What is it?
A new Renault Clio. Big news in the supermini segment, then; and this latest Clio is a small car with about as big and important a brief as it gets. The Clio 4 is the latest incarnation of the model that helped define the segment as we know today. Mk1 and Mk2 Clios seemed to nail the class requirements perfectly: chic looks, compact proportions, fun dynamics.
But then the Clio got all serious on us with the Mk3. It became bigger and more grown up, and blander to look at and inside and out in the process. And the fun dynamics had been swapped for something altogether more refined, which created a very accomplished and mature car (it still feels so today), but not something you'd recognise as a Clio.
Renault knew this too. So in 2009 it went out and hired former Mazda man Laurens van den Acker as its new chief designer with the brief of bringing character and that certain kind of 'Renaultness' back to its models, however hard that is to define. The stunning DeZir concept followed a year later and did the defining for us, previewing the new face of Renault in the process and leading directly to the new Clio 4.
This Clio sticks with the same fundamental accomplished underpinnings as its predecessor, but an overhaul (think Volkswagen Golf Mk5 to Mk6) means the Clio is wider, lower and with a longer wheelbase than ever, and is said to be more responsive to drive than ever as a result.
An increase in size doesn't mean an increase in weight; it's around 100kg lighter than the Clio 3, a drop that, in combination with more efficient engines, has allowed Renault to do such things as fit a smaller fuel tank (45 litres vs 55 litres) without a drop in potential range.
The big news under the bonnet is two new Renault powerplants making their debuts in the Clio 4, a 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol tested here and the most efficient version ever - 88.3mpg and 83g/km - of the French firm's familiar 1.5-litre turbodiesel. A new turbocharged 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a new six-speed dual-clutch gearbox is to follow in 2013.