So it is somewhat surprising to note that, while other manufacturers have been selling small five-door hatchbacks hand over fist, Renault has not – 75% of Clio sales in the UK to date being accounted for by the three-door version.
Moreover, with 65% of its sales anticipated in the retail sector, and the user-chooser market already handsomely catered for by the likes of Megane and Laguna, the extent to which the arrival of Renault’s new Modus will change that position from the fleet perspective is open to question.
Nonetheless, with extensive rental exposure planned at the outset and a subsequent predicted take-up by the likes of Motability and the tireless, bustling district nurses of the NHS, Renault anticipates Modus taking over from Clio wherever the market demands a small five-door hatch.
It will compete against other ‘supermini MPVs’ such as the Vauxhall Meriva and Fiat Idea.
Along with an unprecedented, maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, Renault cites SMR costs as the new Modus’s ace-in-the-hole.
Prices for the four specification level, 24 model line-up, which went on sale on September 10, range from £9,250 to £12,400 on-the-road (just £300 more than the Clio five-door), combining with relatively low CO2 emissions (ranging from 122 to 180g/km) to optimise benefit-in-kind figures at between 15 and 22%, service intervals of 18,000 miles on petrol cars and insurance group ratings that start at just 2E.
Three petrol engines of 1.2, 1.4 and 1.6 litres respectively, as well as a choice of 1.5 litre, 65 and 80bhp diesel engines are available from launch. With Renault having concentrated on emissions compliance for the rest of its range, we’ll have to wait until January of next year for the introduction of Euro-IV friendly 68 and 80bhp diesels, followed in March by a third, 105bhp dCi unit mated to a six-speed manual transmission.
Perversely, the increased fettling required of a Euro IV compliant powerplant not only reduces the 1.5-litre diesel unit’s service intervals to 12,000 miles, but also incurs higher purchase cost and inferior fuel economy penalties. Offset, then, against the dropping of the 3% benefit-in-kind surcharge, it’s interesting to speculate on the fiscal ramifications. Indications are, however, that while the employee benefits, the company suffers.
Behind the wheel
That safety sells cars these days is irrefutable. And in launching the first car in its class to secure a five-star crash test rating, Renault – now with five top Euro NCAP-rated models under its belt – has clearly cracked the formula.
Nevertheless, the arrival of the almost entirely splendid Modus does, dare we whisper, highlight one particular downside of this current obsession that must be sacrificed on the altar of comfort and practicality to appease to Euro-greedy God of safety…weight. It’s a heavy car for its size and many of the engines struggle.
Artfully melding the cute of Twingo (the best small car never to sell in the UK) with the on-board flexibility of Scenic, the undeniably stylish little Modus constitutes yet another variation on today’s ubiquitous – nay sales essential – hatchback theme, the trick rear seat.
In this case, a ‘Triptic’, 60/40 split folding bench offering slides fore and aft through 170mm while, in the rearmost position, the centre seat cushion folds vertically and the two side cushions slide together. Thus it offers a choice of seating for three with 274 litres of luggage space, or two passenger legroom greater than that of a Vel Satis.
However, with both comfort and practicality thus cunningly catered for astern, life in the front feels somewhat more mundane.
The centre-mounted instrument binnacle, son-of-Espace dashboard is handsome and well made, yet is hardly awash with storage options. NCAP friendly door reinforcing renders the door pockets almost useless, and an otherwise comfortable, raised driving position is compromised by an absence (presumably on cost grounds) of reach adjustment to the helm.
Worse, the necessarily chunky A pillar makes seeing round corners particularly tricky on occasions.
Moreover, the tidy handling new Modus would prove even more rewarding were it not for the weight of five-star supplicatory steelwork on board; the 1.6-litre 16v petrol unit proving the only engine option to properly cut the mustard.
The Modus is a largely delightful drive, with a peerless, remarkably comfortable ride for this segment, light, accurate power-assisted steering and surprisingly tidy handling devoid of both overt body roll and the early onset of understeer.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||75/5,500||98/5,700||113/6,000||65/4,000||80/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||77/4,250||94/4,250||111/4,250||118/2,000||136/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||101||110||117||97||104|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg):||47.1||42.2||41.5||60.1||61.4|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||145||161||163||125||122|
|Prices (OTR):||from £9,240 - £12,400|