The Clio was introduced at the Paris Motor Show in June 1990 and sales in France and the rest of the continent began then, although sales in Britain did not begin until March 1991. The Clio largely replaced the Renault 5 (which continued to be built in lower volumes until 1994 in Slovenia as a budget alternative). The engine range available at launch included 1.2L and 1.4L E-type "Energy" petrol I4 engines (first seen in the R19) and 1.7L and a 1.9L diesel (both based on the F-type unit) engines. The petrol engines all received an electronic fuel injection system in place of carburettors in 1992, in order to conform to new pollutant emission regulations.
A minor trim facelift occurred after only a year of being on sale. A new "smooth" version of the Renault diamond badge (the previous "ribbed" badge was being phased out at the time) and a new front seat design were the only changes. The altered design did not constitute a new "phase". In March 1993, the Phase 2 model was launched, with small updates to the exterior and interior of the Clio. Most noticeable was the change in the front grille from two metal ribs to a single colour-coded slat grille. The bump strips were made slightly larger and rounder, and the car's trim level badge was incorporated into the bump strips. The badges on the tailgate strip were moved up onto the tailgate itself and the tailgate strip was given a carbon fibre look. The rear light clusters were given a slightly more rounded bubble shape to them, giving the Clio a more modern look. The clusters, however, are physically interchangeable with Phase 1 clusters.
In 1995, with the arrival of the Phase 3 facelifted Clio, the 1.2L Energy engine was replaced by the 1149cc D7F MPi (Multi Point Injection) DiET engine, first used in the Renault Twingo; for some time also, versions were available with the older 1239cc "Cléon" unit from the original Twingo. The cylinder head design on the 1.4L E-Type was also slightly altered for the Phase 3 models in a bid for better fuel economy. This resulted in the engines producing slightly less power than their earlier versions.