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Renault's Clio celebrates 25th birthday. Image by Andy Morgan.

Renault's Clio celebrates 25th birthday
Renault Clio arrived in UK on March 29th, 1991, completed with 'Papa and Nicole' ads.
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What's all this about?

Hard to believe that time has passed so quickly, but March 29th, 2016, marks the 25th anniversary of the Renault Clio arriving on our shores.

Really - it's been a quarter of a century since 'Papa and Nicole'?

It has indeed, although that famous series of adverts ended in 1998 when Nicole, played by Estelle Skornik, jilted Vic Reeves at the altar in favour of his comedy partner, Bob Mortimer. Then we had Thierry Henry and 'Va Va Voom', although the rest of the car's advertising campaigns have been largely forgettable.

All right, drop the marketing bumf. Tell me a little bit about the history of the car.

Debuting at the October 1990 Paris Motor Show, sales of the Clio I began in March 1991. Replacing the long-lived Renault 5 hatchback, the Clio promised big car manners in a supermini package. To that end, it had the longest wheelbase and widest track in its class, in order to make its ride unsurpassed. Prices started at £7,190 for an RL 1.2 three-door and rose to £8,980 for the RT 1.4 five-door, which had such luxuries as front electric windows, remote central locking and an eight-inch TFT touchscreen infotainment system... oh, wait, sorry, we don't mean that; we mean a stereo radio/cassette.

Weren't there some hot versions of the Clio I?

Arguably, the most famous hot Clios of all were Mk1 cars: the much coveted, three-model Clio Williams series began in 1993 with 150hp, but even these blue-and-gold legends were preceded by one of our favourite performance Clios and an oft-overlooked car, the 1.8 16v of late 1991. This had 137hp, a bonnet bulge and flared wheel arches. Tasty. Anyway, by the time all derivatives of the Clio I, including a 1.9-litre diesel, were taken off sale in 1997, more than 300,000 of the blighters had been shifted.

Did such success continue with the next-gen?

It did indeed, and this was where we saw the birth of both the Renaultsport Clios - starting with the 172 and 172 Cup, and then the 182 and 182 Trophy - and the absolutely mental mid-engined Clio V6. Phase 1 cars had 230hp, Phase 2 cars (from 2003) had 255hp. Both were a handful to drive quickly and had woeful turning circles, although that hasn't diminished their petrolhead appeal in the slightest. We'd have one like a shot, let's put it that way. However, returning to the regular Clio II, it sold a touch in excess of 577,000 units in the UK during its eight years in our showrooms, with prices ranging from £8,350 to £11,700 for the non-RS range in 1997. It even continued alongside the Clio III for a while, sold under the banner Clio Campus - anyone remember those? They had number plates in the rear bumper, instead of on the hatch.

And the Clio III?

Bigger again than its predecessor, this continued the performance vein with the 197, 200 and R27 Team F1 variants of Renaultsport product. Prices for the regular cars ran from £8,895 to £12,650 in 2005 and there were a lot more diesel models offered than ever before, as buyers in the class started moving away from petrol. Strangely, the market diversification since the Clio III arrived - with compact crossovers, vastly improved city cars and more, all stealing sales from superminis - the Clio III sold less than either the Clio I or II in the UK, with 213,274 finding homes between 2005 and 2012.

Which brings us to the current model, right?

Correct. The Clio IV, now in its fifth calendar year on sale in the UK, was a development of Renault's design chief Laurens van der Acker's DeZir concept of 2010. The IV only comes in five-door format, the three-door having been killed off, and the Renaultsport version is now (disappointingly) turbocharged and double-clutched. The 200 model has been beefed up into the 220 Trophy, although we'd probably say the Renaultsport Clio's absolute peak was somewhere around the 182 Trophy era. The Clio IV has a turbocharged three-cylinder 0.9-litre engine in its line-up, as well as a 1.5-litre dCi diesel capable of an official 88.3mpg, and 77,750 of them have been sold in the UK so far.

What firsts has the Clio achieved in its lifetime?

The Clio III was the first car in its class to win a EuroNCAP five-star safety rating, while the Clio was also the first model to win the European Car of the Year award twice: the Clio I took the gong in 1991 and then the Clio III repeated the success in 2006. More than 1.2 million have been sold in the UK since 1991, while more than 13 million have been punted out globally in a quarter of a century. That's enough Clios, lined up bonnet to boot, to go around the world nearly one-and-a-half times.

What else can you tell me about the Clio?

Well, the Clio II had a saloon version known as the Symbol, which was sold in some European markets, while here in the UK we got a Sports Tourer estate variant of the Clio III between 2008 and 2012; it hasn't, as yet, been replaced in the UK and it doesn't look like Renault has any plans to do so, either, thanks to the presence of the Captur in the price lists, although the estate IV is available elsewhere in the world. There has also been a long-running Renault Clio Van. Meanwhile, the Clio has enviable motorsport pedigree, as it has been the basis of the Clio Cup one-make championship since 1991 (apart from a brief hiatus with the Spider in the late 1990s), while various examples have been rallying too, such as the Clio Maxi and the R3T. You have to admit, the little Reggie has packed quite a lot into its 25 years on sale so far...

Matt Robinson - 29 Mar 2016

Renault Clio I and IV celebrate 25th anniversary. Image by Andy Morgan.Renault Clio I and IV celebrate 25th anniversary. Image by Andy Morgan.Renault Clio I and IV celebrate 25th anniversary. Image by Andy Morgan.Renault Clio I and IV celebrate 25th anniversary. Image by Andy Morgan.Renault Clio I and IV celebrate 25th anniversary. Image by Andy Morgan.

Renault Clio I and IV celebrate 25th anniversary. Image by Andy Morgan.Renault Clio I and IV celebrate 25th anniversary. Image by Andy Morgan.Renault Clio I and IV celebrate 25th anniversary. Image by Andy Morgan.Renault Clio I and IV celebrate 25th anniversary. Image by Andy Morgan.Renault Clio I and IV celebrate 25th anniversary. Image by Andy Morgan.    - Renault road tests
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