What’s it like?
Trying to explain the inner workings of the E-Tech system is complicated, but using it is incredibly simple. The starter-generator is automatically used to power the Clio from start-up until around 10mph, giving smooth, silent running.
Select EV mode and it can run on electric power alone at speeds of up to 40mph, with the petrol engine kicking in only if you ask for extra torque or the battery is depleted. Renault claims 80% of urban journeys can be done in electric mode.
Once the engine does kick in, the transition is seamless and progress remains smooth and quiet. At increased speeds, the larger e-motor is used to smooth out the power delivery of the engine and allow for engine-off coasting. You can select various drive modes such as Eco, Hybrid and Sport to adjust the performance, but it’s best just to let the system get on with it and not trouble yourself with the complex balancing act going on between the three energy sources.
That balancing act occasionally confuses the car itself: under hard acceleration, there can be a bit of hesitancy, and the timing of when it calls up the petrol engine can feel counterintuitive at times. But those are relatively minor issues and there’s none of the occasional torque deficit that you find with the continuous variable transmission systems used by the Yaris and Jazz hybrids.
Although this isn’t the sportiest of powertrains, the trade-off is impressive fuel economy: our test suggested the official figure of 64.2mpg isn’t excessively optimistic.
Best of all, the system makes no discernible difference to the Clio’s impressive ride, handling and steering. It’s still sharply responsive, pleasingly stable and generally dynamic. In fact, the only really noticeable compromise this powertrain creates is a reduction in boot size due to the hybrid battery.
Should I buy one?
The paucity of hybrid superminis reflects the challenge of producing them, technically and economically.
But Renault’s hard work shows it can be done with little compromise – and with prices starting from £19,995, the Clio E-Tech Hybrid doesn’t cost significantly more than similarly powerful pure-petrol versions. With smooth refinement and improved economy, it’s a compelling option.