From £24,295
One of the finest superminis arrives as a super-frugal hybrid in a sporty new spec

Why we’re running it: To see if the Clio is the heir apparent to the Ford Fiesta’s ‘default buy’ throne

Month 1 - Month 2 - Month 3 - Month 4 - Specs

Life with a Renault Clio hybrid: Month 4

It's not all perfect! - 6 March

Recently Renault’s software failed to detect when a few phone calls had ended, despite Apple CarPlay having done so, leaving me with no way to get any audio back. Then the parking sensors went into a continuous beep when I fired up in the work car park and stayed like that until I reached a red light and so could turn the car off and on again. At least that glitch left me laughing, rather than bored. 

Mileage: 6262

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Life with a Renault Clio Hybrid: Month 3

Its Alpine badges aren’t quite as gratuitous as you might think - 21 February 

In my initial report on our Clio, I was pretty dismissive about its sporting credentials, disappointed as I was that its Alpine badging wasn't matched by chassis or powertrain alterations.

This disappointment stemmed from several sources. First, it's just so lame when things appear to be what they patently are not. Fake exhausts and fake air intakes do not make your BMW X1 an M1.

Second, the Alpine brand has enough cachet these days that a good number of people will know what the blue A stickers on the sides are meant to imply: Formula 1, Le Mans hypercars and delightful little sports coupés.

Third, I have countless times read and watched motoring journalists struggling to maintain their composure when talking about hot Clios - first the Williams and then the Renaultsport series. In tact, many see those as among the best hot hatches of all.

However, the point I want to make here is that actually my Clio is sporty enough anyway that the sporty makeover brought by Esprit Alpine trim doesn't make me feel like a twit, at least not in the way that it would if I were driving an Austral or, for goodness sake, a bloody Espace.

And yes, this even though it is an outstandingly economical electrified automatic (at least if you don't habitually use revomaniac Sport driving mode).

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Part of this is because it's pretty quick for what it is. The E-Tech Full Hybrid powertrain makes 143bhp and 106lb ft of torque, sending it to 62mph in 9.3sec, but it feels quicker than that in reality, because initial acceleration is by the electric motor, so it can really scarper away from junctions and into gaps in motor way traffic.

Go back two decades and the most revered Clio RS of all had 181bhp, making it 2sec quicker in the standard sprint. The regular 1.6-litre turbo petrol auto, meanwhile, had 109bhp for 0-62mph in 12.2sec. Makes ya think.

Look, I'm not naive enough to be making any direct comparison. The RS 182 Trophy is another world from this Clio. But I do continually find myself revelling in how nimble my car feels, how it will faithfully fling itself into a tight arc at speed without complaint, the way it rides flatly and firmly yet not nastily.

And when I did once cross the point of taking the mick, it signalled clearly that it was starting to understeer and was easy to rein back in. Hot hatch? Nah. Warm hatch? Maybe not even. But a fun hatch? Absolutely. Which is really saying something when it's also a comfy one and a fuel-saving one.

It just makes me wish that the regulatory wisdom of recent years hadn't rendered affordable hot hatches unviable, because I have no doubt that Renault could easily make an outstanding one with the fifth-generation Clio as its basis.

I really hope that the public recognise qualities like this in the Clio and so flock to it like never before. I have little faith in my fellow countrymen, but one good thing they have done was make the Ford Fiesta the best-selling car year after year, and I don't think that was entirely because it was simply the most convenient and familiar option within budget.

No, I think it was because, whether or not they understood why, they knew that particular hatch felt better than other cars to drive. Please, people: don't start settling for less.

Love it 

Pub tonight?

I’m really noticing the high MPG in my bank balance. Some relief during the cost of living crisis.

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Loathe it

Grubby fingers

The boot release button sits on the ledge overhanging the plate, which isn’t really the ideal place.

Mileage: 5309

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The Clio's ergonomics are impressive - 14 February

I love that the Clio has a dash rocker for adjusting the brightness of the digital dials and touchscreen in sync, rather than making me prod around to find two sliders. I just wish I could keep ‘night mode’ after the system belatedly realises it’s light outside. Talking of strained eyes, reader Stewart notes that, contrary to my 31 January update, auto hold doesn’t activate the brake lights. Never take common sense for granted…

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Life with a Renault Clio hybrid: Month 2

Auto-hold makes for simpler driving - 31 January

I’ve come to really appreciate the Clio’s auto-hold because it lets me drive in traffic without having to shift between P and D every two seconds or annoy people behind by keeping my foot on the brake pedal. This is a common feature on autos, but my old Peugeot 408 lacked it. Although I did turn it off by accident and then fail to locate the button for two days

Mileage: 4487

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Dry January? Don’t know about that, but it certainly is warm - 24 January

Oh, am I glad to have an Esprit Alpine version of the Clio. Not because it means I can enjoy back roads to a higher degree, though.

