Renault's daring new Clio is set to reach South African in the first quarter of 2013 but our UK correspondent has already had a taste..
The Clio has always been an important car for Renault in the UK. The first-generation model burst on to the market with a big advertising campaign that burnt its way into the brains of all who saw it, and even 20 years on, the mere mention of the words “Papa” or “Nicole” is enough to evoke memories of the 1991 car.
Now, at this month's Paris Motor Show, Renault has given the new fourth-generation version of the Clio a big launch, too.
So is the fuss justified? Up to a point, yes. The latest Clio is a stylish thing, bigger and plusher than before. There's no three-door version any more, but the five-door looks like a three-door because it has concealed rear door handles.
On a like-for-like basis, the new car is cheaper too, as prices (in Europe at least, SA still to be confirmed) are lower than those for the old five-door. One impressive development; the new Clio weighs up to 100kg less, a handy response to a close rival, the new Peugeot 208, which is also much lighter than its predecessor.
Under the bonnet, there's a tiny new three-cylinder petrol engine - they're very popular these days - as well as some decent carried over power units, including a reworked 1.5 diesel. And inside, from next year, there will be R-Link - on paper at least, one of the most ambitious efforts yet at integration between smartphones and a car's systems.
On the road, the Clio is smooth and quiet, and the three-cylinder engine is appealing too. It needed to be worked a bit on the Italian mountain roads on which I tested the car, which was fun but probably not great for fuel consumption - although in ECO economy trim, the three scores a very impressive 4.3 litres per 100km and 99g/km in official tests.
But let's return to that big Renault Paris Motor Show stand that put the Clio centre stage. It was flanked by two others that show why this new car isn't quite as important to the company's fortunes as it might once have been.
To the right, the stand of Renault's strategic-alliance partner Nissan; the two companies increasingly pool technology so it's the sales performance of their so-called B platform, which the Clio shares with some 20 other models, that's important for economies of scale - not just the sales of the Clio alone.
And to the left, the stand of Renault's Romanian budget brand, Dacia. Dacias haven't previously been seen in Britain but they will arrive here in January. Dealers, hit by a recent pruning of the Renault range in the UK that has dispensed with the Wind, the Laguna and the Espace, can hardly wait to get their hands on them.
One of the first Dacias to go on sale here will be a smallish five-door hatchback, more conservatively styled than the Clio, but a lot cheaper too - it's called the Sandero (the previous generation is currently on sale in South Africa).
That means the biggest threat to the Clio's success may come not from Peugeot, Volkswagen, Kia and the rest, but from a car most UK buyers haven't even heard of yet that will be sold from the same showrooms - and I'm sure Renault will be very pleased to sell you either of them. -The Independent