I know, I know. It must seem pretty funny to mention the mere idea of luxury when talking about a Renault Clio II. While an excellent economy hatch, the Clio never was challenging Mercedes for market shares.
But there's a hidden gem in the Clio range: the Initiale Paris version. The Initiale badge has been used for quite some years now by Renault as a range-topper. More than that, the cars that came with it usually pack the best that Renault could muster at that time, in terms of equippement, refinement, and technology.
So what did that mean in this particular case? It meant leather, alcantara, real wood, specific alloy wheels; the Clio Initiale Paris also packed the 1.6L 16V engine, the best in the range, good for about 110hp; and tech-wise, Renault threw everything at it. Cruise-control, automatic xenon headlights, auto climate control, auto wipers, switchable ESP... and even a GPS unit! That's right, you could find a functionning GPS in a 2003 Renault hatch. I know, because mine has it.
Before this car, I owned another Clio II, although this time a bare-bones Phase 1 example, where this is a fully-loaded Phase II. And the jump in refinement is frankly quite shoking, knowing my Phase 1 was only 3 years older. There are of course all those cool options, specific to the Initiale. But also a much better insulation from road noise, better suspension, and the more powerful engine.
It feels quite weird to drive the Initiale, to be honest. Having owned the Phase 1 for 7 years, everything feels so familiar, yet utterly alien. It's much quieter, comfortable (owning to the amazing seats initially designed for the RS version), and a bit faster too.
So how has all this cutting edge tech held up in 16 years? Well, the GPS unit would work perfectly if the required CD wasn't so scratched, but the cruise-control doesn't. All the rest works perfectly. The Alcantara and leather seats did take a beating during the car's 160.000km life, but it's only cosmetic wear. Mechanically, the car is in perfect shape.
So while the idea of buying a more expensive Clio with a load of options probably looked silly back in the day when you could simply buy a car from a more "respectable" brand, today the Clio Initiale Paris feels like luxury bargain. Owning to the cosmetic wear inside and out, I was able to purchase it for the price of a normal Clio from that era -- which are already a great deal and the best budget option right now in France. The catch is that they are quite rare...