|Renault Clio III
BIGGER, PRICIER, GREAT INTERIORS
Clio II Remains As Cut Price Option To Fight Rampaging Koreans
Unadventurous Design Unlikely To Woo New Buyers
*** out of 5
First, do no harm, sounds as though it might be part of the doctors Hippocratic Oath, but it clearly was uppermost in the minds of the Renault Clio III designers.
The old Clio was highly successful. In fact, Renault likes it so much that it will continue to produce Clio IIs, at least the bare bones version, for the next year or so at least to give it a low price entry level product that can compete with Koreans like the Kia Rio and Hyundai Getz.
But car manufacturers find it almost impossible to be adventurous with new products if the old one sold like hot cakes. You really cant blame them. Why take a risk with something that looks completely different and chance annoying the customers?
And the Clio III does look a lot like the old one. The designers have fiddled around with aspects of the design. Now the space under the front grille has been changed and it suggests the grouper-like mouth of new Peugeots. There are hints of old Fiat Bravos at the rear. Theyve changed the headlights and light clusters at the rear.
It probably would have been better to have started with a clean sheet.
Clio III retains the Euro NCAP five-star rating achieved by the old one its based on the same engineering as the Nissan Micra and Renault Modus mini MPV. It is bigger and roomier though, and, although heavier than Clio II, it drives well. The boot is bigger. On the versions available at the launch in Sardinia, the manual gearbox felt a bit vague. The suspension soaks up the bumps without inducing much roll in the corners.
PRICES £555 (¤800) HIGHER
In Britain, prices start at £8,895 (¤12,900). Prices are about £555 (¤800) higher than the outgoing models, according to British motoring magazine What Car?
There are six engine choices, three petrol and three diesels. The top of the range 1.5 dCi 106 bhp diesel has a six speed gearbox. The diesels were quiet during acceleration and cruising. Most are coupled with five-speed manual gear boxes. The most powerful, 106 bhp diesel, has six speeds. High priced versions give you hands-free unlocking and ignition keycard, and tyre pressure monitoring
FIVE STAR SAFETY
The competition is so ferocious these days that manufacturers need to be at the top of their game. Renault has used safety as a high-profile way to differentiate its products, but that doesnt really work anymore, given that all cars are now thought to be relatively safe. Also, the Euro NCAP tests are not thought to be the be all and end all. Some suspect that getting the fifth star doesnt really make that much difference.
So Renault has decided that attractive interiors will be a key factor in making a sale. The recently face-lifted Renault Laguna has a superb choice of interiors. Now, the new Clios Privilege level of trim sported a magnificent interior worthy of a luxury executive saloon, with soft two-tone beige, high quality plastic contrasting with black on the facia, and doors, with the same beige leather seats, topped off with aluminium trim on the air conditioning outlets and dials. Renault describes this with some enthusiasm.
The Privilege trim level is based on a soothing light/dark theme. The two-tone dashboard is warm and dynamic.
As for the Initiale option
LIGHT HUES DOMINATE
The Initiale version stands out by the use of elegant, prestige materials essentially leather, chrome and wood (cherry wood and walnut bur inlay). Light hues dominate, while the soft, hide-covered seats and door panels are trimmed in a dark-coloured edging.
And dont forget these are just shopping-trolley superminis for heavens sake.
Renault offers a bewildering maze of versions and choices, so it is difficult to compare prices with the competition. But buyers seeking discounts will be greeted with open arms because Renault is not in a strong position. Theres the competition from Korea, in the form of the new Kia Rio, and face-lifted Hyundai Getz. Theres also the new Fiat Grande Punto now, and soon the new Peugeot 207 and Opel/Vauxhall Corsa. Fiat and Peugeot, like Renault, are also planning to extend the life of the old models to allow them a cheaper sales point.
MODUS SALES PLUNGE
Renault needs sales desperately. Sales of the Modus, the mini-MPV version of Clio III, have plunged by about 50 per cent below expectations, and are likely to slide further as dealers switch their efforts to moving Clio III from their forecourts. But Renaults strategy calls for higher prices to compensate for higher manufacturing costs. Thats going to be a difficult circle to square. Renaults strategy has also been knocked sideways by the delay in the Twingo replacement from 2006 until 2007.
Renault is getting twitchy about prospects.
NO SALES PROJECTION
Renaults small car production teams confidence (has been) clearly punctured by the recent Modus disappointment. While Renault was not prepared to share its volume expectations and targets for Clio III, it was aiming for above-group average profitability for the new Clio, said investment banker Citicorp after attending the Olbia, Sardinia, launch.
This means it must sell the car with more expensive options and content than the outgoing model.
Citicorp has more confidence in Fiat and Peugeots ability to execute its small car strategies. Fiats decision to grit its teeth and cut its sales targets seems realistic, while Citicorp likes Peugeots three pronged attack at the lower end with the little 107 joint venture with Toyota, the 1007 upmarket town car, and the upcoming 207.
Peugeot does seem to have covered all the bases, while having a history of being able to make money with small cars, said Citicorp.
According to Deutsche Bank, competition in the B segment is reaching a crescendo. New models are crowding on to dealer forecourts Clio (450,000 a year, now) Punto (350,000, now), Peugeot 207 (550,000, spring 2006) and Opel Corsa (420,000, autumn 2006). This represents a combined volume of 12 per cent of the western European market and 42 per cent of the segment. Also the new cars are noticeably bigger than the old ones and theres a risk of stealing sales from the sector above. The older models which will still be in production might cannibalise the new ones, says Deutsche Bank.
Renault was able to produce Clio III for less than the old one - ¤953 million euros versus ¤1.14 billion because of the common platform shared with the Modus and Nissans Micra. Reduced development time of 28 months versus 49 months also helped
Next year looks tough for Renault with no significant new car launches, and products like the Megane starting to age, the Laguna stalling, and the Vel Satis dead in the water. The Clio III has the lead role in the charge for sales and higher profits. That task doesnt look easy.
Im finding the Korean proposition difficult to ignore. Both the Kia Rio, and its Hyundai Getz (next road test on WintonsWorld) sibling offer comparable cars in terms of driveability and quality to European superminis like the Ford Fiesta and Fiat Punto, but can be up to £2,000 cheaper when you add in all the free kit. The Honda Jazz still gets my vote as the best supermini buy. It is great value and has top-notch quality and versatility. But its lack of a diesel engine option is making this case more difficult to make.
Neil Winton October 11, 2005
home page / more reviews / auto industry news / top of page