If you’d believe it, this is a 1.2L hybrid, it kind of fits the “mild hybrid” name to the extreme, because this isn’t a hybrid system like you’d find in the Renault E-Tech systems where you have multiple motors, or you have full dedicated motors. Instead what you have is essentially an enlarged starter motor that is permanently connected to the engine. Where it’s a 12V architecture, and what that means is there is the standard lead acid battery under the hood, then there is a slightly smaller lithium cell under the passenger seat, which I think is 36WHr… Which is less than most laptops!
The start motor that’s attached does do a little bit of regen braking, it does charge up that battery relatively quickly, considering how small it is. All you have to do is lift off to do that, you get a little display to show you where the power is going. It can add a little bit of power especially at the low end, although you do have to be in the lower gears to get much benefit. You do also have a bit of regen braking on the brake pedal. Essentially you get to charge the battery and then ever so slightly release that charge as you drive along. The power assistance is pretty minimal, and is quite picky as to where it delivers that power and when it regenerates. Even the lightest breath on the accelerator pedal will show you only having engine power to the wheels and not charging the battery, you have to be fully off of the accelerator for it to start charging and will often take a second or two before it actually starts doing that regen as well.
Actually, looking at the hybrid it mostly seems to assist the engine down at low RPM, and at medium to high throttle. If you are just lightly pressing on it it doesn’t seem to use it all that much which is interesting.
In terms of power, it has 83PS which is…fine. It’s fine. That’s through a 5 speed manual gearbox, which is a bit of a strange choice for this style of car – although I think it makes a lot of sense. It keeps things simple, keeps things familiar for a lot of people and it makes it a relatively standard experience for most users.
Ok so it turns out, if you absolutely rev the b#!?s off this thing, it’s weirdly fast and I’m not sure I’m happy about that… It’s also hella noisy in here – although as for the brakes they’re actually not doing too bad of a job. Speaking of the brakes, they really aren’t bad considering how small the front discs are and how small the rear drum brakes are too. That’s decent!
If you do need to get onto a dual carriageway next to a rather ominous power plant you certainly can. It does get up to speed just fine, obviously it’s no race car but we’re up to speed now and it’s fine. Like I’ve said it’s a little on the noisier side in here, you don’t have much in the way of sound deadening, you do hear a lot of road noise despite having biscuit tin lids for tires. It’s not the most refined experience for sure, but if all you’re ever using this for is to nip to the shops or the next town over you’re not going to be that bothered by the noise here. You stick the radio on, you just get used to it, it’s not all that bad. It’s just worth noting if you are planning on using this as a longer distance vehicle maybe this is a bit more of a less refined experience than you’d like.
For me this feels – not unstable, it’s perfectly fine, it’s relatively easy to keep it in the lane, but it does have a relatively large cross section on the side, it feels like it’s quite susceptible to wind if there’s a strong cross wind, you might feel it. It feels quite high up and quite wallow-y in the suspension where it’s not uncomfortable, but it’s not the most comfortable. Luckily you have great visibility all round – the front window is pretty massive and rearward visibility is good, although my seating position means I have limited blindspot visibility – but considering this is really meant to just take you to the shops and back, that’s not a big deal.
For in and around town, when you’re entering a little village, with a 30MPH zone, even actually with relatively narrow country roads, this is a rather good option. The a relatively narrow wheelbase – admittedly the wheels do flare out more than the narrow cabin – it’s a fairly easy, quiet, simple to drive vehicle in this sort of condition. You’re puttering around town, that’s what this is made for – all the elements are well suited for that. You have relatively light, if disconnected steering, the clutch pedal is incredibly soft. Normally in a performance aspect that’s a bad thing, but from an ease-of-driving perspective, you don’t need to care where the bite point is you can just row through the gears without much care. If you do need to step on it to get up a big hill you certainly can, it has enough power that you don’t need to worry about it – even if you do need to ring the neck out of it to get any out.
There are also some rather nice additions that they’ve added that you wouldn’t expect to see especially for a car at this price tag but that make the overall driving experience a fair bit better. Things like the stop start which whenever you put the car into neutral and pull the clutch up will stop the engine – it even tells you how many millilitres of fuel it’s saved which is great. You also have things like hill assist which just pushes the standard brakes so you can get off without much difficulty. The overall usage experience in here is perfectly adequate for the sort of car it is I’m actually pretty impressed. The infotainment is ok, it has the full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and which is great and actually works quite well – it’s pretty responsive. The standard UI is ok, it’s a lot less responsive but it does the job. The manual heater controls are fine too, although when you switch between recirculation and fresh air you can feel the cable pulling the flap inside the dash manually. But it does the job, it gets the car cold on a hot day like this, so it’s decent. You’ve also got some USB and AUX jacks, and even a 120W 12V socket in the front which is nice. Actually if you option this up you can even get it with AWD which is something you don’t see in this style of car much!
One of the downsides though, as we’re lumping round this corner, is that the suspension is definitely on the soft side. Now that’s a good thing, that means it’s a gentle and compliant ride, especially over the city bumps, but it does mean you get wallowed around a lot. When you do go over a bump you kind of float around on it for a little bit, and when you are braking, steering and accelerating it makes the car dive, pitch and roll like no tomorrow.
Manoeuvrability is actually an impressive suit, the turning circle is remarkably tight. The steering is remarkably light, it’s also incredibly vague which is standard for this type of car. In fact, all of the controls feel quite vague. The steering is both light and disconnected, it’s very mushy in the middle. The gear shifting is fine, reasonably direct, it’s notchy enough to know where it is but it’s not the absolutely best experience in the world.
As for the in-cabin feel, everything is nice enough in here. Nothing is what I’d call “premium”, but they’ve also gone to enough lengths to make the in-cabin experience relatively quality, especially for this price tag of car, it’s a nice enough place to be. All of the door plastics, even the weird slightly-squishy steering wheel, feel pretty good again especially considering the class of vehicle. Certainly not an obviously ‘cheap’ feel.
It’s worth noting that the front seats definitely have you sitting quite high up. They are fairly comfortable though, and definitely easy to get in and out of which I can imagine is an important for the target market here. The gauge cluster is nice and easy to read with a large speedometer in the centre, with only a small black and white digital display on the right which displays everything from your fuel level to information like range or hybrid charging.
The rear seats are comfortable enough too – a 6ft person like myself might struggle to get truly comfy thanks to the relatively low roof and high seats, but rear leg room is plentiful enough. One surprise feature is that the rear bench actually slides forward! If you need a bit of extra boot space and only have kids in the back you can slide the bench forward – or just fold the seats down for a healthy cargo capacity. You even get an actual spare wheel in the boot floor instead of a can of tyre weld and a compressor.
The thing about this car is, when I test drove the Renault Zoe that felt very similar to this. It felt like a very similar driving experience, a very similar usage experience. But, that being electric means that’s a £25,000 to £30,000 car, which is absolutely insane for that class of vehicle. This, somewhere between £13,000 and £16,000 makes a lot more sense, but obviously you have the downside of this being an internal combustion engine, a petrol engine, with a manual gearbox. Whereas an EV like the Zoe is going to be cheaper to run because you are just using electricity which you can even run from solar if you wanted, and is also easier to drive because you don’t need to worry about gears, plus it’s even quieter as you don’t have an engine running – but that price makes this a much more interesting value proposition. While I think this car – in 5 years time – will be an electric car, for the time being I think this will get the most out of your petrol while we still have it.