HOW DO YOU improve on a good design? Renault designers considered the question as the new Clio evolved from its first sketches in early 1993, to the design freeze in mid-1994.
From the beginning, senior executives saw the Clio as Renault's Golf - a car that would evolve, not change dramatically with each new generation.
'We had to make a car close to the first Clio, but with more equipment,' says design boss Patrick Le Quement.
But while maintaining continuity with the first generation, top management wanted a car with a stronger personality. The continuity is most evident in the front. But the rear and side views of the car reveal a different vehicle.
'We had a clear target,' says Le Quement. 'We wanted a vigorous but not aggressive car, with a shape that creates an impression of solidity and quality.'
Two chief designers had to translate the guidelines into reality. Michel Jardin was responsible for exterior styling, and Anthony Grade for the interior.
'The car had to look bigger on the outside and more roomy inside, with a more friendly, less severe interior,' says Grade.
The new Clio is bigger: it is 110mm longer than its predecessor. The passenger compartment is 30mm higher in the front, and 10mm higher in the back.
On the inside, Grade kept the cockpit simple and ergonomically efficient.
On the outside, Jardin went for circular wheel arches, angular rear side windows, rectilinear shut-lines, and rear panels that describe a quarter circle.
Jardin and Grade drew on Renault concept cars that appeared in 1994 and 1995.
The double-curved rear hatch with its rounded window is the new Clio's signature design cue. The element comes from the Ludo, a city concept car unveiled at the 1994 Paris auto show.
The Clio's basic lines are inspired by the Argos roadster concept shown at the Geneva auto show in 1994. The clearly defined roof surround resembles the Next prototype shown in December 1995.
Le Quement says the new Clio is 'more masculine' than its predecessor. He says it has 'a more determined expression, thanks to taut and controlled lines, flowing and rounded shapes.'
The designers had a hard time selling Renault's top management some of their ideas.
'The rounded rear hatch went through rather uneasily,' says Le Quement. 'I spent a lot of time talking about the products with (President) Louis Schweitzer.'
But Jardin and Grade clearly pleased their superiors: Grade is now head of passenger car design, and Jardin is responsible for concept cars.
Le Quement believes the new Clio reflects the evolution of car design.
'We are on the brink of a greater split between male and female values,' he says. 'Even for family cars like minivans, we are looking for a car which stands firmly on its wheels.'