Renault Clio hybrid prototype review

The hybrid Clio's powertrain is rather restless-feeling, but also quiet and punchy, with good electric running potential

Renault Clio hybrid
Renault Clio hybrid
£18,000 - £22,000
Hybrid

Pros

  • Very quiet
  • Good electric running
  • Comfortable and well equipped

Cons

  • Ride is firm
  • Powertrain feels busy
  • Pricey next to non-hybrid models
Car type Fuel economy CO2 emissions 0-62mph
Hybrid 60mpg (estimated) 90g/km (estimated) 8.5 seconds (estimated)

The Renault Clio needs little introduction; it has been a stalwart of the small-car class for generations. Well, now Nicole and Papa can save a bit on their tax and fuel bills, as Renault has given the car a new hybrid powertrain.
 
Made up of a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine plus two electric motors and a 1.2kWh lithium-ion battery to power them, the Clio’s system is similar in principle and ambition to the familiar Toyota hybrid powertrain. Toyota's Yaris and the recently introduced Honda Jazz are the Clio's only direct rivals for now.

You can’t plug the Clio E-TECH in; it’s not a plug-in hybrid like the Renault Captur E-TECH and Renault Megane E-TECH. The Clio's battery simply harvests energy from regenerative braking and the car’s own forward momentum, which it then uses to run the car on electric power alone up to 40mph.
 
It's a rather different setup to Toyota's, with a clever Formula 1-derived clutchless ‘dog’ gearbox that's complex enough to offer two ratios for the main electric motor and four for the petrol engine, with 15 operating modes in total including the pure-electric mode. Ultimately, you still drive the car with two pedals and you don’t plug it in, so while the engineering may differ, the way you drive and live with the Clio hybrid is the same as any automatic-gearbox petrol or diesel car.

Drive, performance and handling

It's useful to know just how multifaceted the powertrain is, though, as it explains why the system feels rather 'busy'. Left in default ‘My Sense’ hybrid mode, our pre-production test car shuffled restlessly between power sources and ratios. It’s not terribly intrusive; in fact, it’s a seriously quiet powertrain and there’s very little vibration through the pedals. But you can feel the throttle response alter as power modes change, and there are some subdued thumps and the occasional odd gear choice from the automatic box, too.

Having said that, brake feel is good and the Clio is easy to drive smoothly, despite the subtle workings of the powertrain being evident. Its steering has a pleasant, oily smoothness and progression to it and the car feels very tidy through corners.

Given that you can stick the 138bhp Clio E-TECH in Sport mode and enjoy hearty mid-range performance, you can have a bit of fun on a decent road if you want to forget about fuel economy for a few minutes. The ride was a little firm on the 17-inch wheels of our test car, but that's the only price you pay for the spark of flair you get with the Clio’s handling. There's a bit of patter over scruffy town roads, but it’s still more than comfortable enough for easy daily commuting.
 
When you're more intent on saving money at the pumps, you can of course put the Clio into pure-electric mode to get the maximum zero-emissions distance. To maximise the battery charge and electric range (which is only ever a mile or so at most before the petrol engine has to chime in) you nudge the gearlever into ‘B’ mode, which introduces a heavy regenerative braking setting that’s almost strong enough for one-pedal driving in town. It bleeds in smoothly as you modulate the throttle and it’s easy to judge whether you’re going to need the brake pedal or not.

Left in the standard mode, the regenerative braking is mild and feels natural – not dissimilar to conventional engine braking in a non-electrified car. It's all the more impressive, then, that it does seem to harvest a lot of energy and flick into pure-electric mode frequently; more so at high speeds than a Yaris Hybrid does. So, while official fuel economy has yet to be confirmed, we’ve got high hopes for the Clio’s real-world figures. Otherwise, the Clio is a recently introduced model that’s also offered with non-electrified petrol and diesel engines. It's one of the best options in the class thanks to its roomy, smartly finished interior and decent standard equipment.

Practicality and boot

The Clio is only offered as a five-door hatchback, and it’s worth considering over bigger hybrid family cars like the Toyota Corolla if you think you can live with its size, since the Renault still has enough space for a couple of younger children to be comfortable in the back, even on long journeys. At 391 litres, the boot is a reasonable size for a single buggy, too, although the load lip is fairly high and there’s a big drop over to the boot floor, so it’s not the most practical boot for routinely loading heavy stuff into.

Trim levels and specifications

The Clio E-TECH will be offered on all three standard Clio trim levels. Entry-level Play includes LED headlights and daytime running lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, manual air-conditioning, power-adjustable and heated door mirrors, cruise control, electric front windows and automatic lights and wipers. But you should avoid this one if you can, since it gets a lower-spec infotainment system that features a clunky-looking radio, albeit with DAB, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
 
Mid-range Iconic features a seven-inch colour touchscreen with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as rear parking sensors and foglights. Top-spec R.S. Line gets the 9.3-inch version of this system (pictured), as well as 17-inch alloys, more aggressive exterior styling, a plusher-looking interior with contrasting red stitching, upgraded dashboard materials, climate control, rear electric windows and a 10-inch colour digital driver’s readout.

Safety and reliability

All Clio models get six airbags and two sets of ISOFIX points in the back seats, as well as child locks. Autonomous emergency braking that can sense a pedestrian or cyclist is standard, as is lane-departure warning and traffic-sign recognition that shows you what the speed limit is on the driver’s display. Automatic-gearbox Clio models, including the E-TECH, will also be offered with a semi-autonomous driving mode that allows the car to steer itself to stay in lane and keep its distance from the vehicle in front on motorways or in heavy traffic. 

The Clio is certainly a safe car, as borne out by its recent five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating. Renault’s convinced it’ll be reliable, too, as it has now given all of its new cars a five-year/100,000-mile warranty as standard; punchy given the manufacturer’s mid-place finish in the most recent Driver Power owner satisfaction survey.

Verdict

Unfortunately we can’t give a definitive verdict on the Clio E-TECH Hybrid until we’ve got final pricing and efficiency figures – which will, of course, also dictate costs for the company-car drivers that this efficient Clio could well appeal to. If the estimated 90g/km CO2 emissions were to be used as a guide, owners would be looking at a 21% Benefit in Kind (BiK) rating – lower than an equivalent Clio TCe 130 petrol  and enough to sway many towards this electrified model.