► 2020 Renault Clio E-Tech hybrid first drive
► F1 tech maximises fuel economy
► Priced from £19,595, in dealers October 2020
Europe finally has a small hybrid hatchback to take on the Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris, and it’s smooth, economical and perky to drive: take a bow, Renault Clio E-Tech. The hybrid Clio, which throws lashings of Formula 1 tech at the problem of how to make a baby hybrid responsive and frugal, is on sale now priced from £19,595 with deliveries from October 2020. Read on for the full review.
Formula 1 tech! Pull the other one…
Sometimes car maker marketing claims get a bit out of hand. But Renault vows the engineers have gone to school on learnings from its Formula1 team, and there is some similarity in their hybrid approaches and desire to wring the maximum out of the different power sources. In addition to the Clio’s petrol engine (displacing 1.6 litres but with four cylinders and natural aspiration rather than F1’s 850bhp turbo V6!), the Clio E-Tech deploys two electric motors and a multi-mode, clutchless dog gearbox.
A contemporary F1 car also has a dog ’box (so named because of the long, dog-ear-shaped teeth that ring each cog and can tolerate rapid, violent shifts), and two electric circuits (one recovering heat waste, the other recycling kinetic energy from braking) to charge the battery and provide power boosts.
The Clio E-Tech has the same goal with two, differently sized electric motors, which recuperate energy and boost power like an F1 car, but put more emphasis on fuel efficiency. The Clio’s smaller electric motor does the work of an alternator, starting the car as well as smoothing gearchanges, while the bigger e-motor musters 48bhp to help propulsion, and channels recuperated energy to the 1.2kWh battery. That’s a smaller capacity battery than in Renault’s new plug-in hybrid Captur and Megane, which consequently have a bigger pure electric range of around 30 miles.
While the Clio E-Tech can run on purely electric power in short spurts, the motor’s priority is to boost torque delivery and take the strain off the petrol engine, to minimise fuel consumption: the official mpg figure is 64.2mpg, with 98-99g/km of CO2 emissions depending on spec. That compares with 62.1mpg and 73.9mpg for the slower and less punchy TCe 100 petrol and dCi 85 diesel respectively.
Enough tech and spec! How does it drive?
The hybrid Clio always pulls away snappily in electric mode – an upside of having a clutchless transmission – before the engine murmurs into life once your speed hits the teens. The overarching sensation is how intuitive and seamless the computer-controlled driving experience is. Simply select D, and the Clio drives like any two-pedal car: all you need do is accelerate and brake.
It’s that simple, which is in contrast to the instrument panel’s graphical display – a triangulation of battery, e-motor and engine – which shows the hyperactive system’s flow of energy. One second the engine might be powering the wheels via the fixed-ratio gearbox, then the e-motor is, then both, then you might relax the accelerator and energy is harvested: there’s always something going on, but it’s testimony to the powertrain’s sophisticated integration that this complexity is typically hard to spot during a smooth driving experience.
You can also select B – or Brake – mode with the transmission selector, which increases the level of regeneration the battery can accommodate. Supposedly this mimics the ‘one-pedal’ feel of some pure electric cars, where a mere lift results in dramatic deceleration, but that’s an exaggeration in the E-Tech Clio: relaxing off the accelerator makes the car slow a tad more vigorously, but it’s a pretty mild difference.
Stings like a butterfly – unless you’re in Sport mode
The accelerator pedal has a distinct stepped feel, keeping enthusiastic drivers’ right feet in check unless they kick down. This musters sufficient urge for an overtake if you’ve got a decent run-up: for guidance, the 0-62mph acceleration run takes 9.9sec. But the Clio is really a town car with a big emphasis on fuel efficiency: in urban conditions, the hybrid will run on electric power 80% of the time, Renault says.
Using the My Sense button to trigger Sport mode makes the accelerator livelier, with the engine becoming more free-revving in tandem with maximum electric boosting. But this is a supermini not a supercar: it’s more satisfying driving to keep the digital power meter in blue (for regen) or green (for eco or electric driving), and seeing the EV light flicker on and off – especially driving through pretty Buckinghamshire villages, knowing your emissions are as muzzled as possible. Even at 50-60mph, you’ll still see that telltale EV-only sign flickering occasionally, when you’re cruising steadily.
Over the mixed, 38-mile test route with a few Sport mode bursts, the Clio E-Tech returned a thrifty 58.8mpg. And it consumed 2.8kWh of electricity on average, showing an ability to recuperate about five times the capacity of its 1.2kWh battery.
What about the rest of the driving experience?
Apart from reversing solely under electric power, it’s trademark Clio Mk5 to be honest. The ride is relaxed and generally comfy, the steering light and effortless, there’s decent space in the rear seats and boot capacity is 300 litres, down from 391 litres to accommodate the hybrid’s battery pack. Light blue trim – around the transmission selector, and striking through the dashboard vents on this stepchange interior for Clio quality – is a hybrid design motif on the E-Tech Launch Edition.
The entry-level Clio E-tech model wears Play trim (£19,595), with standard Bluetooth phone connectivity, lane keep assist and traffic sign monitoring, automatic LED headlamps and 16-inch wheels. Trim upgrades come in £1000 steps, with Iconic adding 16-inch alloys, keyless entry and 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav and Apple/Android phone mirroring, and S Edition chucking in a bigger central touchscreen, 17-inch rims, front parking sensors and a rear-view camera. Sporty RS Line costs £22,095.
The first Renault Clio hybrid has taken a long time coming, but it’s a sweet little car. All that F1 technology may sound like overkill, but the driving experience is so intuitive that even the biggest technophobe should find it a doddle.
There’s none of the Continuously Variable Transmission-induced engine thrash or torque deficit that has afflicted previous generation Japanese hybrids – that’s one of the reasons why Renault eschewed using an economy-biased Atkinson combustion cycle and opted for fixed gear ratios, engineers say – and you can return good mpg without even trying.
Think of the E-Tech hybrid as the Pepsi Max of the Clio range: it still leaves a decent taste in the mouth, but is better for us in the long run.
Check out our other Renault reviews