Renault Clio TCE Expression +

Engine: 900cc, three cylinders, turbocharged
Top speed: 113mph
Price: £12,995
Power: 90bhp at 5250rpm
Fuel/CO2: 62.8mpg, 105g/km

Remember when small French hatches were joyous liffle vehicles, brimming with character and a riot to drive? I cut my motoring teeth in an era of Peugeot 205s, Citroen AXs and Renault 5s and loved the lot. Now look: the 208 is improving but still an also-ran, the Citroen C3 is ufferly mediocre and the Renault Clio as dull now as this generation has always been.

What hope, then, for the next Clio? It is almost as if Renault saw the pit into which it was falling, flung out an arm at the last moment and heaved its way back not simply to credibility, but to somewhere closer to excellence. The new Clio, when flffed with a terrific 900cc turbo petrol threecylinder engine, is one of those cars you don’t need to analyse area by area. You get in it, you drive it, you like it. It’s that simple.

If you want specifics, the new engine is a marvel, the chassis as sparkling as the old one was dull and the looks a French classic. The quality is there too. It bodes extremely well for the new RenaultSport version. I didn’t enjoy hearing that it will now use a 1.6-litre turbo in place of a normally aspirated 2-litre motor and liked even less the news that it will be paddle-shift only. But if the same people who turned the dull old Clio into the scintillating RenaultSpoit for the current generation are let loose on this new one, the result may yet be a landmark for fans of fast French hatches.