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Regal Renault

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In a fiercely contested market segment, Renault’s new Clio GT-Line impresses for its sporty, premium quality ride and value for money price tag. Wynter Murdoch reports

My co-driver is suffering the after effects of a recent car accident. His neck is in a brace that has been designed to help to take the load off three cracked vertebra. Tightly strapped around his waste is a kidney belt and, under his shirt, there is more supportive strapping on his chest. Though the thin scar that cuts across his scalp is healing nicely, the area across which it runs remains tender.

“No, really, I’m fine,” he says, as he gingerly lowers himself into the passenger seat of Renault’s new Clio GT-Line to get set for a meandering, 400km or so journey that will take us from Bredell on the East Rand to Parys in the Free State and back.

As I get behind the car’s steering wheel, I hope for his sake that the compact, sporty-looking model’s suspension system doesn’t prove too harsh for comfort and, similarly, that noise and vibration issues are well contained.

I’m encouraged by the fact that in highlighting the car’s virtues, spokesmen for the brand pointed out in a briefing session that ended not five minutes earlier – and which marked the vehicle’s official launch in South Africa – that close attention had been paid to quality.

Even the seats – which emulate those which grace the high-performance Clio RS, a model which is due to join the line-up this month – were said to feature extra side supports on the squabs that sit beneath the finely embossed, GT-Line head rests.

I’m also heartened by the fact that the spokesmen described the fourth generation car as enhanced and more advanced, striking a good balance between performance and efficiency. “Right from its roots, the Clio has stood out as a genuine small car that boasts big car refinement. The fourth-generation Clio capitalises on its forerunners’ appeal but adds more soul,” is the way product manager Wayne van der Merwe had put it.

For the benefit of my co-driver, I hope that the GT-Line’s soul proves as least as deep as Percy Sledge’s voice, whose song – My Special Prayer – suddenly emanates from the stereo system when I press the button to start the engine.

I need not have worried. Throughout the journey – and on the return leg – my driving companion never complains once about a lack of comfort. On the contrary, stretched out in the passenger seat, he comments on the suspension’s adeptness in smoothing out imperfections in the tarmac, the car’s platform remaining firm but compliant as its deals with bumps and the occasional broken surface.

And, though at high speed tyre rumble and the sound of wind-flutter around the outside rear view mirrors is audible from within the cabin, levels of intensity don’t prevent us from conversing without having to raise our voices.

It’s not that either of us can’t find fault with the car. We agree that the large centre-mounted touchscreen, for instance, is difficult to read when bathed in sunlight. And, despite the incorporation of air vents and air-conditioning controls within its structure, it looks as if it’s been tacked onto the dashboard rather than proficiently integrated.

That said, the system it houses offers a variety of state of the art features, including navigation, a trip computer, media from multiple sources, hands-free telephony via Bluetooth, cruise control with a speed limiter, sophisticated sound and even an Eco mode which dishes out advice on how to reduce fuel consumption.

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the last-mentioned feature – on our return at Bredell, the trip computer tells me the vehicle used an average of 6,3 litres per 100km to complete the round trip, a litre above Renault’s quoted combined cycle claim of 5,3 litres per 100km.

From an engine perspective, the GT-Line is powered by a petrol-fuelled, turbocharged four-cylinder unit that displaces 1,2 litres and which produces 88kW and 205Nm. It’s the high torque figure that helps to make to car rewarding to drive – with 90% of twist effort available from around the 1 500 revs/min mark, there’s plenty of pull available from low down in the rev range.

Responses are clean, the unit sharply reactive without being too sensitive to throttle inputs. As befits the car’s sporty bloodline, transmission is by way of a short-throw, six-speed, manual gearbox – but if customer demand warrants it, Renault will consider importing an automatic, EDC version, according to its spokesmen.

To my eye, the GT-Line’s exterior styling is sleekly distinctive, the front end featuring a bold interpretation of the brand’s trademark diamond-shaped logo, C-shaped signature running lights and wide, upper and lower grilles supplemented by large scoops in the reworked bumper.

From the side, the silhouette is coupé-like, the look reinforced by hidden door handles at the back and a downward sloping roof, side skirts and a restyled rear bumper which incorporates a large diffuser. Wheels are 17-inch alloys shod with 205/45 profile Michelins.

The interior is roomy enough to accommodate four adults – five at a pinch – while the boot offers 300 litres of luggage space. A 60/40 split rear seat configuration is useful for larger loads. Handy storage space in the form of door pockets and compartments is easily accessible.

The cabin sees several Renault Sport influenced elements, such as the leather wrapped steering wheel, Zamac gear knob, and distinctive blue stitching on seats, headrests and hand brake cover, which reinforce the premium quality feel. Safety features include four airbags, ESP, ABS and hill start assist.

From a performance perspective the GT-Line is said to accelerate from zero to 100km/h in nine seconds, with top speed measured at 199km/ h. C02 emissions are rated at 118g/km – just below the carbon tax threshold.

On the journey to and from Parys – which includes highway and secondary road driving – the model impresses for its nimbleness and easy driveability, its solid feel on the road and its compliancy. No rattles or squeaks are detected.

Like other Clios, the model is sold with a five-year/150 000km mechanical warranty, a six-year anti-corrosion warranty and a three-year/45 000km service plan. It’s price? R264 900 – in my view something of a bargain for a car that lives up to most of the promises made for it, and which can carry a passenger who is recovering from severe injuries 400km without eliciting a single meaningful complaint.

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