offers decent in-gear punch while the 106bhp version is a revelation on the motorway with impressive pace. The higher-output diesel comes with a six-speed manual transmission and feels quite sporty while the 86bhp diesel with its five-speed transmission is more relaxed.
The 68bhp and 106bhp diesels were discontinued in 2008.
Although the Clio offers safe and predictable handling, with good levels of grip, excellent ride comfort and limited body roll, it's not without its shortcomings. The steering feels light and artificial and is far too eager to self-centre. At high speeds it doesn’t inspire confidence while sweeping bends require constant correction. The trade-off however is that it makes for easy parking and manoeuvring in town - but alternative hatchbacks like the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 offer a more satisfying drive.
Facelifted models are an improvement and the steering has more feel, inspiring more confidence in bends. However, it's still just as easy to drive when nipping through traffic.
Much of the inspiration for the interior of the Clio is taken from the Megane with an abundance of soft-touch surfaces along with simple, clear instruments and an uncluttered dashboard. Visibility is good on the whole, apart from the thick windscreen pillars that occasionally obscure the view at junctions. The Clio may have small proportions but the sizeable pillars mean it's not always easy to manoeuvre or judge its extremities.
The driving position remains slightly offset to the right with tight space for the clutch foot, although it's not as bad as the previous model. It's also worth noting that less expensive models don't offer reach adjustment for the steering. Facelifted models are pretty much the same inside, although there is now more variety in terms of trim and upholstery designs.
Renault Clio comfort scores welll thanks to its vast interior and excellent engine refinement. The diesels feel particularly relaxed at cruising speeds and vibration from the engine as well as wind noise and tyre noise are well suppressed - as a result the Clio genuinely feels like a car in the class above helped further by the plush interior. Lower priced models offer air conditioning as a £550 option, which could prove worthwhile, not only in terms of passenger comfort, but also when it comes to sell.
Be warned that base-level models get a different - and far less appealing - interior with cheaper-looking plastics.