Paris Motor Show - It may not be the sexiest car on the Renault stand at the 2012 edition of France's premier motor show but it is arguably the most important.
Renault's Clio hatch has sold almost 12 million cars through three incarnations since 1990 and La Regie is looking to the fourth-generation Clio - set to be launched in South Africa in the first half of 2013 - to continue as the company's rainmaker.
The Clio 4 showcases Renault's new design philosophy which places the emphasis on simplicity, warmth and sensuality, starting at the front with a bold Renault logo, set upright against a gloss black background - as seen on the DeZir concept car - with chrome detailing in the headlight clusters and LED daytime running lights.
The new Clio will be available only in five-door format, but with a coupé-like silhouette accentuated by integrated rear door handles concealed close to the rear quarter lights. A steeply raked windscreen helps, as does the improved glass / body ratio from the side (one-third and two-thirds respectively).
It's 4062mm long, 1732mm wide (excluding mirrors) and 1448mm tall; front and rear track have been widened by 34mm and 36mm respectively and the new Clio sits 45mm closer to the ground than its predecessor.
Sharing the limelight on the Renault stand is the Clio 4 Estate which, sadly, won't be coming to South Africa.
The Estate's wheelbase is identical to that of the hatchback, but rear overhang has been extended by 201mm to 823mm, for an overall length of 4262mm.
Its profile features a long bonnet and pronounced rear shoulders, while its lines stretch back to an upright tailgate and, as on the hatchback, the rear door handles are concealed. The B and C pillars, which are flush with the surface of the glass, make the roof appear to float.
The Estate's luggage capacity is 430 litres (130 more than the hatch) and its loading sill is noticeably lower. With the rear seats folded, the floor is absolutely flat and even the front passenger seat can be folded to accommodate long thin items.
Renault says its first three-cylinder petrol engine, a punchy 900cc turbo rated for 66kW at 5250rpm, is the equivalent of a normally-aspirated 1.4-litre four, but at a cost of only 4.3 litres per 100km and 99g/km of CO2.
A low-inertia turbo delivers a claimed 135Nm at 2500rpm, with 120Nm available from just off idle at 1650rpm for sprightly acceleration, while idle stop and energy recovery under braking contribute to economical running.
The engine noise has been carefully tuned to sound like a six-cylinder engine under acceleration and, thanks to a balance shaft, it cruises quietly with almost no vibration.
The bigger option for the Clio 4 is an 85kW, direct-injection, 1.2-litre turbopetrol four that delivers a claimed 190Nm from 2000rpm.
It's mated to Renault's first dual-clutch transmission to deliver claimed fuel consumption one-third less than the previous 1.6-litre automatic.
Every version of Clio 4 has anti-lock braking with electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist, an electronic stability programme with traction control, and more direct electric power steering for car-park manoeuvrability.
Standard kit also includes cruise control with speed limiter and 'freeway-mode' indicators, which produce three flashes when preparing to overtake by lightly moving the indicator stalk.
The Clio 4 is an entirely keyless car. Instead there's an electronic card that locks and unlocks the doors and allows the engine to be started without the driver removing the card from his or her pocket, bag or wallet.
Classic French design, combining style with function, shows through in the cabin layout, from the dashboard in the shape of an aircraft wing, to the packaging of the multimedia systems in the centre console and the availability of stowage space throughout the cabin.
The Clio 4 introduces a new level of connectivity, called (rather unimaginatively) R-link, and sound quality, thanks to a new bass reflex system.
Available as an option, R-Link is based on a 180mm touchscreen display using intuitive voice commands and a personalised home page for safe, simple access to key functions, without the driver having to take his or her eyes off the road.
A menu with six icons provides access to the six main functions: Navigation, Multimedia, Phone, Vehicle, Services and System. It's linked to TomTom navigation including Live, the market's best real-time traffic information service.
A connection with the car's own electronic system accesses an eco-driving function that analyses the driver's behaviour and advise on reducing fuel consumption.
Users can easily view or download a selection of apps from their car by accessing the automobile world's first evolving Application Store, or communicate via e-mails, social networking and web navigation.
R-Link provides access to practical information such as phone numbers, Yellow Pages, hotels, restaurants, multi-mode journey planning, public transport, insurance options and service monitoring via the owners' manual pages.
It can also be controlled using voice commands to dictate the address of a destination for navigation purposes, for example, or to call up different functions using instructions such as 'telephone', 'apps' or 'send an e-mail', while the text-to-speech function reads messages or RSS feeds out loud.
All versions of Clio 4 with R-Link will also have 3D sound by Arkamys, adding depth and texture to listening pleasure thanks to spatial positioning of the sound. Drivers can even select where the sound is to be directed in the cabin: for their ears only, for front occupants only or for all occupants.
R-Link also makes it possible to fit an optional reversing camera in the middle of the rear Renault logo. The image is shown on the multimedia screen, overlaid with a steering guide, in tandem with parking sensors .
All Clio 4 models come with a bass reflex system in the front doors that uses ports in the enclosure to deliver more powerful bass frequencies with less distortion.