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Facelifted Renault supermini gets an Alpine-themed makeover

It would be easy to believe that the small car was in its death throes, its demise brought on by environmental legislation that makes these mini marvels unprofitable despite their inherent efficiency of movement and less greedy use of raw materials.

This impression is only heightened by the decision to axe the Ford Fiesta, production of which ceases in only a month or so after more than 40 years of service.

However, if this really is the case, then nobody has told Renault. For starters, there are the retro-themed Renault 4 and Renault 5 EV concepts that have been wowing show crowds and are soon to be turned into a showroom reality. Moreover, bosses have also revealed that there’s an all-new Clio on the drawing board, its design as good as signed off. But before we get to that there’s still the current car to consider, which has just received a mid-life refresh.

Given the cost of meeting impending EV legislation and the wafer-slim profit margins in superminis, it’s no surprise to find that this is more mild makeover than full-on refresh. In fact, mechanically the Clio is pretty much identical, the changes being merely cosmetic and aimed at boosting showroom appeal - although a top five placing in Europe’s 2023 sales charts suggests the French machine is hardly lacking in popularity, even if it does play second fiddle to its value-for-money cousin, the Dacia Sandero.


As a result, the most obvious changes are cosmetic, with a more aggressive design for the front and rear bumpers, slimmer LED headlights and an eye-catching daytime-running light signature. Added together, they give the Clio a more purposeful stance, especially in the new range-topping Esprit Alpine trim tested here. A replacement for the old RS Line, this packs plenty of Alpine logos inside and out, patriotic tricolore inserts and some 17in alloys that feature natty hub caps that mimic centre-lock wheel nuts.

Inside, there’s the same neatly designed dashboard and generous use of high-grade materials, which combine to create a surprisingly classy feel. Renault also makes a great play of the cabin’s sustainability, with at least 60% recycled materials used throughout and a strict ‘no leather’ policy. There’s also more standard kit across the board, including a digital instrument cluster for all versions and slick portrait touchscreen infotainment screen (7.0in as standard, 9.3in on the Esprit Alpine). And while the rear seats remain a little cramped, the boot is one of the biggest in the class, measuring up to 391 litres.

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To keep things simple, Renault has slimmed down the range, with just three trim levels -  Evolution, Techno and our Esprit Alpine range-topper. It’s a similar story under the bonnet, where engine options are limited to the familiar 0.9-litre TCe petrol and 1.6-litre E-Tech hybrid. UK bosses had planned to go further still and offer just the petrol-electric unit as part of a bid to deliver an all-electrified line-up by 2024, but their hands were forced by price sensitivity in the current economic climate, resulting in the smaller, cheaper three-pot motor being retained. That said, Renault still reckons the hybrid will be the bigger seller, taking nearly two-thirds of sales, so that’s the car we drive here.

So what’s it like? Well, it’s very much like the old car, which means it’s only a few quirks away from outright excellence. It steers accurately and with a decent dusting of dynamism, while low-speed stiffness aside, there’s strong comfort and refinement: this is a small car that’ll happily tackle big distances.


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Then there’s the trick hybrid system that combines a 24bhp starter/generator with a bigger 48bhp electric motor, a 1.2kWh battery and naturally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol, all of them driving through the unique four-speed multi-mode automatic transmission that uses dog rings instead of synchros. It's a complicated set-up but, in most circumstances, operates with commendable smoothness and simplicity.

Around town, it usually runs in smooth and silent EV mode, while the electric motors add useful mid-range torque fill when the petrol engine needs to chime in. Only when worked hard can the system get wrong-footed, with the odd jerky change and a coarse note from the four-cylinder unit when it’s in a race for the redline. However, for most daily chores, the system is unobtrusive and remarkably efficient. Matching the claimed 67mpg isn’t as hard as you might think, and CO2 emissions dip under 100kg.

Prices have yet to be announced, but when it finally hits showrooms in August, expect the entry-level petrol to dip under £20,000, while our full-house Esprit Alpine E-Tech should still leave you change from £25,000.



James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

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scotty5 30 June 2023

Owned a Clio 0.9tce for a couple of years. Put into context it was one of the best cars I've owned. Some materials were rather 'cheap' feeling and it suffered from the odd trim rattle, but considering the real-world price I paid for it (£10450 inc 2yr free service ) that was easily forgiven. The car did exactly what it said on the tin.

Really surprised to read this update feels 'classy'. If that's the case then based on my previous experience, I wouldn't hesitate purchasing another if I was ever in the market for a city car again.

Avg 67mpg and under £25k for top line trim given todays market?  Nothing wrong with that. If anything like the Captur, Renault may offer additional incentives to attract buyers.

catnip 30 June 2023

As someone who can now only consider used cars (due to the ridiculous new prices) the complexity of this powertrain would really put me off buying one.

xxxx 30 June 2023

Just how slow can you make a small light car with big'ish turbo charged 1.6 and battery assistance comlexity. Already missing the fiesta.

FastRenaultFan 30 June 2023
That's not slow. It's not a hot hatch. I remember when a 1.9 TD VW polo could only do 0 to 60 in 9 seconds so a 1.6 Clio doing it in 9.3 is very good. Especially as its not a hot hatch.
xxxx 30 June 2023

And where did I say it should have hot hatch performance, I didn't. You're also comparing an old diesel to a petrol, clueless.

It's got a 1.6 turbo hybrid with 143 ps, it's also small'ish yet takes takes a 9.3 to hit 60, bigger A3 and Golf with smaller engines without Hybrid are a second quicker.

Andrew1 1 July 2023
Maybe, but a secunde quicker is not important for the average driver. I also doubt they'll pass newer emissions rules.
xxxx 2 July 2023

You doubt but don't know, plus that's in the future.  Top gear said it wouldn't recommend it over the petrol equivalent.

xxxx 2 July 2023

You doubt but don't know, plus that's in the future.  Top gear said it wouldn't recommend it over the petrol equivalent.

russ1981 30 June 2023

It's not got a turbo, its a non turbo 1.6. I have one of these and it's a great allrounder and most of the time it drives in EV mode. It feels quicker than it is!

xxxx 30 June 2023

Article must have been changed, but still 143ps including battery assistance, which is meant for slow speed get aways, yet still takes 9.3 to get to 60.

To complicated and will depreciate as fast as just about every Renault

hairy flaps 1 July 2023

You're missing the point: It's a torquey cruiser that gives excellent economy, not a 0-60 car. 

xxxx 2 July 2023

It's not torquey though, same as 208 1.2 despite having battery assistance. Also, Top gear said it wouldn't recommend it over the petrol equivalent.

Will86 6 July 2023

You're comparing a 4 cylinder naturally aspirated hybrid drivetrain with a 3 cylinder turbo - very different beasts. The 1.2 Puretech is a good engine but the Renault will be smoother and more economical whilst having comparable performance and no low rev lag.

xxxx 15 July 2023

That's my point, the battery assistance should give it a massive shove but at the end of the day all that renault tech, that go wrong in 8 years, and adds 1.5k to the price gets you nothing other than a 15 percent fuel saving, 150 quid a year maybe. Oh and the hybrid won't be smooth.