Renault Clio E-TECH hybrid review
|Car type||Fuel economy||CO2 emissions||0-62mph|
Superminis are gradually going hybrid: after a number of years of this technology being a rarity in the small-car class, several electrified models are now starting to appear. In the Japanese corner, the latest incarnations of the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz have arrived in 2020, and now their long-time rival the Renault Clio has been given a hybrid powertrain.
It wears the same 'E-TECH' badging as the Renault Captur SUV and Renault Megane estate hybrids, but unlike those two larger models, it's not a plug-in. Made up of a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine plus two electric motors and a 1.2kWh lithium-ion battery, the Clio’s 138bhp system is similar in principle and ambition to the familiar Toyota hybrid. The Renault will emit 99g/km of CO2, with fuel economy of just over 64mpg; figures just slightly behind the Yaris, but slightly better than the Honda.
It's a rather different setup to Toyota's, with a clever Formula 1-derived clutchless 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.
Instead of being plugged in to charge, 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 for short distances, at speeds up to 40mph. Although you won't see extended periods of pure-electric running, Renault says the Clio hybrid can be in electric mode for up to 80% of the time over the course of a typical urban journey.
On the road, the system does work best at low speeds. It always starts up in electric mode and the engine only comes into play when needed – if you press the accelerator sharply or are tackling a steep hill, for example. You can prevent it coming into play at all by hitting the 'EV' button on the dashboard, but this will only last for a few miles at most before the battery is depleted. The good news is that the transition from electric to petrol power and back again is very smooth when you're just gently pootling around.
Ask for strong acceleration, though, and the picture is less rosy. You can sense a lot of restless shuffling around as that complex gearbox decides what to do, and although it's not necessarily slower to make up its mind than a conventional petrol car with an automatic gearbox, it's disappointing for those used to the instant response of electric and plug-in hybrid models.
If you can put up with this, however, you'll be rewarded with real-world fuel economy that gets very close to the official claims; we saw 61.4mpg on our 50-mile test route, having started with just 30% battery capacity. Plus, when it comes to steering, handling and ride quality, it's as good as any other Clio; not quite up to the Ford Fiesta's benchmark, perhaps, but very impressive nonetheless.
Inside, the cabin is the same stylish and high-quality affair introduced with the latest-generation Clio in 2019, while on the practicality front, you get the same 300-litre boot capacity as a purely petrol Clio, despite the presence of the battery pack, which is mounted low under the floor.
The price premium over a non-hybrid Clio isn't shocking: you're looking at about £700 more than the TCe 130 petrol automatic, while the fact that the E-TECH drivetrain is available across the full range of Play, S-Edition and RS Line trim levels (priced at £19,595, £21,595 and £22,095 respectively) also helps.
So with that excellent real-world fuel economy, stylish exterior and interior, unchanged practicality and decent driving experience, the Clio E-TECH hybrid is definitely a very strong contender among the small but growing crop of electrified superminis. Keen drivers may prefer the more straightforward purely petrol engine, but there's no doubt the hybrid will win many fans.