Besides a new 16v engine, it has goodies not found in other cars within its bargain territory
Heart transplant gives the Renault Clio new zest Renault Clio 1.4 -- PHOTO: RENAULT

WHAT has happened to base model cars? Typically, it was common to find them equipped only with the most basic items, like manual windows and side mirrors, and plain unpainted bumpers.

Fancy gadgets like central locking or ABS were anything but basic items.

Things seem to be different now, at least for the entry-level Renault Clio that is being launched today.

It is a base model that is anything but basic.

The Clio itself is no stranger to this market, but this new 16-valve 1.4-litre version is, and it replaces the old, low-tech eight-valve 1.4-litre Clio.

Production of the Clio 1.6 16v auto has also ceased, and it will be replaced eventually by an automatic version of the Clio 1.4 16v.

Priced at $82,900, including COE, the Clio 1.4 is the most affordable Renault passenger car sold here.

Besides having a new 16v engine, it comes with an array of goodies hardly found in other cars within its bargain-basement territory.

It boasts four airbags for the front passengers, ABS with electronic-brake force distribution, full electrical conveniences (except for the rear windows), remote central locking with engine immobiliser, eccentric front wipers and foglamps front and rear.

The handsome set of 15-inch alloys you see pictured are optional, but distributor Exklusiv Auto will throw them in for free if you book a Clio this weekend.

Why would you want to? Well, for starters, the new 16-valve engine is a gem. It is smooth, willing throughout the revs, and subdued at high rpms.

The difference is obvious when you compare the updated Clio 1.4 to the less-refined, wheezy eight-valve version that preceded it.

The heart transplant has paid off. The current model encourages you to push harder and harder, whereas the old engine seemed to beg you to back off the throttle once it went beyond the 4,000 mark.

Output is now 98 bhp at 6,000 rpm, with 127 Nm of torque at 3,750 rpm, which means a 13 bhp and 13 Nm gain from the previous powerplant.

Apart from the improved engine, the Clio 1.4 feels similar to its predecessor.

It has nippy handling, solid-feeling brakes with terrific progression, a slightly notchy manual transmission and a feather-light clutch.

What a shame, however, that the new Clio's ride quality is clearly not as impressive as the previous model's.

It has lost its excellent pliancy on bumpy roads, which used to be one of its strongest points as a supermini.

Since nothing has changed in the suspension set-up, the blame for the deterioration of ride quality probably rests on the 15-inch alloys and the wider, lower profile tyres. They may look snazzy, but will give your buttocks a rougher time.

If you test drive the Clio 1.4 this weekend (and Exklusiv will reward you with a Sasha bear and a copy of Singapore FHM Magazine), insist on trying it with and without the 15-inch wheels. Looks are not everything, and equally, not everything free is good.

SPECS

Renault Clio 1.4 16v

Price: $82,900, including COE

Engine: 1,390 cc 16-valve in-line four

Gearbox: Five-speed manual

Power: 98 bhp at 6,000 rpm

Torque: 127 Nm at 3,750 rpm

Top speed: 186 kmh

0 - 100 kmh: 10.5 seconds

For enquiries: Contact Exklusiv Auto Services on 741-3333