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Ask the supermini buyers what they want. They ask for it to be economical, safe, roomy and comfy. At a value price. But actually they’re deluding you - and themselves. Actually what they want above all is a pretty car.

If it’s pretty they’ll forgive flaws elsewhere. If it’s not, many of them will shut their wallets and walk away, however great the economy and safety and space and blah.

So the new Clio goes all-out to be a pretty car. It’s lower and a little longer, giving it an athletic stretch. Sure, there are compromises. The dropped roof costs a bit of headroom, but there’s enough. The boot has an awkward opening. The rear windows are small so it’s tricky to see over your shoulder at junctions and judge the tail when parking.

But you’ll learn to cope with that because you, like me, are vain in your choice of cars. And this one, by looking good, makes you look good.

The front end is like Renault’s Dezir supercar concept. The body sides are sucked in and profiled at the sills, emphasising the big voluptuous shoulders above the wheels. The glass area is shallow and tapered.

Inside, a clean facia puts front-and-centre the tablet-style navigation and phone screen, which comes as standard on most versions. The clocks sit in bold 3D chrome bezels. Big design statements everywhere.

Luckily, under the skin it’s good enough that the affair won’t turn sour. We kicked off in the brand-new 0.9-litre three-cylinder engine. If that sounds feeble, well, at least it has a turbo and manages 90bhp. At low speeds it’s enough, because the new Clio is lighter than the old by about 100kg. It’s sweet and mellow-sounding.

But on a motorway, air drag means you run out of puff. Get shoved into the middle lane uphill, and you’ll need space to regain enough speed to move out again. Still, for most lightly-loaded jobs this engine is a cheerful and economical companion.

The handling feels like it could comfortably use more power. It’s agile and the back end joins in the fun. The steering’s well-weighted and positive, if a little short on feel. The Clio rolls a bit, but it’s up for having a laugh.

The roll is part of the engagingly old-school French character. The ride isn’t over-damped - instead it has a long-wavelength motion to it, and is good and supple (and fairly quiet) over potholes.

So the new Clio has a lightness in its step that the old one missed, and yet it’s still stable enough for motorway and A-road work.

More urge needed? OK, so we swapped into the 1.5DCi diesel. It’s so economical it goes down to a mighty impressive 83g/km. Power - like the petrol - is 90bhp, but it’s torquier. So all-out performance is the same as the petrol but in fifth on the motorway it struggles less. Set against that, it’s noisier in town. Happy to say the extra nose-weight of the a four-pot versus a triple doesn’t muck up the handling.

We need a strong new mainstream supermini. The Fiesta and Polo have had it their way too long. Here’s a proper contender.

Paul Horrell

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