Continuing what Nicole and Papa started: Renault Clio Review

Current Clio Dynamique

It’s a bit of a shock to realise that the Renault Clio has been around for a quarter of a century. How old would that make the nubile young Nicole and her handsome Papa now?

This generational duo were the fictional characters who spearheaded an inspired advertising theme to launch the car back in 1991, and they regularly parked their flirty French personalities in our TV ad breaks for the next seven years. British television viewers and car buyers were so enamoured that the Clio accelerated up the sales charts, and has stayed there ever since.

2016 Renault Clio Badge

The inspiration for Clio-driving Nicole (played by French actress Estelle Skornik) and Papa (actor Max Douchin, also French) was said to have been Audrey Hepburn and Hugh Griffith in a hit 1960s film, ‘How to Steal a Million’. Bizarrely, the Clio ads featuring the daughter-father duo were never shown in France, apparently to preserve the pair’s reputations as serious actors in their native country.

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A car with Va-va-voom

Such was the success of those 1990s Nicole and Papa commercials that at one point actress Estelle Skornik was found to be the second most recognisable person in the UK, ahead of even the then Prime Minister, John Major.

Clio original and current models

The final ad was shown to coincide with the launch of the second generation Clio, and borrowed the famous scene from ‘The Graduate’ when the bride jilted her groom at the altar, with Bob Mortimer playing the Dustin Hoffman part. It proved to be one of the most watched television commercials ever screened.

What came next, after Nicole and Papa, was a new campaign featuring French footballer Thierry Henry. It was successful not only in promoting the new generation Renault Clio, but also in introducing a new phrase to the Oxford English Dictionary. The car, we were told, had Va-va-voom, and its sales success continued.

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Four generations later …

The first Clio made its debut at the 1990 Paris Motor Show. Its name was prophetic, derived from a Greek word that means ‘famous’. By the time the car first went on sale in the UK in the spring of 1991, it had already been awarded a coveted title as European Car of the Year. It was just the boost Renault needed to help turbocharge demand for its then brand new small hatchback.

3rd generation Renaultsport Clio

Fifteen years on from the car’s original launch, the third generation model again won the European COTY award, honouring the Clio as the first car ever to scoop the title twice. Over its 25-year life span, the Clio has now progressed through four generations.

In that time, the little Renault supermini has clocked up 13 million sales around the world – enough to circle the globe one and a half times if they were all lined up bonnet -to-boot,  apparently – with more than 1.2 million of them coming to UK customers.

Aircraft wing dash

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The current Clio was the first all-new model whose style was steered by Renault design chief Laurens van den Acker. Its cabin changed radically with a dashboard shaped like an aircraft wing, and it was one of the first cars to feature a tablet-style display screen.

SB 016

Today’s Clio range includes versions with a 0.9 litre, three-cylinder petrol engine;  1.2 or 1.6 litre four-cylinder petrol engines, and 1.1 or 1.5 litre four-cylinder diesels. Prices start from £11,145 and the range-topper is the charismatic high performance Renaultsport Trophy at £21,780.

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Sue Baker is a seasoned motoring journalist with a love of all things automotive.