Citroen provides direct competition for the two newcomers, with its competitively priced VTR and 16-valve VTS models, at £10,865 and £13,005 respectively, straddling Renault with the Si price of £10,995 and the 16-valve at £12,795 - £45 less than the 'old' Clio RSI (which had a 1.8 8v 110bhp engine), saving almost £1,000 when extra equipment is taken into account. Other models joining the battle will be the Volkswagen Polo 16V, with a 1.4-litre engine, at £13,060 and Peugeot 206 1.6 XS, at £11,120, both of which are competitors for the Si and are more expensive. The Ford Fiesta offers the Zetec range in 1.25-litre or 1.4-litre guise at £9,950.
The Si produces a strong performance on residual values, with CAP Future Residual Values predicting it will hold 42% of its new price after three years/60,000 miles. This compares to the Citroen Saxo VTR 1.6i holding 40%/£4,375 over the same period. However, the Peugeot 206 is worth 44%/£4,925 over the same period and the Polo remains top of the pile at 45%/£5,850.
Figures for the 16-valve are still being produced, although buyers can expect them to be above the 40% mark. Most rivals are still rolling out new engines on new models, but rivals include the SEAT Ibiza, which offers a 2.0-litre eight-valve engine for £12,220. Fiat's Punto GT 1.4 comes in at more than £13,400.
Vauxhall joins the fray with its 1.6i 16V Sport Corsa, which in five-door format stands at £11,495. Competition in the sector is high when the rewards are examined, with Renault expecting to sell 1,500 each of the two models, half going to fleet buyers. To keep the price of the Si low, the specification has had to suffer, with manually adjustable door mirrors meaning you either need a passenger or long arms to adjust the offside mirror. It is a solidly built car and although the dash is rather plasticky, there are no rattles.
The eight-valve engine puts on a good turn of speed, with maximum torque delivered at 2,500rpm providing a lot of low down pull, but it lacks refinement, runs out of steam towards the top end of the rev band and can be noisy when pushed hard. The 16-valve is much quieter and smoother by comparison, cutting much of the engine noise without Renault having to resort to extra soundproofing, which would increase the weight of the car. As would be expected, performance is better, offering 0-62mph in 9.6 seconds, compared to the Si's 10.6 and a top speed of 122mph compared to 112 in the Si.
However, the harder suspension set-up on both models does mean a much choppier ride, although it never crashes over bumps. During a test run around the Paris countryside, long uneven roads proved tiresome, suggesting this may not truly fit the 'grand touring' philosophy Renault says it is trying to reflect.
Paying the extra money for the 16-valve engine provides significantly better specification as well, with a leather steering wheel and gear knob, better inside door trims, smarter headlights, a better stereo and a passenger's airbag among a host of extras thrown in for the price.
The addition of a third seatbelt when fitted is useful when carrying a full compliment of passengers, but the housing of the belt holder in the roof lining can be distracting when driving the car for the first time. For the driver looking for a sporting package Renault offers a model worth serious consideration in the Clio. The 16-valve looks the better buy of the two newcomers.