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The fifth-generation Clio has arrived and bosses back at Renault HQ in Boulogne-Billancourt reckon it is good enough in the looks, quality and – most importantly – driving department to finally rise to the top of a supermini class that’s bursting at the seams with truly great cars. We deliver our verdict.

IS THE CLIO A BIG DEAL?

Yep. This is Europe’s top supermini. Even as the last Clio entered the final stretch, it outsold every B segment rival. That included the UK’s top performing nameplate, the Ford Fiesta. To try and break the Blue Oval’s stranglehold here while, at the same time, increasing year-on-year sales – a trend that has been going since 2013 – the French have really gone to town with the Mk5 Clio. Everything is new, from the platform on which the car sits to the ‘hands-off’ stage two autonomous technology that is designed to accelerate, steer and brake the car.

A MEGANE ON THE HOT CYCLE

Arguably, head on the Clio bears many of the hallmarks and assertive stance of its bigger brother, from the C-shape LED lights, pronounced diamond badge and deeply sculpted air intakes. The rear sports a mildly reprofiled bumper that drops the expansive – and quite frankly needless – black plastic trim of before, while the C-signature is repeated in the cascading tail-lights. Perceived quality was really important, according to Renault, which explains why the boot lid, when in the closed position, sits flush with the bumper. Has it worked? We will let you decide.

HOW DOES THE RANGE LINE UP?

Until the red-hot R.S arrives, those who lust after a mildly spicy Clio have this: the R.S Line. It is one of five models and sits at the top of the pile. There is no denying in this guise that the levels of want are turned up to 11 what with snazzy 17-inch diamond cut alloys wheels and a gunmetal finish for both the rear diffuser and front bumper’s supposedly F1-inspired ‘blade’. You will also find R.S badging, a silver-tipped exhaust and funky hues including ‘Iron Blue’ (£660). Lower in height terms and shorter in length, the latter guarantees a city-friendly footprint.

SHORTER MEANING LESS ROOM?

No, actually. You could say Renault’s design team have executed a successful “inside job”. The new car may be 14mm shorter than the previous one but thinner seats, for example, see rear legroom increase by 26mm. Headroom is still bang on despite designers dropping the roofline by 30mm. Like every supermini, two is company, three is a crowd in the back. It’s a mixed bag on the boot front, too: 391-litres is class-best but there is a huge lip to contend with when it comes to lifting heavier items in or out. For comparative purposes the Fiesta has 311-litres, a Skoda Fabia 330-litres and a Honda Jazz 354-litres.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE UP TOP?

The Mk5 oozes quality and adopts technology from the class above. It would not be wrong to say the design alone marks a sea change for what supermini buyers should come to expect moving forward. First impressions are extremely positive. Then again, with a price tag of £21,655, that is to be expected. For that you get cloth seats sporting red piping and grey stitching with this theme repeated on the gear lever gaiter and thin rimmed steering wheel. Silver trim pieces and mock carbon fibre weave not only look great but create the impression the Clio is more expensive than it is. And that is before you consider the 9.3-inch touchscreen – which is heavily modelled on a hand-held tablet – and the colour-packed 7-inch driver display.

DOES IT REWARD ON THE ROAD?

Before we get to that it is worth mentioning engine choice. The TCe 100 services the entire range, with the asthmatic SCe 75 reserved for Play and Iconic cars and the most powerful TCe 130, as tested here, kept for S Edition and R.S Line. Diesel soldiers on in the form of a 1.5-litre four-cylinder with 84bhp and a hefty 162lb ft of torque. Our engine/transmission combination is perfect: refined and quiet, the engine summons a level of performance comparable to warm hatches. As for the dual clutch transmission, it excels by way of snappy gear changes. The steering loads up nicely through corners, the rack is quick and the front end is happy to dart from one apex to the next. It pushes the Fiesta close as the benchmark – really close – but for out-and-out fun the Blue Oval is still the car to have.

PROS & CONS

+ Better looking than ever
+ Upmarket cabin; class best tech
+ Rewarding behind the wheel 
Quality comes at a price
130 petrol is auto only
Entry versions too basic

INTERIOR: The cabin is constructed from high-quality materials throughout, helping to mark the French car out as a genuine alternative to an Audi A1 or a Mini. Equipment list is as impressive – and comprehensive – and ranges from a 9.3-inch touchscreen, electronic climate control, keyless go and ambient lighting. R.S Line logo is repeated on the steering wheel, the front seats and the floor mats.

INTERIOR

DIGITAL BINNACLE: Currently only a select few superminis can be had with a digitised instrument binnacle. In the case of the Clio this measures 7-inches, is colour rich and boasts three customisable areas so the drivers can tailor this to show power/torque, media information and sat-nav instructions.

DRIVER BINNACLE

STYLING: R.S Line Clios are a watered-down equivalent of the R.S performance version but 17-inch alloys, a front sports bumper and a roof spoiler all help to catch the eye. LED technology graces both the front and rear lights, with Renault’s C-signature present on both. Grab handles are hidden in the rear window frame and fool you into thinking this is a 3-door car when it actually isn’t.

PRACTICALITY: Clever packaging has freed up much-needed extra space for back seat passengers, legroom especially. Boot space is one area the Clio has the upper hand on rivals and even treads on the toes of larger hatchbacks. Pushing the rear seats forward sees 391-litres grow to 1,069-litres.

PRACTICALITY

SPECIFICATION

Price: £21,665 (as tested)       
Engine: 1.3-litre, 4cyl turbo petrol    
Power/torque: 129bhp/177lb ft     
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, front-wheel drive          
0-62mph: 9 seconds     
Top speed: 124mph        
Economy/CO2: 49.6mpg/118g/Km

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