The Renault Clio is back and all grown up

The Renault Clio is back and all grown up

When it debuted 30 years ago Renault Clio was marketed with a cheeky, slightly risqué charm – now its back for its fifth generation, all grown up  

The Renault Clio is 30 years old. As one of the better-known small car brand names in Europe, the Clio has evolved with the times, from ultra-light weight supermini through to the chunky, solidly engineered small family car it is today. When it debuted, the Clio was marketed with a cheeky, slightly risqué, Gallic charm, although this gradually wore off during the car’s long adolescence. Now it’s back for its fifth generation, all grown up. The new design was unveiled at the start of 2019 and has now been rolled out around the world’s markets.

The Clio is a major player, the third best-selling car in Europe, holding back the horde of SUVs together with VW’s Golf and Polo. Right now, however, traditional car makers are arriving at a fork in the road - should they venture into electrification with an entirely new model or is it better to transform a decades-old brand name into an EV? The most common strategy is to hedge one’s bets. Without the clean slate approach open to Tesla and its ilk, existing manufacturers have to deal with long model cycles, entrenched brand equity and cautious customers. BMW invested big with its ‘i’ sub-brand, only to appear to pull back from the commitment and choosing the path of electrifying existing models. As a reuslt, it’s taken eight whole years to advance from the i3 to the forthcoming BMW i4.

Renault also runs a mix and match strategy, blending hybrid models, pure EVs (the acclaimed ZOE, the eclectic two-seater TWIZY and a pair of commercial EVs for business use) with conventionally powered cars, including a number of diesels. For now, the Clio is in the latter category, a classic example of the motor industry’s slow but steady technological evolution. Compare the new car to the original Clio that proved so desirable three decades ago, and it practically resembles a luxury vehicle, with a level of fixtures and fittings that were simply unavailable in the spartan, plastic-clad 1990s. 

But everything is bigger these days. Clio Mark Five has grown in size as well as ambition. It has a big badge, usually a sign of mild brand insecurity given the need to stand out in new, unfamiliar markets (something that is prevalent right across the industry at the moment). And the image of the Clio as a cheeky, compact upstart has all but evaporated, even though this new car is still good fun to drive and own. It handles deftly and is still well within the realms of compact, and the on-board equipment works without feeling fussy or intrusive. 

The next-gen Clio will almost certainly have an electric option as Renault applies its EV experience to more and more models. The company is also rolling out a new style ‘Renault City’ concept store in Europe, hoping to create an Apple Store-style physical connection with its buying public. Recent concepts have highlighted a proposed shift to autonomous driving, focusing on a strong connection between mobility and architecture. In amongst all this massive change, the Clio feels a bit like a blast from the past, a traditional car in a rapidly evolving industry. Renault would be crazy not to let the Clio name live on and evolve for a more electrified world. It’s a personable car with a hard-won allure, something that is increasingly hard to create from scratch. §

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