Reinventing the wheel. It’s a phrase we’ve heard so many times, yet I feel it’s a phrase that applies to the current car market. Every car manufacturer is desperately searching for the latest hybrid technology, or announcing its new ultra-efficient fuel for an upcoming model. Then, further down the line, the public find out that this new, ultra-efficient solution is stupidly expensive, or incredibly difficult to run on a daily basis.
We’ve seen the arrival and increasingly popular plug-in hybrid, or PHEV models, along with the latest variation of mild-hybrid systems shown in some car models, its leaves car buyers confused over which technology is best. Consumers are questioning the benefits of each powertrain, and if it’s suitable for their needs, but are car makers investing too much time into new technology, when current technology is more than enough for what we as consumers require?
Gallery: Renault Clio E-Tech Full Hybrid UK first drive review
Enter the new Renault Clio. Now the new Clio isn’t something that would normally appeal to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for little city cars, but the little Clio is often a model that is overlooked. This new model however is perhaps the best looking Clio model that Renault have produced to date. Starting with the new diamond front grille and more angular headlights that complement the integrated daytime running lights that operate beneath them. This new front end has a much more sporty and stylish look, that believe it or not makers passers-by take a second glance. The 17-inch alloys feature body coloured centre caps, which are a small, yet welcome little detail that add to the overall style of the car, along with the clear LED tail lights at the rear of the car.
What is immediately apparent on the new Clio is that this model has been breathed upon by Renault’s sub-brand, Alpine. You can instantly see that the sports car brand has had influence on this car, which has subtle Alpine badging and little French flag emblems dotted around the interior.
The seats feature the Alpine badge, and have big shoulder bolsters, that were perhaps a little too big for such a little car. Nonetheless, the interior was as surprising as the exterior. Alongside the heated Alpine seats, the steering wheel is perforated and also heated, and the driver gets a digital, 10-inch screen in front of them. The centre console is made up of a 9.3-inch touchscreen that operates the infotainment system. Renault have opted for Google powered navigation system, meaning the maps will be constantly updated. Even the petrol stations were conveniently highlighted according to price, which was a nice feature when driving. The touchscreen perhaps wasn’t as big and luxurious as you’d find in cars twice the Clio’s price, but it was functional. As a driver, I felt it was perfect for my needs, and didn’t have too many confusing functions.
Renault have left a few buttons beneath the touchscreen, mainly to control the seat heating, driving modes and EV mode, more on that later. The gear selector is located on what Renault call a ‘floating console’, which is risen from the rest of the components in the centre of the car. This looks a little strange to begin with, but feels more comfortable when selecting your gear.
This is where we come back to reinventing the wheel. The Renault Clio’s official name is a Clio E-Tech Full Hybrid. But what technology have Renault opted for? A conventional hybrid. No need to plug anything in, no mild hybrid, just a simple hybrid system that we’ve seen on cars for many years, and do you know what? It’s perfect for this little car.
Combining a 1.6-litre petrol engine with a 1.2 kwh electric motor, the Clio puts out 143 bhp and 106 lb-ft (144 Nm) of torque. This may not seem a lot, but having an electric motor gives the driver access to this torque instantly, meaning getting away from the traffic lights is a little faster than you’d expect. The four-speed automatic gearbox also chooses when to change gear according to your driving style. The hybrid system alternates between taking power from the engine or the electric motor. This works really well with Renault’s My Sense driving mode, which changes the driving mode of the car depending on your driving style. This means you can put pedal to the metal and still achieve a respectable 60 mph in this car, and if you wanted to drive the Clio like a sports car, or like an EV, it has both Sport and Eco mode depending on your mood.
Speaking of driving, I have to comment on the precise steering of the car. It was a real ‘point and go’, style driving, and felt you could throw the Clio into the corners like a sports car. At the same time though, flick the car into EV mode and you could drive around town silently. The Clio really took to both aspects of driving really well.
So we’ve established the Clio looks good, it has a great powertrain and it’s far from underpowered. So what’s the catch? Honestly, I don’t think there is one. Apart from maybe the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a way to open the boot without pressing a button on the key or in the car. There were numerous occasions where I just wanted a handle, or a gesture with my foot under the car to open it, but alas I could not find one.
You’re probably thinking that all of this clever hybrid technology will come at a price. Well, Renault have dodged that bullet too somehow, as the Clio hybrid starts at £21,295. If we stop for a moment and really contemplate in today’s society what new cars we, as consumers could buy at that price, the Clio really does seem a bargain, and is actually one of the cheapest new, hybrid cars on the market today. My test car was actually a little more expensive, as at £24,795, it had the metallic paint option and was a higher specification car, with two electric motors. I still believe this represents good value for money in today’s era, though.
The appearance of the new Clio was what really drew me into the car and enquire about driving one in the first place. What kept me hooked was its clever powertrain, precise steering control and its ability to be able to be both a sports car and an EV at the same time. It was great to get back behind the wheel of a car that genuinely makes you fall in love with driving again, and I found that I kept wanting to drive the Clio again and again.
Renault haven’t gone to the extremes of over engineering the car, but have kept it simple, with a conventional hybrid powertrain, stylish looks, and on the inside, a simple touch screen that only will do what you need it to. It really shows that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, or fix something that isn’t broken, whatever cliché phrase you want to work. The fact of the matter is, the Clio was a fantastic little package, and I didn’t expect not only write so highly about, but also thoroughly enjoy driving.