It's impossible to overestimate the importance of this new, fourth-generation Renault Clio.
The outgoing model is one of the few Renaults still held in high regard by UK buyers, so if the new version flops, it could sound the death knell for the company on these shores.
Success certainly won't come easy because the Peugeot 208, VW Polo and freshly updated Ford Fiesta are all available for similar money.
Fortunately for Renault, the new Clio has a lot more appeal than its predecessor, thanks to sharper styling and the promise of lower running bills.
What's the 2013 Renault Clio like to drive?
Eventually, there will be a wide range of engines to choose from, including a special eco version of Renault's 1.5-litre diesel that averages 88.3mpg and emits just 83g/km of CO2, and a 1.6-litre turbo petrol for the Renaultsport hot hatch.
For now, though, we've driven only the regular 1.5-litre diesel and 89bhp 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol.
The petrol sounds a bit clattery at tickover, but little mechanical vibration seeps through into the cabin. Once settled at a steady pace you'll struggle to tell it apart from a more cultured four-cylinder engine.
It picks up revs smoothly, too, and there's a decent amount of punch when the turbo comes in at around 2500rpm. However, throw in a few inclines and you'll need to be smart with your downshifts to maintain swift progress.
The 1.5 diesel is quite a bit pricier, which limits its appeal. That's a shame because its 162lb ft of torque, willingness to rev and smooth mechanical refinement really suit the new Clio.
The chassis is a development of the outgoing model's, albeit with a wider track to improve grip and quicker steering to sharpen turn-in to corners.
It's the weighting of the steering that's most improved, though; while the previous Clio's felt excessively light in town and vague on faster roads, the new model's set-up is meatier and more consistent.
The new Clio might not offer the supreme handling precision of a Fiesta, but it can still be made to flow through a series of bends with enough vitality to put a smile on your face.
Motorway stability is also impressive, and the Clio soaks up bumps and potholes much more effectively than a Peugeot 208. However, the ride is little unsettled compared with a Fiesta's or a Polo's, and more wind- and road noise enters the Clio's cabin at speed.
What's the 2013 Renault Clio like inside?
Where the previous Clio's cabin was about as welcoming as a damp coalbunker, this new model is much more inviting.
There are several eye-catching embellishments worthy of note, including colour-coded steering wheel inserts and flashy chrome-ringed instruments.
Higher-spec cars also get a central touch-screen that shamelessly pays homage to the latest generation of portable tablets.
We're not normally fans of touch-screens in cars – they tend to be fiddly to use on the move – but the Clio's has large, spot-at-a-glance icons and is quick to respond, so it's surprisingly simple to navigate.
Just as well really, because you control the stereo, phone and navigation systems through the system, and can even download apps.
It's a shame the interior plastics are mostly hard and cheap-feeling, but Renault's efforts to liven things up makes this more forgivable.
The latest Clio has grown in every direction, so there's now enough space inside for four adults to get comfortable. What's more, all models come with a height- and reach-adjustable steering wheel; in the previous Clio this important feature was reserved for pricier trims.
The boot is a decent size at 300 litres, and the rear seats split and fold 60/40, although this does leave a pronounced step in the extended load floor.
This latest Clio will be offered as a five-door only, with the rear door handles hidden high up in the rear window frames.
Should I buy one?
This is without doubt the classiest Clio ever. It feels solidly built, is good to drive and that flash-looking interior design leaves the VW Polo looking like a gramophone player sitting alongside an iPod.
True, the Clio will cost you more than the Polo in the long term due to its weaker resale values, while both the Polo and the Fiesta are more comfortable and refined.
However, the Clio is a better all-rounder than most other rivals, so it's definitely worth a look.
What Car? says...
Engine size 0.9 T
Price from £12,995
Torque 100lb ft
Top speed 113mph
Fuel economy 62.8mpg
CO2 g/km 104g/km
Engine size 1.5 TD
Price from £14,095
Torque 162lb ft
Top speed 111mph
Fuel economy 78.5mpg
By Steve Huntingford and Will Nightingale
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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