Unusually for Renault, exterior design isn’t such a big topic of conversation. It says the Clio is now sold mainly on its good looks, and as the previous car surpassed annual sales volumes every successive year since arriving in 2014, there’s been little appetite for design director Laurens van den Acker to shake things up. Because the Dutchman styled also the previous car – his very first Renault, since which he’s gone on to redefine the brand identity – peronsally he has very little to prove.
Neverthess, the new Clio has a larger grille than before (what, we're left wondering, doesn’t these days?) and the LED tusks from the Mégane. The bonnet now features a pair of pronounced contours and with a new bumper the whole demeanour is meaner, the car looking a little less surprised to be here. The windows surrounds are now chrome, while the rear is less heavy on the black plastic and achieves a neat minimalism by pressing the body panels in subtle, interesting ways rather than resorting to tacked-on trim. Sporty? Mature? A bit of both, to be honest. This particular example is painted Valencia Orange, and looks especially agreeable in the Portugese sun.
Understanding the Clio range
The engine line-up is relatively straightforward. The SCe 75 backstop is a naturally aspirated three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol with 71bhp, though more popular will be the turbocharged TCe 100 version, which makes 99bhp and is the car we’re driving here. For now, the top-spec petrol is the TCe 130, which uses the same turbocharged 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine found right across Renault’s model range and benefits from direct fuel injection. It’s also the only Clio available with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and the only one capable of hitting 62mph from rest is less than 10 seconds.
Rest assured, quicker variants will follow, not least an effort Renault Sport, potentially with a detuned version of the 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the Mégane. Diesel being less popular than in previous years, only one such engine is offered: an 84bhp 1.5-litre whose five-speed gearbox features taller gearing than the petrols for fuel economy nudging 90mpg at a steady cruise. There’s also a hybrid ‘E-Tech’ Clio due along in 2020 – it’ll pair a 1.6-litre petrol engine and a clutchless gearbox fitted with a pair of electric motors. In city driving, fuel consumption is said to be up almost half again compared to that of the petrol engine alone.
As for practicality, the Clio would seem to score well. At 391 litres, boot space tops even that of a Polo, which at 351 litres has so far been untouchable in the B-segment. The backrests of the front seats have also been slimmed down, winning a considerable 26mm of extra legroom for backseat passengers, and there’s more rear headroom in the Clio than in even a Jaguar XE, according to photographer Luc Lacey, who isn't especially short.
Inside the new Clio's cabin
By far the greatest perceptible changes are reserved for the interior, where Renault has moved almost all the cheaper materials out of reach – and sight (and, indeed, mind). It’s a league ahead of the old car, so much softer to the touch in general, with hard plastics chased below the plain of the gearknob, which now rests high up on its own plinth.
There are some premium touches, too. The dash-wide strakes in which the vents sit are unashamedly Audi (and, come to think of it, the gearknob reeks of R8), but Renault can colour the upper strake in, so it doesn’t feel too Germanic, and there’s a plethora of unusual colour and texture options for the expanse of trim below.