THE RENAULT CLIO STORY
Added: 02 June 2016
THE RENAULT CLIO STORY
A quarter of a century of success for the best-selling French car in automotive history
Having achieved no fewer than 13 million sales across four generations, the Renault Clio is by any yardstick a quite extraordinary car: the world’s all-time best-selling French vehicle, the first contender to be awarded the prestigious European Car of the Year accolade on two separate occasions, France’s best-selling vehicle for 18 of the last 25 years and top of its class in Europe in both 2014 and 2015 (passenger cars and light commercial vehicles combined). Right from its roots, the Clio has stood out as a genuine small car with big car refinement.
In Greek mythology, Clio is a muse, and the etymology of the word – kleio – means ‘made famous’: a prescient name for Renault’s small car, which has enjoyed success and renown right from its first generation.
Launched in 1990; Car of the Year in 1991
In succeeding the Renault 5 – one of the most popular cars of its time – the Clio had some big boots to fill and a significant legacy to live up to, but it never sought to follow directly in its predecessor’s illustrious wheel tracks. Indeed, the Clio was officially introduced as a ‘versatile small car, designed and manufactured according to the same rigorous criteria as its larger siblings’. This translated into an upmarket shift, as the Clio reached out to an ever-increasing customer base clamouring for equipment and features more traditionally found on vehicles from higher segments, whilst retaining the Renault 5’s compact footprint (the Clio 1 measured just 3.70m in length).
In 1991, to satisfy its most discerning customers’ desires for top-of-the-range features and equipment, Renault launched the deluxe Clio Baccara, which came with grey leather upholstery, a walnut burr gear knob and inlay, leather-trimmed door panels and chrome controls. In 1998, the Baccara found itself superseded by the Clio Initiale, maintaining the model’s high-end offering through successive generations.
The transition from the Renault 5 to the Clio broke new ground in other areas, too: henceforth, the brand’s models would no longer be referred to by numbers but rather by names, in order to make them more memorable and imbue them with a warmer and more human personality.
No sooner had it been launched than the Clio was elected European Car of the Year in 1991. The jury noted that Renault’s new small car had a ‘remarkable style, good quality level, generous cabin/luggage space and a richness of equipment never offered before in a model of this size from a popular manufacturer’.
Equipment worthy of superior segments
The first-generation Clio came equipped with ABS, climate control, an electronically-controlled automatic gearbox, an alarm, power steering and even electrically-adjustable heated door mirrors. In offering such an outstanding level of equipment, the Clio made waves in the European city car segment as it staked its claim as a versatile small car capable of taking the fight to the very best in the business.
The second-generation Clio was launched in 1998. Seven centimetres longer than the first, this model introduced 16-valve engines and, with the entire range offering ABS as well as front and side airbags, it put safety firmly at the top of the agenda.
The third-generation Clio arrived on the scene in 2005, as the Clio 2 remained on sale under the new ‘Clio Campus’ moniker. Longer at 3.99m and more spacious, the Clio 3 truly spoiled its owners. Not only did it come with hands-free starting, GPS and cruise control/speed limiter but, equipped with as many as eight airbags, it also boasted the very best in active and passive safety, making it no great surprise that it became the first vehicle in its class to be awarded five-star Euro NCAP rating. This was, moreover, the first Clio to be joined by an Estate version.
In an unprecedented achievement, all of these attributes earned the Clio the coveted European Car of the Year award once more in 2006. In the distinguished ceremony’s 43-year history, this marked the first time that the same model had been crowned on two separate occasions. One jury member noted: ‘A great little car that should inspire bigger ones’.
The fourth-generation Clio appeared in 2012 and kept the flame burning bright through its timeless appeal combined with even more soul. Directly inspired by DeZir Concept presented two years earlier at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, the Clio 4 was the first model to adopt the brand’s new visual identity. Finished in Flame Red and sporting a new front end, the Clio 4 instantly expressed passion and seduction while continuing to offer a comprehensive range of equipment, notably including Renault’s integrated and connected R-LINK multimedia tablet and a state-of-the-art bass reflex sound system – a world first.
Star of the screen...
Right from the start, a strong marketing push played a vital role in the Clio’s sales success and really helped to make a name for Renault’s supermini…
In 1992, following the end of the Cold War, Russian President’s new favourite Leonid Komarov was pictured driving a Clio, with the advertising slogan reading: "All this luxury for everybody? It’s the Communist dream! When you can have the Clio, who needs larger cars?"
After the Kremlin, next stop for the Clio was the Gulf region, where a wealthy Emir pledged his considerable inheritance to his son – on the condition that he gave up his Clio. When his son resisted, the Emir reasoned: "It’s not expensive enough, my son."
In Great Britain, as one of the protagonists of the long-running ‘Nicole and Papa’ advertising campaign for the Clio, Nicole became the second-most recognisable person in the country – with a survey revealing that more Britons knew who she was than the Prime Minister of the time, John Major. Not only that, but during the campaign’s second run, the expression ‘Va Va Voom’ was inducted into the Oxford English Dictionary!
…and a sporting icon.
Whilst stealing the show on the small screen, the Clio was simultaneously honing its sporting skills. Over the past 25 years, there has been a steady stream of sporty versions appearing on the road, racetrack and rally stages, proving the worth of Renault’s ongoing commitment to motorsport.
In 1998, an ultra-powerful model was unveiled in the guise of a show car at the Paris Motor Show. The car in question was the Clio V6 which, following a rapturous public reception, would go on to enjoy a limited production run. Powered by a three-litre, six-cylinder rear-mid engine, this Clio initially concealed 230 horses underneath its bonnet, before a new, uprated unit boosted that figure to 255hp five years later, propelling Renault’s hot hatch from 0-60mph in just 5.8 seconds.
Boasting ever-more powerful engines, subsequent generations of the Clio have always been accompanied by a sporty variant by Renault Sport, as evidenced by the 197hp Clio 3 R.S. in 2006, the 200hp Clio 4 R.S. in 2013 and, most recently, the 220hp Clio R.S. Trophy in 2015.
The Clio’s history mirrors that of Renault
In 1990, the Clio 1 measured 3.71m in length and, having progressively grown from one generation to the next, the current model stretches 4.06m.
Renault’s story very much reflects that of the Clio. Between 1990 and 2016, the company grew exponentially. Back when the Clio was born, Renault’s annual global vehicle sales stood at 1.8 million. Today, Groupe Renault covers three different brands, is affiliated with Nissan under the banner of the Alliance and sells 2.8 million vehicles every year across 125 countries.
One of the Clio’s raisons d’être has always been to make innovation accessible to all and to treat its customers to levels of equipment and refinement more commonly associated with higher-segment cars, whilst offering a comprehensive range of models including sporty and exclusive variants.
In this respect, too, Renault and the Clio are very similar. One of the brand’s key motivations is to make sustainable mobility accessible to everybody by offering an expansive range from the Twizy to the Espace, the Kwid and the Duster.
Having achieved more than 13 million sales worldwide, the Clio success story continues with the forthcoming presentation of a new version of Europe’s favourite small city car.
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