Actually, the 'sporty' one handles no more sharply than the others, and nor does it have a more powerful engine. Instead, I'm rosy-cheeked as this trim adds heated seats and a heated steering wheel (which aren't even options lower down the range).

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In deepest winter, even when I'm wearing my coat that makes people think I'm off to audition for a Michelin advert, I'm always delighted to be warmed by elements rather than engine-cooked air..

It's beneficial to my wallet, too, because a car can achieve the same level of warming with far less energy. That's why most electric cars have them - and why heated armrests, doors and seatbelts are now all real things.

I had wondered whether, being a hybrid with the emphasis firmly on the electric side, my Clio would be annoying on winter mornings.

I had worried that I wouldn't be able to warm it up conventionally before leaving, because the bizarre workings of the E-Tech powertrain can result in the engine firing up at random times and running to incomprehensible revs.

But the four-pot does fire up when I stick the air-con on full blast, and by the time I've sprayed every window with de-icer, the car is happy to head for the motorway.

By contrast, my parents have a Hyundai Kona Electric, and driving that recently was a pain, as it took ages to defog its windscreen and then needed constant blasting of heat-pumped air to keep it clear.

My one winter worry in the Clio is minor: the silver trim on the steering wheel. I can't work out if it's plastic or metal, because it looks like the former imitating the latter but, on cold mornings, is convincing in a physical way too. Thumb freezing wouldn't be an issue if you default to the ten-to-two position, mind.

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The only other annoyance I've had was a rattle emanating from somewhere in the dashboard. My pot of chewing gum? No. My keys? Something in the glovebox? The gearlever surround? No, no, no.

Then, after a few days, I shoved the panel on which the air-con controls sit upwards and the noise stopped. I hope it doesn't return, because the Clio is now perfect again.

Love it

Easy listening

I love being able to simply ask aloud for an artist or playlist from Spotify, or something nerdy from Podcasts, and Siri almost always gets it right. 

Loathe it 

What a racket

Sometimes it bongs at me but I don’t know why. Ugh, I’m going to have to read a manual, aren’t I…

Mileage: 4152

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Life with a Renault Clio hybrid: Month 1

Welcoming the Clio to the fleet - 20 December 2023

For so many years, the Ford Fiesta was the 'default' British car buy. Now that it's dead and buried, which affordable small hatchback should take its place?

Although the Vauxhall Corsa has since scaled the sales charts, it isn't fun like the Fiesta was. Likewise Europe's favourite car, the Peugeot 208. 

The Volkswagen Polo? Even the GTI version leaves me cold. Skoda Fabia? Dacia Sandero? Worthy but, like the Corsa, dull. Seat Ibiza? Hyundai i20? They're strong contenders - as is the Renault Clio.

Despite having been around for decades, the Clio always seems to get a bit forgotten for some reason, despite being, in its 2019-born fifth generation, very talented. It can be great value for money too: Autocar's editor got an astounding finance deal on his one (see second opinion below).

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His entry-level version, priced from £17,795, has an 89bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine - which Renault reintroduced to UK showrooms a few months ago "in order to meet the needs of some customers in a difficult economic climate". Massive respect for that.

In contrast, my new long-termer has the E-Tech Full Hybrid powertrain, priced from £22,695, which comprises a 1.6-litre four-cylinder atmospheric petrol engine, a 24bhp integrated starter-generator (ISG), a 48bhp electric motor, a small 1.2kWh drive battery and an off-the-wall transmission.

How the DiscoLocoBox (great name!) came to be is a fascinating story that started way back in 2010 with a Renault engineer keeping himself entertained over the Christmas holidays with a load of Lego Technic pieces.

You can read it online by clicking here, but in a nutshell there's a four-speed gearbox with dog rings instead of synchros and no clutch, so the engine is put into neutral and then rev-matched by the ISG; two gears can be engaged at the same time, one to the engine and one to the motor; and so the E-Tech has 14 modes of powertrain operation.

