First drive: 2019 Renault Clio prototype

The fifth-generation Renault Clio will go on sale in October – and we’ve had a chance to have a first drive in a late pre-production prototype.

It was at a test track in France, alongside engineers from the project, and they were pretty brief stints in early cars, bagged up with disguises inside and out. But there are things worth telling you.

For one, you can look past the camouflage, because we’ve since seen the new Clio internally and externally. It’s rather evolutionary on the outside – this being design chief Laurens van den Acker’s second time designing a Clio – but very different inside.

Improvements in material choice are the biggest news; surfaces within reach of the driver are typically soft-touch. And Renault has made what van den Acker calls a “mature” choice to keep some controls – the heating system and such like – away from the central infotainment touchscreen, which will be standard. That’s an idea we like.

The new Clio is shorter than the current model but only by 14mm, so at 4048mm long, it’s pretty much the class-average size. The body-in-white of the new CMF-B platform, which the Clio is the first Renault to use, is 22kg lighter than current car’s, and the new architecture will allow the introduction of a mild hybrid powertrain in 2020.

But so far, we’ve tried the 99bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol, the 129bhp 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol and the 114bhp 1.5-litre diesel the car will be launched with.

The 1.0 feels smooth and drives through its five-speed manual pleasingly, with a slightly thrummy noise as you rev it out. The 1.3 can be had with a manual or a seven-speed dual clutch automatic ‘box, as was fitted to our test car. It’s a quieter engine, and the ‘box likes to keep it that way if it’s left to its own devices. The diesel motor, with a six-speed manual ‘box, is heavier and therefore makes the Clio feel less agile.

It’s hard to tell too much from a brief steer, but there’s a maturity to the Clio’s driving experience that feels pitched somewhere between the agility of the Ford Fiesta and the stolid demeanour of the Volkswagen Polo.

More reviews will come in June, when we’ll have a go behind the wheel of a finished model. But this drive, matched with the newfound interior quality, suggests there’s promise.