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A favourite gets a full makeover
Renault Clio. Supplied picture

I'm often asked which cars I've enjoyed most in a decade of testing about 100 models a year.

No one's surprised when I trot out cars with Italian brand names that begin with and F, L or M. Or a Brit with the initials AM.

But they are taken aback when I say: "A Clio, sport."

Well, actually I mean the Renault Clio Sport.

But someone recently misunderstood my answer, apparently thinking I talked like Paul Hogan.

In November 2004, my Christmas came early with the gift of a diminutive Clio Sport for a test drive.

I called it the mouse that roared for the throaty exhaust notes that emanated from such a small, understated package.

"Driving it was like being on a ride at the Royal Show - something like the Wild Mouse - where the thrill never waned," I also wrote.

The beauty of the Clio Sport (now called the RS 200 Cup) is the connection and involvement the driver feels even at slow speeds in heavy suburban traffic.

You don't get that in bigger performance cars.

The Clio range also came with cheaper, lower-powered versions, but Renault stopped importing them in 2007.

This left in our market just the RS 200 Cup version, at $34,990. A trickle seller at such a tag, as nice a drive as it is.

The good news is that the new-generation Clio range is set to return to Australia with much edgier looks, lighter prices and lots of clever technology.

The stunning looker will make its first public outing at Paris' motor show in September and arrive here next winter, with the RS version due in 2014.

Buyers likely to look at the new-generation Clio would probably also consider other Europeans, such as the Volkswagen Polo, or coming Peugeot 208.

But the Clio's expected $16,000-$17,000 start point should also catch the attention of those eyeing Japanese and Korean wares.

Like Korean rivals, the Kia Rio and Hyundai i20, the Clio will come with a five-year warranty.

It eases the anxiety of straying from the safety of a Japanese or Korean purchase.

Readers shouldn't write off the new Clio's entry petrol model just because it seems to have shed a cylinder and a bundle of cubic centimetres.

There's a whole new world of tiny-yet-brilliant motors out there and this 900cc three-cylinder job is one of them.

In Australia, we'll just have to get our heads around the low numbers and look at the outcomes instead.

Sure, the engine's 66kW output sounds miserable but it's a high-tech unit and the 135Nm of torque will help. Keep in mind, too, that the car's been on a radical 100kg weight loss program, the equivalent of ejecting Matthew Pavlich or Nic Natanui from the cabin.

So it will go all right.

Definitely all right will be the fuel bill, with 4.3L/100km usage.

Next up will be a 88kW/190Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder model with a six-speed dual-clutch auto.

Least slurpy of this very unslurpy trio will be a diesel, whose 1.5-litre engine will exist on 3.2L/100km.

High-tech Clio elements will include a 7-inch inbuilt iPad-like touchscreen that can link to Renault's app store.

The apps include sat-nav, an eco-driving mentor and - how about this for fun - the choice of faux engine sounds played through the audio system.

You could even make the 900cc model roar. Internet and speech-to-text functions are highlights of the infotainment system, branded R-Link.

Like Mini, which has perfected the art of selling customisation, Renault will offer myriad colours, fabrics and touches to make your Clio look individual.

And as chic as Cleo, perhaps.