Renault Clio dCi 90 Driven

Success of the new Clio is critical for Renault. In a harsh market, with average models (setting aside the Megane Renaultsport), Renault have been struggling, and they hope - they really hope - that the fourth generation Clio will change their fortunes. We drive the cleanest of the range, the Dynamique MediaNav dCi 90 S&S, to see whether it has a chance.

Having just penned the finishing touches of the latest flagship supercar concept it must surely be something of an anti-climax to be tasked with merely redesigning the brand’s B-segment offering. It’s all too easy to imagine it being rushed off with less than a little enthusiasm. Fortunately, however, the new head of design pulls the supercar from the portfolio just in time. ‘How about this? Can we make the Clio look like this?’ Suddenly things look a whole lot more interesting.

The Clio 1, not least the stunning Williams, is today becoming an icon. From the ungainly Clio 2 onwards it all went rather down-hill, putting on the kilograms and lacking severely in the je ne sais quoi department. The Clio 4 is the first production model with styling led by Laurens Van Den Acker, who wants to “make people fall in love with Renault again”, and it shows: the car oozes passion and design flair in a manner far more akin to Alfa or Seat. The supercar from which it takes its inspiration is the DeZir electric concept. And for once this isn’t just a cynical marketing ploy, it's very clear to see many hints of the DeZir on the Clio. Not least the DRG, which features the same integration of headlight and grille.

The Clio looks great. Bearing down towards you, distinctive DRLs blazing, it's tough, sporty and aggressive, and proudly wearing its new oversized Renault badge there’s no doubt as to its intentions. A nice detail is the subtle ‘Clio’ embossed wording below the badge. We have rarely, if ever, seen the model of a car written on the front, but the subtlety with which it’s executed really makes it work. Perhaps this is the start of something bigger?

Even without the badges, from most angles the car is clearly a Clio but it’s also more voluptuous and organic than its predecessors in every way. The DLO has been reduced and again echoes that of the DeZir, featuring in the C-pillar possibly the smallest window we’ve ever seen. To compensate for the increased body proportions, the lower area of the door has been sliced laterally and pulled upwards, exposing the black and chrome area one could imagine to lie beneath. The Clio is available in 5 door only, but the rear doors have had the handles concealed Alfa-style to lend more of a coupé look.

Even the rear of the car hints at the DeZir with its horizontal rear lights with black underlining, the haunches, and the detailing of the rear ‘diffuser’. The oversized Renault badge completes the tribute and is complemented by an oversized ‘Clio’ badge just to alleviate any doubt. The rear is again stylish, but less aggressive than the front.

The only possible criticism is that the car does hold some uncomfortable views when seen at ¾. From the front, the concave between the wheel arches can cause the rear corner to appear disproportionately heavy and extended from the body of the car. And the rear ¾ can also look a little high off the ground and awkward.

The Clio 3’s interior was of a high standard anyway, but the 4 has raised the bar again. It instantly feels like a far more expensive car with swathes of piano black and chrome. The organically styled instruments are minimalistic, functional and easy to read. At a glance, all that’s visible is the large central digital speedo bordered by a large rev counter and fuel gauge, but the warning lights and a digital information screen are all there, just not emphasised. The asymmetrical centre panel holds the touchscreen infotainment and the heating controls, well divided, again organically styled and beautifully simple. Beneath the glossy black panel is the start/stop button and a slot for the ‘key’. The hexagonal grilles hidden deep beneath the flaps of the air vents are a pleasing detail.

A large range of personalisation options is available, allowing buyers to customise the interior trim, wheels and exterior.

Importantly, the car is great to drive. The engine is a little more powerful, a little torquier yet crucially more economical. The real headline grabber, however, is the loss of over 100kg of weight. This makes the car feel significantly more dynamic and tractable than its predecessor. It’s comfortably fast, and while the 0-62 is horrendously slow on paper it certainly doesn’t feel that bad. Handling and suspension have both been tightened up giving much more precision and, overall, a far more pleasurable driving experience. The Clio 3 was adequate, this is really surprisingly good.

The new Clio has everything it takes to propel it up the B-Segment leaderboard. Overtly stylish looks, better driveability and a range of competitive engines to suit all requirements (particularly with the recent announcement of the RS 200). For short-term gains the 3 cylinder petrol TCe 90 is a quick win at £1,100 less than the diesel, but for longer-term ownership we’d choose the DCi. While it’s not as urgent as the TCe it’s more relaxing to drive, with more torque and substantially more economical to boot. But whichever Clio you choose, you’ll still be getting a Renault that possesses both passion and quality, something which has been sorely lacking for the past few years. Vive la change!

Renault Clio dCi 90

Engine: 1,461 4-cyl turbodiesel Power: 90bhp Top Speed: 112mph 0-60mph: 11.7s Economy: 83.1mpg combined Emissions: 90g/km CO2 (83 with ECO model) Price: £15,055

Photography Mark Raybone

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