Buyers are already spoiled for choice when it comes to superminis, but the new Clio is about to make their decision tougher. Firmer suspension, quicker steering and a 110kg weight reduction all sharpen the car’s handling, while the efficient new three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine is a cracker. Big strides have also been taken with interior quality – a lesson learned from Mercedes. As for the styling, it’s still too early to comment, but judging by the DeZir concept that inspired it, the new Clio will be a stunner.
Four million superminis are sold in Europe every year, and the class is currently dominated by the VW Polo, Ford Fiesta
and Vauxhall Corsa
. So the fourth-generation Renault Clio
needs to be something special if it’s going to make an impression.
To find out how it’s shaping up, we travelled 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle to a small town called Jukkasjarvi in Sweden.
Here, at Renault’s winter test facility, we were granted a world exclusive first drive in a new Clio prototype, seven months before the car’s world debut
at the Paris Motor Show.
Even before we climb in, it’s clear the new Clio is heading in the right direction. The current car’s chassis has been carried over, but the body is wider and slightly lower than before, which creates a noticeably sportier stance. Up to 110kg has been slashed from the kerbweight, too – just like this car’s key
rival, the new Peugeot 208
Car group tests
Used car tests
Our test model was covered in camouflage, but the more muscular bodywork, bigger headlights and wider grille were all visible nonetheless. There will be no three-door version this time around, but as a compromise the five-door car has hidden door handles.
Inside, the dash is angled slightly towards the driver and a tablet-like infotainment screen sits on top. There are soft-touch materials everywhere – Renault admits it has learned lessons in this area while working on joint projects with Mercedes.
The small yet chunky steering wheel features a greater range of adjustment than before, and so do the seats.
Engine choices include a 1.5-litre dCi diesel with either 74bhp or 89bhp, a four-cylinder 1.2-litre turbo petrol with 113bhp and a brand-new 900cc turbo petrol three-cylinder producing 89bhp and capable of 69mpg. We drove the latter. It responded smoothly at low engine speeds, and the small turbo kicked in seamlessly as we accelerated.
Performance was adequate rather than impressive, but Renault assured us that a more powerful version of this engine, to match Ford’s 123bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost, would follow in 2013.
The car’s handling ability was hard to assess over the low-grip surfaces we drove on, but the suspension seemed slightly firmer than the outgoing Clio’s. The steering also has a faster ratio – 2.75 turns lock-to-lock – which gives it a quicker and more precise response.