Having never driven on the "wrong" side of the road before, I was decidedly trepidatious about our drive from bustling London Heathrow to the countryside splendour of Lincolnshire, three hours away. I'd sit up at night watching YouTube holiday dash-cam videos from Britain and trying to demystify what a demister, slip road and dual carriageway were. God save the pleb, if you will.
I figured a compact —or a Supermini as the Brits call them—was ideal: big enough for me, the wifey, the new baby and associated gear, but small enough that I wouldn't accidental clip the corner off a roadside pub. Since we were going to the UK to visit French-born relative, Nissan Canada was gracious enough to put me in touch with none other than their corporate cousins at Renault. Fitting, n'est-ce pas?
What was bestowed on us for nine glorious days was the Clio Sport Tourer, a brilliant little Extreme Blue five-door, that—despite measuring smaller than a Mazda3 Sport and only slightly bigger than the subcompact Mazda2—swallowed us, two full-size suitcases, a baby seat and a stroller, while still managing 48 mpg and heaps of driving fun (even in the wallop of snow that feel during our visit. Click the pics)
Our Renault, carrying the long-winded official name of Clio Sport Tourer Dynamique TomTom 1.5 dCi 88, was priced at £17,005 as tested. Power came via a brilliant little 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine making 88 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. The five-door proved entertaining when tossed into roundabouts and would hum along quietly down those carriageways (highways, it turns out, in Canadian-speak.) What's more, in what can only be described as a stroke of Pastis-fueled genius, the Gallic carmaker has teamed up with TomTom to provide an inexpensive, built-in sat-nav system to its clientele. Why develop the pricey technology in-house, mon ami, when there are experts out there already doing the heavy-lifting?
Our overtly positive experience with the Renault—actually a fairly standard motorcar by European standards—got me to thinking: why is it that Canada's compact car market is so massively milquetoast? With a few exceptions, all the entries use the same recipe re-boiled. From the box-fresh Hyundai Elantra, to the long-running Corolla, we're offered only different flavours of front-wheel drive, gas-powered sedans. Snore…
Given that one-in-four vehicles from Victoria to St. John's is a compact, you'd think there'd be some more creative choices on offer from the manufacturers plying their wears in the Canadian marketplace, no? After all, as is the case in the UK, we buy this breed of automobile largely because the price and frugality fits our income. Still, the Brits and most of the rest of the world seem to have more adventurous choices on offer: athletic sports models, copious five-door variants and frugal diesels are all thin on the ground in Canada.
This past year I covered the launch of the new Chevrolet Cruze, Volkswagen Jetta and Hyundai Elantra. A trio of great automobiles to be sure, but also American, German and Korean takes on the same cake we've tasted before. After our time with the Clio, I'd like to see Canucks demanding more compelling choices in their ever-popular compact cars. Heck, since it's friends with Renault, maybe Nissan Canada should lead the way? How about a diesel Versa (after all it shares platform parts with our Clio) or maybe even bring Renault back to our shore. Come on the Alliance wasn't that horrib… okay, bad example.
Any foreign cars you'd think would be brilliant for Canada?