A sense of new-found sophistication pervades much of the way this fifth-generation Clio functions as well as how it looks and how it feels inside. Moving beyond Renault’s old 898cc three-pot turbo engine to adopt this new 999cc three-cylinder turbo may sound like a pretty dry and technical change, but it has allowed this car to hit new heights on refinement, drivability and efficiency.
Outright performance isn’t outstanding. Even with the new engine, this mid-range petrol Clio proved the best part of a second slower from rest to 60mph than the 94bhp 1.0-litre Volkswagen Polo we performance tested last year. And yet, clocking a respectable 11.6sec, it was also half a second quicker than the 89bhp Nissan Micra IG-T we tested in 2017 and almost a full second quicker from 30mph to 70mph through the gears.
In subjective terms, there’s plenty that impresses. The engine is quiet and well-mannered for a three-pot during start-up and on tickover and it’s operated via a well-calibrated, intuitive-feeling accelerator pedal, which makes it easy to be smooth as you pull away.
The motor remains pleasingly restrained as it begins to work and throttle response is notably better than it was with the old 898cc engine.
There’s still a very useful wave of torque accessible between 2000rpm and 3500rpm, which allows this car to pull higher gears at motorway speeds with an authoritativeness that you simply wouldn’t have found in a comparable supermini 25 years ago but that has become so common in today’s turbocharged breed as to be almost unremarkable.
At high engine speeds, meanwhile, Ford’s smallest Ecoboost triple remains a more vigorous and free-revving prospect – and yet the Clio doesn’t feel averse to getting a sweat on beyond 5000rpm when the occasion calls for it.
The engine’s obliging drivability means it seldom seems to suffer from having ‘only’ a five-speed manual gearbox, one whose shift quality is well weighted and nicely defined, allied to a clutch pedal that’s equally easy to get on with.
As for the hybrid, while its set-up might initially sound complicated, it works well to improve economy and makes driving simple in most scenarios. EV mode is silent and smooth around both urban areas and slower village lanes, while the petrol engine kicks in seamlessly under heavier acceleration.
The Clio’s talents are best displayed at urban speeds, thanks to its excellent mid-range torque. It feels far more brisk than its 9.3sec sprint from 0-62mph might suggest. At higher speeds, though, the four-cylinder petrol tends to growl unpleasantly, a sound which also rears its head during foot-to-floor acceleration.
Despite this, most drivers won’t be left wanting for a dynamic drive. It doesn’t quite live up to the Alpine branding on our range-topper, but the Clio handles keenly and accurately, and darts around corners with ease.
It rides impressively too, and despite some low-speed stiffness, it’s a pleasantly comfortable place to sit.