The tight and twisty roads of the north eastern corner of Sardinia made an ideal proving ground for the new Renault Clio III model range, of which all but the base and top end diesel derivatives are destined for South Africa,
The range consists of three petrol engines and one diesel; three and five door body styles, two specification levels and one automatic gearbox option for the 1.6-litre version.
Throughout the range it is immediately apparent just how much difference a few mm can make in automobile design, the added length and width of the new Clio giving the car much more road presence than its predecessor in the form of tauter handling and crisper turn-in to corners.
The short from and rear overhangs mean the car be precisely positioned, whether just parking or really pressing it to its limits.
Inside, the tidy dashboard layout and comfortable positioning of all relevant controls means the driver is never hunting for information of forced to divert attention from the road to operate any of the switches or vehicle functions.
Seats, both those upholstered in leather and the more basic cloth trim, offer a firm, yet comfortable hold on the driver and, coupled to multi-adjustment along with the variable height and reach positioning of the steering wheel, makes for a driving position free of fatigue even over long distances.
The base model of the range is the 1.2-litre.
In Clio III the power output remains the same as the existing model, but spec levels are improved to separate it from the Clio II models remaining behind in the Va Va Voom guise.
Even with the fairly limited power output of the 1.2-litre engine, this new version benefits by overall improvements to the suspension and revised front end aerodynamics, making less work of climbs and burbling along quite happily at what would be commuter speeds in any big city.
Renault's 1.4-litre engine continues to impress and, in Clio III, will almost certainly find favour with many fleet managers and user choosers keen to maximise on its fuel efficient nature as well as its gutsy performance characteristics.
The 1.6-litre derivative adds to this with its free-revving nature and fairly punchy performance.
Now, with the benefit of the handling improvements, this is a car destined to take on Golf V and other top end 1.6-litre offerings on the market.
The automatic version is capable and comes with a manual mode for more spirited driving when required.
However, the star of the show is the almost-silent 1.5-litre diesel engine that combines torque and power into a package ideal for commuters in the morning traffic and absolutely glorious on the long haul on open roads.
With expected consumption overall around 4.6 litres/100 km it makes great sense.
With Clio III now just a smidgen smaller than Megane, the additional leg and boot space move this car up a notch into a very heavily contested arena - the final scorecards from NAAMSA will be interesting once the car is launched.
Clio III in detail
With a length of 3.99m, the third generation Clio is not only bigger but according to the French carmaker it also ensures better interior space for passengers, both in three- and five-door format.
The Clio III is based on the Renault-Nissan Alliance-developed B platform. It shares its suspension with that of Megane II, while the new model's handling is nicely balanced due to its long wheelbase, wide track and low centre of gravity.
For its launch, Clio III will be available with a choice of petrol and Euro 4 compliant diesel engines.
The petrol engine range comprises a 1.2-litre, a 1.4-litre 16V and a 1.6-litre 16V, while the 1.5-litre dCi diesel engine comes in a choice of three power outputs: 51 kW, 62 kW and 77 kW.
Renault's safety intention for the Clio III is of course to obtain the highest Euro NCAP rating.
It is delivered as standard with Generation 8 Bosch ABS plus electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assist (EBA).
The new car is also available with the electronic stability programme (ESP) incorporating ASR traction control, UCL understeer control and MSR engine torque overrun regulation.
Along with Modus, Clio III is the first car in its segment to offer additional cornering headlamps, while double distance xenon headlamps are also available for enhanced night-time visibility. Clio III's passive safety features stem from a particularly demanding brief that mirrors Renault's commitment and expertise in this domain.
The car's structure includes a number of programmed deformation zones and has been designed to function with the occupant restraint equipment championed by Renault's third-generation System for Restraint and Protection.
This includes up to eight airbags, including two adaptive front airbags complete with load limiter and double pre-tensioners for the front seats.
Petrol engine details
55kW at 5 500 r/min
105Nm at 4 250 r/min
72 kW at 5 750 r/min
127 Nm at 4 250 r/min
1.6 16V 82kW
82kW at 6 000 r/min
151Nm at 4 250 r/min