Renault’s French frugality

EXPECTATIONS weren’t high as I slipped into the driver’s seat of one of Europe’s more economical cars. This Clio has been around a long time and the opposition doesn’t stand still.

Yes, it may be so clean in the exhaust emissions department that it qualifies for zero road tax, won’t trouble the London congestion charge collectors and is highly attractive as a company car.

But it’s beginning to look a mite dowdy inside, despite a splash of soft plastic on the otherwise hard to the touch dash. A steering wheel that only adjusts for rake, not reach, means you might find the helm a bit of a stretch.

It also doesn’t seem to promise much under the bonnet unless ultimate economy is your priority, with a modest horsepower count and only five forward gears to keep things stirred up.

Just goes to show how wrong first impressions can be; even if love (or dislike) at first sight must be a major influence when a potential buyer steps warily into the showroom.

Start up this extra-eco Clio and you’ll be surprised how little noise the diesel engine makes. Start things rolling and you may be even more impressed with the way this modest looking, modestly priced baby hatchback makes progress.

It punches well above its weight in the performance stakes, even when asked for more in a high gear (and no, you never feel the lack of a sixth speed).

Better still is a suspension that’s not been anywhere near the sports kit bag and whose relaxed, loping stride is all the better for it.

Here is a car that might have been designed for Britain’s awful roads and not to set a new lap record round a German race track.

The pluses mount when you check the price. Renault takes an already economical version of the Clio and applies a £250 eco pack, in the shape of ‘aero’ wheel trims and front wings, lower resistance tyres and a rear spoiler to produce the cheapest supermini with such low emissions.

The extra bits improve the official fuel consumption from 70.6mpg to 78.4mpg and cut emissions from 106g/km to 94g/km, which ducks under the road tax and congestion charge cut-offs.

There is, as ever, a small ocean of difference between the laboratory fuel figures the car makers have to quote by law and what you’ll achieve in the real world.

My spell at the wheel on a mix of motorway, A-roads and the odd village saw 59mpg on the Clio’s awkward to read trip computer. Something in the mid-sixties must be there with a little restraint. Which makes this a practical eco warrior at an attractive price.

Be mindful, though, that you’ll need to find £575 for air conditioning and another £315 for electronic stability control; the first of which you might consider essential and the latter ought to be standard on every car as a matter of (life saving) course.

So that makes this a real world £13,340 car, which is still a fine price for something that ought to be cheap as chips to run. Other makes load a much higher premium on their greenest models.

Was I surprised to like this little ‘un as much as I did? You bet. Could I live with it? You bet, again.