The Clio II had a tough act to follow, given the Clio I had been in the UK top 10 sellers chart for the previous five years in a row. All-new, curvier bodywork clothed a car that had grown once again, but only by 6cm in length this time. Even so, a longer wheelbase realised more interior space, complemented by larger seats typically found in cars from the class above, and notably compliant bushing for the suspension; all to maximise the refinement for those on-board.
Advanced materials were incorporated to help reduce the weight of the car, such as polycarbonate headlamp covers, composite front wings and, on some models, an aluminium bonnet. Safety was also becoming ever more important, with ABS available on 50% of the range or as an option, a first for a supermini, as was the fitment of front side airbags. In fact, up to four airbags could be specified, along with seat belt pre-tensioners, and other comfort features including fingertip control for the sound system and the adoption of power steering. Renault was taking the art of the supermini to an entirely new level.
As a reflection of changing times, improved fuel consumption and emissions had also become more of a priority, with improvements of up to 15% on some models compared to its predecessor. In time, new 16-valve engines would boost Clio II’s performance in this area even further.
The new car arrived with a choice of four trim levels, with prices ranging from £8,350-£11,700. Minor changes took place in 2000 – along with a class-leading four-star Euro NCAP rating – with a ‘phase 2’ model appearing in 2001 that introduced sharper frontal styling, even better interior quality and a standout new engine: the 1.5-litre common rail injection turbo diesel.
2002 saw Clio II achieve its UK highest sales volume at 86,337.
Yet more minor changes were made for ‘phase 3’ models in 2004, recognisable by their grey headlamp bezels instead of black, and digital fuel and water temperature gauges in the cockpit. The Clio II had to face the challenge of ‘difficult second album’ syndrome, but its enduring popularity, including living on after the introduction of Clio 3 as the Clio Campus, proved the inherent ‘rightness’ of its design.
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