News24 Motoring contributor Albert Bakkes drives the top-spec Clio 5 Intens. He reckons it's rather intense indeed and has a whole lot of soul.
I've got a confession to make: I love Frenchies. But I also hate them. The cars, I mean. They're usually over-complicated, over-engineered, over-installed, over-everything else; sometimes just plain weird. And in some cases, quite gutless.
Because you have a 'Frenchy', you will have no power; take it slow or nothing at all. I was not too fond of the Renault Clio RS When I drove it for the first time more than a decade ago. The fact that some other motoring journo decided to shear off the rear diffuser with the tail-end dragging on the ground (not me) might give you an idea. And the interior was all plastic-fantastic, so not love at first sight.
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But over the years, I started liking the French kiss. Meet the missive of the week: The Renault Clio 5 Intens, in the top-spec setup (R15 000 extra with bling 17-inch wheels instead of the 16's you get on the base models).
What's there to tell?
Let's get the basics out of the way: There is a tiny 1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol engine under the rather stylish bonnet, good to go for 74kW and 160Nm torque. Mmm, you say.
Renault says it is also good to go for an equally meagre 5.7 litres per 100km. And, for now, all of the meagerness is coupled with a 5-speed manual box. According to Renault, the little Clio has a boot capacity of 391 litres and, with the back seats flat, up to 1069 litres, which makes it the class prefect in the segment (think VW Polo, Ford Fiesta, Peugeot 208, Hyundai i20, and the Nissan Micra). Which makes the Clio, in theory at least, less than exciting, right?
I mean, look at the colour, the design language, from the LED headlights and daytime running lights in front, to the elegant hip lines, to the cute bubble butt at the back. It invites you to drive it as you stole it, but in an elegant, naughty French way.
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Gone is the plastic-fantastic vibe, which was also the downfall of the Clio 4 and all the other previous generations. Soft touch feels, and premium trims everywhere with a meaty steering wheel. But holy hell, the tech that they jammed into the tiny thing will put the Death Star to shame.
There is a prominent touchscreen with so many functions that I will have to write a manual for it, but we won't get into that right now. But I will mention that the salient points are Sat Nav, radio controls, and connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all of which works a charm.
You have climate control with actual dials (so you don't have to fiddle through millions of menus on the 9.3-inch screen on the run and run off the mountain while doing it). There are buttons for lane assist, to set the angle of your headlights, for the brightness settings of your display screen and even a setting for Eco, Comfort and Sport driving modes. So naturally, I kept it in Sport mode for days...
This model also features keyless entry, a "walkaway" function which locks the car for you, and a wireless tray to charge your Samsung. And wait for it, mood lighting, for goodness' sake, which changes colour from a calming blue (Comfort) to red for Sport! You have auto lighting and auto wiper functions (handy when we got caught up in the thickest pea soup mist on Franschhoek Pass I have ever experienced).
You have a 6-speaker setup to listen to Harry Styles in comfort over the whine of the little engine as you blast through the mountain passes. And blast we did.
Helshoogte Pass? Check. Sir Lowrey's Pass? Check. Franschhoek Pass? Check. Houw Hoek Pass? Check. Elgin's pass? Check. And you know why my darling and I did it? Because the Clio asks you (as your French mistress) to drive it over and over again. And that's why we never got that mystical 5.7-litres/100km fuel consumption because we were having too much fun.
This car is fun because it has old-school quirks
Slam your right foot to the floor, and your French mistress will take a while to decide if she will give it to you, and then, and only then, will the power kick in. Turbo lag and torque steering are a thing. But it gives the Clio a soul in a segment full of soulless cars. And that is the highest compliment I could give to any car.
But it's been a heck of a while since I had so much fun in a car with all my clothes on—a very long time. I can't wait for the Renault Sport version - if it should find its way to our shores.
Albert's Rev Counter: A soulful 8 out of 10.
PS: I'm not giving it a higher score because the price of R349 000 (with the additional R15 000 for the top-spec not included) is rather pricey.