My initial reaction was "why wouldn't they just use a CVT like everybody else?", but apparently this transmission, despite its huge complexity, feels more natural and allows for an engaging drive - while offering advantages of cost, size and versatility to the manufacturer.

I'm told that some of the system's technology came from Renault's Alpine Formula 1 team, so I don't feel quite so embarrassed about the blue As on the fake side vents of my Clio as I did initially.

You see, as part of the Clio's mid-life facelift, Renault has added a range-topping Esprit Alpine trim level, which also brings Alpine-branded sports seats and unique alloy wheels with blue centrepieces - but no power boost or any dynamic enhancements.

I've always felt uneasy about such things: if Renault really wants to make Alpine into "the French Ferrari", surely sticking its branding willy-nilly on a hybrid Clio or, for goodness sake, an Espace 1sn t the way to build brand equity. I can't imagine Maranello endorsing a Fiat 600... but then every Mercedes-Benz is an AMG Line and every BMW is an M Sport now, so who knows?

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In any case, really like how this facelifted, Alpine-spirited Clio looks. Compact, confident, not over-detailed and with cool new LED lighting patterns at the front. It's just a shame that it's finished in dreary Shadow Grey; I definitely would have paid another £100 for the Flame Red, Valencia Orange or especially the Iron Blue. 

The interior, I really must say, is fantastic in the context of today. Yes, it has succumbed to the trend of having a large infotainment touchscreen totally dominating the environment, but its unusual portrait orientation leads to less stretching away from the wheel and, crucially, there's still plenty of physical switchgear.

Underneath the screen is a dial each for the heat, fan speed and air direction, just as it should be, as well as buttons for the heated seats, EV mode and driving mode selection. Then over to my right is an absolute treat: not just buttons for the heated steering wheel and lane-keeping assistance but also up-down toggles for the angle of the headlights and the brightness of the two screens. (The instruments are, of course, fully digital and customisable.)

The bar is on the floor these days, but Renault is leaping high anyway. Alpine spec also puts sustainable fabric on those sports seats, as well as synthetic leather, which features on the steering wheel too, complemented by blue stitching and blue lining on the seatbelts - small details that I really like.

I noticed an enormous difference in my bank account when moving from an antiquated diesel Toyota Land Cruiser to a modern turbo petrol Peugeot 408 fastback earlier this year, and I'm hoping that this innovative hybrid supermini will yield a similar improvement.

My Clio promises a fabulous 65.7mpg (compared with 53.3mpg for the equivalent petrol), and in these inflationary times that's a prospect that really has got me enthused.

Second Opinion

Yes, I’ve bought myself a new Clio – not the hybrid but the pure-petrol model, for a mere £29 per month. I’ve been a serial Ford Fiesta buyer, but with that gone, the Clio is the heir to its throne as the best small car you can buy. I look forward to swapping notes with Kris.

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Mark Tisshaw

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Renault Clio E-Tech Hybrid Esprit Alpine specification

Specs: Price New £24,095 Price as tested £24,695 Options Shadow Grey metallic paint £600

Test Data: Engine 1.6-litre petrol engine, plus electric motor, 1.2kWh battery Power 143bhp Torque 118lb ft Kerb weight 1103 Top speed 108bhp 0-62mph 9.3sec Fuel economy 65.7mpg CO2 xxxg/km Faults None Expenses None

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Join the debate

Add a comment…
xxxx 4 January 2024

Sorry but did I miss how Mark got a new Clio for 29 pound a month.

harf 4 January 2024

I think he put down such a large deposit that it wasn't much less than the guaranteed future value, oh and with the APR 0.0% offer it meant there was minimal outstanding balance to cover

catnip 4 January 2024

That will be the case. AutoExpress were recently promoting another low monthly cost deal, this time on the Arkana, but hardly mentioned the large deposit (over £7500 I think). I guess this is how people think about car purchases these days.

LP in Brighton 9 January 2024

Personally I think the practice of selling on the basis of absurdly low PCP monthly payments should be outlawed - it's the total payments including deposit over the term that counts.

The same goes for manufacturers who quote mpg figures for plug-ins, while ignoring the electrical energy expended, it's just plain deceptive.

And incidentally, while I like hybrids (and even own one) I'd be very surprised if this Clio achieves anything like the promised 66mpg. There's only so much that braking energy recovery and subsequently re-deployment can do: Let's have some proper measurements autocar, and I don't mean dooooownhill with the wind behind trip computer readouts.