It’s amazing how you can drive a car every day and not really know it particularly well. I recently took over our long-term Renault Clio from its previous custodian, Sean, and was really keen to find out why he raved about it so much.
But my commute of four or five miles each way wasn’t telling me a lot about the car (Chloe, as Sean affectionately named her). All I’d discovered was a) her French Blue exterior got filthy very quickly, b) her infotainment system could be very temperamental and c) the trip computer was showing average fuel economy of around 45mpg, a lot lower than the staggering numbers Sean had previously boasted about.
So I decided to take it on a trip. The plan was to hit the M1 after work on Friday teatime, battle through the traffic to get up to my folks in Shropshire, and then spend the weekend giving it a proper test on the challenging roads of North Wales. Just like most Clio diesel drivers would do, obviously.
As superminis go, it’s very good on the motorway. With 90hp you find yourself not that bothered about attempting to hassle Audis in the outside lane – instead, it’s much more relaxing to sit at its 65mph sweet spot, making the most of cruise control and allowing the R-Link system tell you how green you’re being.
By the time I reached Shropshire the trip computer was showing an average of 77.5mpg. That’s more like it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit bored – but crucially, I was relaxed and ache-free. Something we take for granted now, but how long ago were superminis a silly choice for long journeys?
Anyway, time for the fun bit. How competent is the Clio on Wales’s best B-roads and, more importantly, does it pass the parent test?
Chloe gets off to a good start. Mother likes the colour, while Dad comments how spacious it is in the back. Result.
I connect my phone via Bluetooth to the infotainment system (the gremlins I experienced at first seem to be a thing of the past) and play the sort of music parents like in a bid to distract them while I discover what talents the mighty Clio has.
On fast, flowing Welsh roads, the Clio is a little out of its depth. The steering feels squidgy, it rolls a lot, and you’re never entirely sure just how much grip you’ve got. A Fiesta would be much more up to the job, if hoonability is high up on your list of supermini considerations.
I also notice, for the first time since taking on the Clio, just how down on power it is. In everyday driving it’s perfectly adequate. You can keep up with traffic, and even overtake occasionally if there’s a big enough gap. But tackling steep hilly roads in North Wales… well, it becomes a lesson in maintaining momentum. Not doing so sees you dropping down as far as second, as your fuel economy takes a hammering. Most un-diesel-like.
This is all irrelevant, however, as the parents are happy. Dad, the fussiest of passengers, finds the seats comfortable, while both comment how quirky the interior is. The Tricolore pack (£125) does a great of lifting the interior – the whole thing feels rather French (and I mean that in a positive way).
600 miles later, and the French Blue paint finish remains filthy. But Chloe’s been worked hard for this layer of Welsh muck, and it’s impressive just how well it’s coped with the long distance. Finally, I’ve started to bond with this little supermini.
On fleet since: April 2014
Official combined mpg / CO2: 88.3 / 83
Actual mpg: 77.5
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Trim: Dynamique Medianav
Performance: 0-62mph 12.0 seconds, 112mph top speed
Power / torque: 90hp / 162lb ft
Insurance group: 13E
List price: £15,545
Options fitted: 15-inch spare wheel (£95), automatic climate control (£410), Renault R-Link multimedia system with Bluetooth, USB connectivity and Bass Reflex stereo (£450), Renault ID French Blue paint (£225), rear parking camera (£350), Tricolore interior design pack (£125)
Price as tested: £17,200