Renault Clio dCi 90

We put the new three-cylinder diesel Clio through its paces

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With sales figures in Europe not looking too rosy, the pressure was on for Renault to deliver with the Clio, and it has. The thoughtful design combines practicality and flair, inside and out, while the huge range of personalisation should be a useful money-spinner. Although pricier than the petrol options, the diesel engine is incredibly efficient and refined, giving the car a grown-up feel. Our main criticism is that it could be more exciting to drive, but then there’s still the Renaultsport version to come…

We’ve already driven the new Clio with Renault’s headline-grabbing 89bhp 0.9 TCe three-cylinder petrol engine, but there’s an efficient new diesel engine, too.

The 89bhp 1.5 dCi unit returns 83.1mpg and 90g/km of CO2 as driven here, but for an extra £250 Renault will add low resistance tyres, longer gear ratios and a lighter plastic boot surround, which cuts consumption to a scarcely believable 88.3mpg and 83g/km.

With figures like that you might expect lacklustre performance and compromised refinement, but that couldn’t be further form the truth. The engine pulls smoothly right from the off, and while performance isn’t exactly punchy, there’s enough torque to slot it in a high gear and waft along serenely, or overtake slower traffic with ease.

Push it hard and the 1.5 dCi doesn’t have the fizz and exuberance of the 0.9 TCe, but it compensates with superb refinement. Even at motorway speeds, a faint hum from under the bonnet and a distant rustle of the wind around the wing mirrors is all you can hear. And let’s not forget, although is costs around £1,100 more, it returns over 20mpg more than the 0.9 TCe, which will make a significant dent in your fuel bills.

We’ll have to wait until next summer, when the Renaultsport 200 Turbo goes on sale, to find out what this new Clio is really capable of on the road, but the signs so far are encouraging. A quicker steering ratio (2.71 turns lock to lock) and an average weight loss of 100kg across the range compared to its predecessor has improved the Clio’s agility slightly, while a 34mm wider track at the front and back, plus a 14mm extended wheelbase mean it feels planted, rather than playful, around corners.

The suspension has been set up with comfort in mind, so the car glides over expansion joints in the road and floats over crests. It also means there’s a fair amount of body roll in the corners. The soft setup could be a smart move from Renault, because it gives the car a grown-up feel overall, and with more and more families downsizing and demanding more from their smaller cars, that could be a crucial part of its appeal.

If that doesn’t seduce customers, there’s a good chance the styling will. OK, so the jumbo-sized lozenge badge on the nose is a little over the top, but overall it’s a taught, cohesive design with just the right amount of flair. The LED lights integrated into the front grille, for example, are totally unique, while the decision to offer the Clio only as a five door, but hide the rear handle for a sportier look, appears to have paid off, too.

On the inside, a greater range of adjustment for the driver’s seat and steering wheel, make the perfect position easy to find, while the boot has grown by 12-litre to 300-litres – or 1,146-litres with the 60/40 split rear seats folded flat.

There’s a new eye-catching new design for the dash too, with a simplified centre stack based around a seven-inch touchscreen (standard on Dynamique and Dynamique S models). Our Dynamique S test car featured swathes of gloss black trim, and a red dashboard to match the bright red paint job – just one of whole host of personalisation packs available, which include painted wheels, multi-coloured trim and decals for the bodywork.

Pay an extra £450 and you can equip the seven-inch display with R-Link software (not fitted to our test car), which as well as the usual sat-nav, stereo and telephone functions, can download apps from Renault’s very own app store. One of these apps even allows you to pump four sporty engine sounds through the car’s speakers in sync with the throttle. It sounds like a gimmick but it’s a great idea, and could add that extra dash of excitement this car needs.

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