After Laurens van den Acker resigned from Mazda and joined Renault in 2009 as design director, he set to work on a mid-engined concept car known as the DeZir.

The Dutchman’s dramatic creation was considered so successful that the powerful aesthetic can still be appreciated almost a decade later in this new Clio. It uses similar LED headlights to those of the Mégane and features a more assertive front air intake, but fundamentally the new Clio remains true to the DeZir-inspired fourth-generation car, and it isn’t hard to see why.

Rear bumper loses the substantial expanse of black plastic found on the old models and replaces it with a crisply textured panel in the same colour as the rest of the body. The result is smart and demonstrates less is often more.

However, in the details and at its core, this is very much a new car. Every panel is new, as is the CMF-B platform, which the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance has developed in common and with driver assistance systems and electrified powertrains in mind – and which the Clio gets the use of first. That means there will be a hybrid E-Tech Clio, due in 2020, with a plug-in hybrid also on the cards.

Along with the 22kg-lighter body-in-white, the new platform also contributes to a fall in weight compared with the old Clio. The new car is shorter than before – by only 14mm, and with a 6mm-shorter wheelbase – but after years of dimension inflation, it seems the ‘mini’ is being put back into ‘supermini’. A 6mm fall in height also does its demeanour no harm: the next RS Clio may well be pure-electric, or it may well use a detuned version of the 1.8-litre turbo from the Mégane RS, but if it isn’t an unusually attractive hot hatch, we’ll be amazed.

Until then, there is a suite of downsized engines to go with this smaller, lighter Clio. They include a 71bhp 1.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol triple designed to appeal to first-time drivers on the hunt for low insurance premiums. It is also offered in turbocharged 1.0-litre TCe form with 99bhp, which is the engine featured in this test. The top-ranking petrol is the four-cylinder 129bhp 1.3-litre TCe. The TCe-branded turbo petrols are closely related, having been developed in collaboration with Daimler, and being also found as far afield as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Dacia Duster. The 129bhp petrol motor is the only engine that can be paired with Renault’s Getrag-built dual-clutch gearbox, while the 99bhp petrol can be had with a CVT automatic as an option. A five-speed manual is standard on the 99bhp and 71bhp petrols and the 84bhp diesel uses a six-speed manual.

Suspension is via MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam rear axle. That’s entirely predictable in this class, where cost sensitivities tend to prohibit the use of anything more sophisticated. But if anyone can tune basic hatchback engineering to deliver a good combination of ride and handling, history shows us that it is the French.

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