Renault has revealed a heavily updated version of its best-selling Clio hatchback. Arriving just as the Ford Fiesta bows out this summer, the French city car shows there is still a business case for the diminishing small car market – but only when powered by a hybrid drivetrain.
To start at around £21,000, the new Clio will be offered with just one engine option in the UK, with the 1.0-litre petrol engine dropped in favour of Renault's 1.6-litre "full hybrid" E-Tech system. This drivetrain cleverly combines the engine with a small battery and motor, with the internal combustion and electric motors swapping duties depending on how the car is being driven, and regenerative braking used to feed kinetic energy back into the battery.
The engine's gearbox has four ratios while the electric motor has a two-speed transmission. Between them, the system has a combined power output of 145 horsepower and 14 different drive modes, which are automatically chosen by the car in a bid to be as energy efficient as possible. This, Renault says, means the Clio can run on just its electric motor for up to 80% of the time – but note that is "time" and not "distance", so will include sitting in traffic with the engine turned off.
The French company says this system, which borrows energy-recovery tech from the company's Alpine Formula One team, can reduce fuel consumption by up to 40% compared to an equivalent petrol engine. However, the company does not say how far the new Clio can drive on electric power alone.
While Renault calls this a full hybrid, the Clio cannot be plugged in and charged. Instead, the battery is topped up using regenerative braking when the driver coasts or presses the brakes.
As well as the new face, the Clio benefits from a new interior. This includes a driver displays available in 7in or 10in size options, depending on trim level. Pricier models also get a 9.3in, portrait-orientated dashboard touchscreen capable of running both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The flagship Esprit Alpine trim level includes diamond-cut 17in alloy wheels and bespoke badging, but not leather seats, as the car is no longer available with animal hide. Instead the Clio makes use of sustainable fabrics.
Other tech includes 15 driver assistance systems split into three packages. These include adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and automatic emergency braking.
While it's slightly disappointing to not see a plug-in hybrid Clio – and there's no sign for now of a fully-electric model – we will be interested to see if the flagship Esprit Alpine trim is popular with buyers looking for an upmarket alternative to the Mini Cooper and Audi A1.
Renault has previously said there will not be a fully-electric Clio. As such, we expect the pricier Esprit Alpine trim level is a way to get its customer used to handing over more cash for a small Renault, before the new, electric Renault 5 arrives in the next year or so. Renault has also pledged to become a fully-electric car company by 2030.