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Renault Clio 1.5 dCi 86

Few car makers can match Renault for supermini pedigree.

The French firm was one of the pioneers of the sector when it launched the innovative and popular 5 in 1972. Then in 1990 bosses revealed the sophisticated Clio – and the brand’s small car success was assured. Since then, more than one million examples have found homes on UK driveways.

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Now in its third generation, the latest Clio is four years old and faces a raft of talented new rivals, including the Fiesta. To keep pace with the class leader, Renault has given its baby a mid-life refresh – and the biggest external changes come at the front and rear.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Renault Clio

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The new nose takes its cues from the larger Mégane, with swept-back headlamps and a smooth faired-in snout. The changes aren’t universally popular, but they do give the Clio a fresh look. Move to the back of the car and you’ll spot new light clusters and a reprofiled rear bumper. Inside, the changes are minimal – and that’s a good thing, as the Clio’s cabin is spacious and solidly screwed together. The soft-touch dashboard that comes with Dynamique trim is attractive and well laid out, and our test car featured classy leather trim for the steering wheel and gearlever.

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Occupants in the rear get plenty of head and legroom, while opening the tailgate reveals 288 litres of carrying capacity – more than the 207, but less than the Ford. It expands to 1,038 litres when the rear bench is flat.

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On the move the Clio provides strong pace. Its refined 85bhp 1.5-litre diesel is the most powerful here, delivering 17bhp more than rivals. That gave the French car an advantage at the track, where it was faster off the line than the Fiesta and 207.

But what really impressed us was the Renault’s muscular mid-range performance. The sprint from 50-70mph took only 11.9 seconds, which is a full three seconds faster than the Ford. As a result, the Renault inspires confidence when overtaking slower traffic. It’s also the best choice for motorway trips, with plenty of punch in reserve, a supple ride and quiet progress.

The Clio feels equally at home on back roads, thanks to its composed chassis. It lacks the razor-sharp feel of the Fiesta, but still displays great agility and decent grip. Better still, it has the strongest brakes of our trio. Only the artificial feel of the electric power-steering spoils the car’s driving dynamics.

At £13,920, the Clio is the cheapest model here. It’s also the fastest and most efficient, and has a long list of standard equipment. So, has the revised Renault done enough to knock the Fiesta off its perch at the top of the supermini tree?

In detail

*Price: £13,920

*Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl, 85bhp

*0-60mph: 12.7 seconds

*AE economy: 47.2mpg

*Euro NCAP rating: Five stars

Details

Chart position: 2
WHY: With its fresh face and strong diesel, French car looks tempting.

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