‘You’ll be fine. Just relax, nothing will go wrong. I’m here anyway.” John, my instructor, was coaxing me to just let go and take a jump into the unknown – well, sort of.
Actually, he was trying to get me to do something almost against my instincts. I have driven a different new car nearly every week for the past 36 years. They have come in all shapes and sizes and in recent years, the technology has leapt ahead.
On the road to a possible autonomous driving future, more and more systems have been invented to both enhance safety and take away some of the drudgery of driving, particularly the daily commute or long motorway journeys.
Of course these developments came first to the premium cars such as Volvo, Mercedes, Audi and BMW and when as motoring correspondents we first encountered them and could sit back as our cars kept to the lane by itself, stayed a certain distance from the car in front and automatically slowed down, stopped and then took off again without us touching a pedal, we were usually surrounded by a lot of high-end metal.
Ten days ago in Portugal it was very different and that was making me nervous. We were testing these systems in a pretty small car – the latest version of the Renault Clio – and there was little between us and the road.
But it worked, and, although for the first minute the very French John had to remind me not to use the brake or throttle, he soon calmed me.
Very quickly I was happy for the little automatic Clio to take the lead from the car in front and the road markings so that steering, braking and accelerating were happening without my involvement. Yet, if I needed to take back control – and you are prompted to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times – it was there in a millisecond.
The advantages for the safety and reduction in stress for the regular commuter were obvious. And it is claimed that the system called the Highway & Traffic Jam Companion (HTJC) is unique to the versatile city car segment.
The all-new Clio also includes a 360° camera and active emergency braking to cope with the detection of cyclists and pedestrians, which are both firsts in the Renault range.
The group says that as part of its objective to make autonomous technologies broadly affordable, it will market 15 vehicles equipped with such technologies by the end of its ‘Drive the Future’ strategic plan. New Clio is the first vehicle to do so.
The all-new Clio – which from the outside, despite being lower and a bit more aggressive, looks remarkably like the last model – is the fifth generation of the automotive icon having sold some 15 million units since it was launched in 1990 and has become Groupe Renault’s best-selling model worldwide.
It is France’s favourite car and has been top of the B segment in Europe since 2013. Clio sales have increased each year between 2012 and 2018.
If the outside seems much the same, the interior of the new Clio is a massive improvement on the last generation and was exceedingly comfortable for some quite long test drives, even though the two of us on board shared height and bulk. He had the former, I had the latter.
The 9.3″ infotainment and navigation screen which dominates the console was very tasty. There’s good storage and luggage space.
It probably still doesn’t have the driving brio of the Ford Fiesta but it’s coming close. There is definitely a much better feeling of class about the whole enterprise and puts it up to the VW Polo and the Hyundais.
Much to the ire of Paddy Magee, the normally jovial Renault boss in Ireland, prices are a bit up in the air at the moment because of the Government not yet being decided on the new tax system on emissions, which are being changed as a result of better testing regimes.
French sources told me that the HTJC system is likely to cost an extra €1,600 or so as it has to be mated to the automatic gearbox.
We are not good in this country at paying extra for safety equipment but I think this one is worthwhile if you do a lot of driving, especially motorway commuting.
The main engines in the new Clio will be some peppy petrol units, the 100bhp, a very powerful 1.3 number with an automatic box, impressed a lot and I liked it – but my co-driver didn’t. There is also a mild-hybrid coming with a 1.6 engine.
The new Clio comes in October in good time for 201 plates. It definitely will be more expensive than the present €17,500, and with good options like the HTJC system, automatic box and more powerful engines, will put the Clio very quickly into the early €20k and more.
There is a lot of competition in that area. I am not the biggest fan of Renault by any means, however I have always had a soft spot for the Clio as the descendant of a much-loved Renault 4 which I owned many decades ago before it fell apart from rust. Even further back was the Renault Dauphine, which I crashed into a holly tree aged 10 and on my father’s knee.
Of course, Clio became infamous for those Nicole ads but can be forgiven for that bit of Gallic “charm”.
It is good that Renault has a five-year warranty, which should be the industry standard.
In the UK, they are reckoning that the new Clio entry price will be £14,500. In a normal year, about 2,000 would be sold here but there is so much uncertainty out there, together with all the climate change stuff and the increase in small crossovers/SUVs, that figure could be over optimistic.
Paddy Magee was speculating that, if all the poor portents combined, the market could shrink by 60pc next year – which would be disastrous for the Government’s tax take, as well as putting many people out of business. Customers and sellers need certainty.
I was really pleased that I did the HTJC test. Anything to challenge the senses is good and it’s rewarding that such technologies have not just trickled down but have advanced in a torrent.
Well done, Renault.