Ever since Renault first introduced to Nicole and Papa, the Clio became a household name and has gone on to be a constant sight on our roads. Over 30 years have passed since it first debuted and now the latest generation, the hatchback is getting with the times and offering a hybrid variant to help reduce local emissions and bolster fuel economy figures.
While it’s true that the fifth-gen Clio looks quite similar to the previous version, it does have several positive improvements when you start digging a little deeper. The new platform that the Clio sits on is not only lighter in weight but provides improvements to interior passenger space. Two adults will easily fit into the rear without much complaint about head or legroom.
Moving further inside the car highlights how much Renault has pulled its socks up, as the cabin is now not only better designed but features a more practical layout and a significant upswing in overall quality of the materials used. Items like the free-standing tablet-style 9.3-inch touchscreen display look impressive, and it supports smartphone integration such as Apple CarPlay. This display is standard on the S Edition version, while the mid-level Iconic model gets a smaller 7-inch display.
A part-digital instrument display consists of a 7-inch screen that presents all the relevant info in a clear and easy-to-read layout, with a battery state of charge indicator on the left and fuel level on the right. The digital speedometer is easy to read at a glance, and there’s a bright green ‘EV’ that flashes up to indicate when the car switches to battery power.
One of the only downsides to the hybrid version is that the battery does reduce the boot capacity from 391 litres to 301 litres. However, that still leaves it one whole litre better than the previous non-hybrid Clio and places it ahead of rivals like the Nissan Micra and Ford Fiesta for boot space.
As soon as you thumb the Start button, the Clio comes to life, and it usually moves away in near-silence by using the electric motor. One of the trick parts of the hybrid is the transmission. Unlike other hybrid models that use a CVT setup, often resulting in high-revving engines that don’t correlate with forward momentum, the Clio uses a gearbox that doesn’t have a clutch. Instead, it relies on two electric motors, the smaller of which controls the flywheel and starts the engine. Renault also uses the electric motor for reversing, so in all, there are only four gears, but thanks to intelligent drive modes, it can vary how it utilises power.
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is set up to work at its optimum performance at all times, meaning that sometimes it will directly power the car while at other times it is used to generate energy for the battery. How all of that tech translates into the driving experience is pretty decent, as the Clio can zip away reasonably quickly from the lights thanks to the electric shove and transitions between motors in a very smooth way. In fact, at times you can hardly notice it occurring, thus making the Clio feel more refined.
The battery aspect of the Clio’s powertrain is a modest 1.2kWh unit that when fully charged can provide enough electrical energy to power the car for up to 1.3 miles in our experience. However, purely electric running isn’t the main focus of this Clio E-Tech. Instead, it’s more about its ability to alternate between electric and petrol propulsion. According to Renault, it can spend up to 80 per cent of the time during an urban journey in electric mode. That includes being stationary in traffic and at traffic lights, but it all goes towards cutting down on fuel consumption and local emissions, both of which are good things.
What’s equally surprising about the Clio E-Tech is how it frequently switches into its electric ‘EV’ mode when driving even at higher motorway speeds. Granted, it can’t sustain pure electric driving for very long, but it highlights how you don’t have to be crawling slowly between traffic lights in town to get the benefit of the electric motors working.
Many electric car drivers often talk about ‘one-pedal driving’, whereby they rarely use the brakes as the energy recovery of the electric motor slows the car sufficiently. It’s a similar scenario here with the Clio, as the Gallic hatchback does an excellent job of automatically shaving off speed as it shoves electrons back into the battery. For an even more significant effect, there is a ‘B’ mode that is selectable, and this further increases the rate of energy recovery. However, for most day-to-day driving, leaving it in ‘D’ mode is sufficient. Both road noise and ride quality are above average for the segment, and the Renault rides decently across a variety of surfaces. The steering is on the light side, but it still manages to provide an adequate degree of feedback to ensure you always feel in control.
As it stands, the Clio E-Tech Hybrid does carry a price premium of around £500 over its nearest non-hybrid equivalent. But the prospect of what you could theoretically save on fuel over an ownership period, not to mention the added refinement that comes from the hybrid system, soon justifies the cost. As small hatchbacks go, the Clio E-tech does a very good job of providing the kind of drive one might expect to find in a class size above, and for those that can’t or don’t want to plug in their cars, it’s a good
Model: Renault Clio E-tech
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol with electric motor
Power: 138bhp system maximum
Torque: 144Nm (engine) & 250Nm electric motor
0-62mph: 9.9 seconds
Max speed: 112mph
WLTP fuel consumption: 64.2mpg
WLTP CO2: 99g/km