Europe’s top-selling supermini will return with dramatic interior changes and advanced technology to bring the fight to the Ford Fiesta

Renault is readying the fifth-generation Clio, ahead of its launch early next year.

Design boss Laurens van Den Acker confirmed the supermini’s launch date to Autocar in September, and now, these new images show that the final stages of prototype testing are underway in southern Europe.

Den Acker also said the design was signed off. “It’s finished, it’s done, it’s dusted. It will be shown early next year. It’s going to be great. It has to be. It will be the best Clio we’ve ever done.”

The Clio will distinguish itself from rivals by being one of the most technologically advanced models in its class when it launches in 2019. The move is part of a bid by the French car maker to keep its supermini at the forefront of the sector, especially in the face of increasing competition from compact SUVs, to which traditional small cars are starting to lose out.

A multi-talented contender that can stand comparison with the best superminis on the roads today, even if it isn't quite the best

Van den Acker said criticism of current Renault interiors has prompted his team to focus on that area for future models. “interior-wise we try to make the difference. “That’s really where we’ve been criticised in the last few years, and we’re trying to create a very coherent concept.”

The next Clio (imagined by Autocar below) is set to marry a honed exterior look with a dramatic new interior dominated by a Tesla-style infotainment screen. It will also be capable of semi-autonomous driving.

The exterior styling will be evolutionary, keeping elements such as rear door handles hidden in the door frames, albeit with a more grown-up look in line with the Mégane. It’s also expected to take design cues from the Symbioz concept car, shown last year.

The interior will echo the Mégane, taking a leap away from traditional hardware to a large digital dashboard and tablet-style infotainment screen. This will set it apart from rivals such as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, which have smaller, more traditional touchscreens.

The new Clio is built on the CMF-B platform, an updated version of that used on the existing model and shared with the Nissan Micra.

It will use 1.0-litre and 1.3-litre petrol engines, the latter developed with Mercedes, as well as a 1.5-litre diesel with up to 115bhp. A 48V mild hybrid 1.5 dCi, badged Eco2, is planned but won’t be available at launch. A plug-in model is understood to be due in 2020.

Last year, Renault boss Carlos Ghosn announced the French car maker would launch eight electric vehicles in the next five years. However, a fully electric variant of the Clio is not expected to be one of them.

That’s because Renault executives are worried it would steal sales from its existing Zoe electric supermini. The Zoe was the best-selling electric car in Europe in 2017.

There will be a new Clio RS, though. The hot range-topper will be unveiled in 2020. The current model is in run-out, with Renault recently releasing the limited-edition RS18 as its swansong before the next generation arrives.

The next Clio RS could carry over the 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine of the current car, but it is understood to be more likely to adopt the 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine from the new Mégane RS, but with less power.

Volkswagen followed a similar strategy by using a detuned Golf GTI engine in the recently launched Polo GTI.

The other key advancement is autonomous technology, not often found in this segment. The Clio is due to feature level one and level two autonomy, shared with vehicles from partner brand Nissan (and demonstrated in the Symbioz concept, pictured below).

Level one means it will have the latest safety systems such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, increasingly popular in larger cars, but level two is the biggest step change: the Clio will have hands-off capability (although using it remains illegal), being able to park and keep in lane by itself.

Although UK consumers continue to buy far more Fiestas than Clios, the Clio is easily the best-selling supermini in Europe, despite being six years old. According to figures from analyst firm Jato, it sold 327,395 units last year, compared with the 272,061 units of the second-placed Polo. Globally, the Clio is in fourth place, beaten by the Polo, Fiesta and Suzuki Swift, mainly due to more modest sales outside Europe.

That can be partially explained by the popularity in developing markets such as Latin America and India of its cheaper sibling, the Dacia Sandero, which is fifth globally.

Although Clio sales have held strong and the broader supermini market is still growing, its biggest threat comes from compact SUVs. With the arrival to the segment of VW Group brands such as Seat, Skoda and VW, as well as Hyundai and Kia, there will be increasingly more small SUV sales, which, in turn, will stall those of superminis.

After its reveal early next year, the Clio will go on sale by the summer. Prices are expected to rise over the current model, which kicks off at £12,450, but remain cheaper than the Fiesta, which starts at £13,715. 

Old rivals, new battle lines: 

The battle between the previous-generation Fiesta, replaced last year, and the outgoing Clio was always closely fought. Not least because of the Clio’s ability to transition from comfy cruiser to enjoyably adept back-road steer.

Ford has recently updated the Fiesta and improved the recipe in several areas. How should Renault respond? When launched, the current Clio was unusually refined for its class and Renault would do well to prioritise the development of that particular characteristic.

But surpassing the Fiesta as an all-round package would almost certainly involve firming up the suspension.

Do they jeopardise the new Clio’s comfort to realise Fiesta-like dynamics, or are they brave enough to continue to plough their own very comfortable and refined furrow?

That’s the conundrum facing Renault’s engineers.

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