index page Wintons Opinion cars index page Global Warming stories page under construction

Renault Clio III
Renault Clio III
Renault Clio III
Renault Clio III
Renault Clio III
Renault Clio III
Renault Clio III

Clio II Remains As Cut Price Option To Fight Rampaging Koreans
Unadventurous Design Unlikely To Woo New Buyers
*** out of 5

OLBIA, Sardinia
“First, do no harm,” sounds as though it might be part of the doctor’s 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 can’t 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. They’ve 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 – it’s 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

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 doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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 Clio’s “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 –

“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 don’t forget these are just shopping-trolley superminis for heaven’s 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. There’s the competition from Korea, in the form of the new Kia Rio, and face-lifted Hyundai Getz. There’s 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.

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 Renault’s strategy calls for higher prices to compensate for higher manufacturing costs. That’s going to be a difficult circle to square. Renault’s strategy has also been knocked sideways by the delay in the Twingo replacement from 2006 until 2007.

Renault is getting twitchy about prospects.

“Renault’s small car production team’s 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 Peugeot’s ability to execute its small car strategies. Fiat’s decision to grit its teeth and cut its sales targets seems realistic, while Citicorp likes Peugeot’s 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 there’s 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 Nissan’s 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 doesn’t look easy.

I’m 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

Renault Clio 1.2 Extreme
1.2 litre 4-cylinder petrol
75 bhp
5-speed manual
front wheels
0-62/100 km/h 13.4 seconds
Top Speed:
104 mph-167 km/h
Fuel Consumption:
claimed combined – 47.9 mpg-5.9 l/km
139 g/km
3,986 mm
Weight: 1,080 kg Insurance Group 2E
Suspension front:
MacPherson, anti-roll bar
Suspension rear:
torsion beam
£8,895/¤12,900 euros – on sale now - HYPERLINK
Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall/Opel Corsa, Seat Ibiza, Nissan Micra, Chevrolet Kalos, Citroen C3, Fiat Punto, Mazda 2, Honda Jazz, Hyundai Getz, Mitsubishi Colt, Peugeot 206, Skoda Fabia, Smart ForFour, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris, VW Polo, Kia Rio
Would I buy one?
Honda Jazz does it for me, just.
*** out of 5
bigger, better than old one, terrific interiors
boring looks, expensive compared with Koreans

home page / more reviews / auto industry news / top of page