It can’t catch the Golf but with almost 320,000 delivered last year the Clio is Europe’s second best selling vehicle. By evolving the looks of the fourth generation model, Renault has taken the opposite approach to what Peugeot did in creating the distinctive new 208. Will that work to keep Clio 5 on top?

You only need to look at the Mégane to see why Renault took the decision not to radically alter the Clio’s appearance for the fifth generation. A worthy enough car, the Mégane is nowhere near the Golf or even those models a bit further down the C segment sales chart, namely (in Europe-wide CY2019 sales order) the Focus, A-Class, 308, Leon, Astra or Corolla. Some think that’s because the design direction has changed too much with each respective generation, leading to a perception of looks which date quickly. In other words, the opposite of The Volkswagen Approach.

That even the aged SEAT and Opel/Vauxhall’s unfairly overlooked five-door and estate, not to mention the Auris’ replacement all outperformed the Mégane must be frustrating for Renault. Things should improve once the recently announced facelift and the PHEV-powered variants land in dealerships. Even so, it’s hard not to believe that Renault will have pondered why Golf and Polo sales never crash in the final years of their production cycles: styling that doesn’t change too much from generation to generation is surely a major factor.

Inevitably the head of Design will have known that making Clio generation five look as different as possible from what went before would not be desirable. And so far at least, the evolved lines seem to be having great appeal all across Europe.

We won’t know for sure whether a revolutionary Peugeot or an evolved Renault is the true king of the European B segment until both 208 and Clio have had a full year of sales: the 224,659 units of the 208 sold in 2019 included the first generation model, as did the 319,136 Clios.

For comparison’s sake, the Polo found 256,259 buyers during the same period, there were 228,183 Fiestas registered, 224,655 Sanderos, 221,623 Corsas, and the C3 and Yaris battled it out with the Citroen (212,833) just pipping the Toyota (212,526). All these cars were inside the European top 15 best sellers. The next B-hatchback was the Fabia, down in 23rd place on 157,853.

There is much to admire about the new Clio. This 4,048mm long five-door hatchback is also the first Renault for the Alliance’s CMF-B architecture. There won’t be an estate with this BJA series model but a version with raised suspension to take on the Hyundai i20 Active and Ford Fiesta Active shouldn’t be ruled out. 

The big difference with powertrains compared to its Peugeot arch-rival is the approach to electrification: Renault already has the Zoe to compete with the electric Peugeot 208, so instead it will launch a Clio E-Tech (series hybrid) later in 2020. As of right now at least, there are no plans for a Clio E-Tech Plug-in though.

The car Renault lent me was a TCe 130 in R.S. Line trim, that number representing the total horsepower for the Alliance and Daimler’s 1,330cc four-cylinder petrol turbo. Torque is 240Nm and a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox, which is termed an EDC, is standard with this engine, which is familiar from the Kadjar, Mégane and Scénic.

Other powertrains are called SCe 75 (1.0-litre three-cylinder non-turbo, manual, 95Nm), TCe 100 (1.0-litre three cylinder turbo, manual or CVT, 160Nm), or dCi 85 (manual only, 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel, 220Nm). The hybrid was launched at the Brussels motor show in January and will arrive in June. It has two small motors connected to the gearbox, while the electrics are 12V not 48V. The combustion engine is a 140hp 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol, with the 1.2kWh (230V) battery mounted below the boot floor.

Those who’ve always liked the looks – outside and in – will find much to instantly fall for in the fifth generation model. Sit in the car and while you know it’s new, the layout is familiar. That even applies to things like Renault’s audio controls which, like the FCA ones behind the steering wheel spokes on so many of its cars, you feel rather than see. In the Clio’s case, the buttons and twirly dial are still there to the lower right of the steering wheel and once you’ve memorised what each press or pull or turn does, touchscreen alternatives in so many rival cars can lose their appeal.

It’s terrific to see Renault joining BMW and others in retaining physical buttons for the Clio’s cooling and heating options too – how do suppliers somehow convince OEMs that putting these functions onto a screen that means the driver’s eyes are off the road for dangerously long moments is an improvement? Having said that, for certain other functions, what Renault calls its ‘Smart Cockpit’ multimedia screen (standard on S Edition and R.S. Line trims and optional for Iconic) works intuitively, while a ten-inch TFT instrument pack (GBP250) directly ahead of the driver is also clear and not as overloaded as some competitors’ digi screens.

Buyers have the option (GBP150) of jazzing up the interior with a choice of red or orange themed Colour Touch packages. This means additional trim pieces for the centre console, doors and dashboard. You can also specify ambient lighting which comprises eight colour choices.

Pretty much every surface is softly finished – at least in the R.S. Line I drove – and that includes the backs of the front seats. Renault says that means better knee room than the old Clio and certainly I could sit behind myself so to speak, in comfort. Other bonus points should be awarded for a multitude of places to store stuff, the supposed total being 26 litres of space for water bottles, sunglasses, keys, phones and so on. The car also has an especially large boot with a capacity of 391 litres and a two-level floor.

The main production sites for the Clio 5 are Bursa in Turkey and Novo Mesto in Slovakia. Flins, which also made the previous model, builds the car in relatively small volume (<25,000/annum) on a CKD basis. The French plant should instead increasingly become a site for the production of ever more electric vehicles and in high volumes. The Alpine plant in Dieppe will again make the as yet unannounced RS derivative.

In summary, Renault has engineered this new model extremely well and has covered all the powertrain bases too. The handling is also better than the old car in that the steering feels much more accurate so at last, here is a Clio that will appeal to those who had hitherto thought the Polo or Fiesta were best-in-class.

The Clio R.S. Line TCe 130 EDC is priced from GBP20,295. WLTP Combined consumption is 49.6mpg, 0-62mph takes a claimed 9.0 seconds, maximum speed is 124mph and C02 is 118g/km. The Clio range starts at GBP14,695 and there are six trim levels: Play, Edition, Iconic, S Edition, R.S. Line and R.S Line Bose Edition.