REVIEW DATE: 24 May 2007
With The Arrival Of Renault's Clio III, Many Observers Marked The Clio II down As Yesterday's News. Far From It, The Car Continues In Budget Campus Form With much of Its Appeal Intact. Steve Walker Reports.
It's a tough old business the motor industry. As each lustrous new model arrives on the scene to the media clamour and the fanfare of the PR machine, so the death knell sounds for an old stager. Once superseded, these elderly models slip easily from the memory, shoved out of the showrooms to rust in peace populating the nation's used car lots and small ads sections. Just occasionally, however, a model is allowed to soldier on into its dotage. Usually it's because there are units left to shift or sometimes a model is deemed still to have something to offer as a budget alternative to it's bigger, shinier replacement. Renault seem to hold the later opinion of their Clio II because they've given it a stay of execution. It continues to be manufactured and offered alongside the Clio III badged as the Clio Campus.
What goes around comes around. Back in the 90s, the arrival of the first generation Clio relegated the popular Renault 5 to Campus status. It was sold alongside its successor for some time with reduced prices and juiced-up equipment lists acting as incentives for buyers to forgo the less tangible benefits of the more modern product. Today, it's the second generation Clio that has come over all Campus on us in the wake of the Clio III's arrival. If buyers can't stretch to the headline-grabbing III perhaps the tried and tested II will do.
We're assured that this is no short-term marketing ploy to help clear the remnants of unsold Clio II stock that's still clogging-up Renault dealerships. The Clio Campus range will apparently have a tenure of years rather than months with Renault pointing out that the car remains in production at their Slovenian manufacturing plant, while the French factories turn their attentions on meeting demand for Clio III derivatives.
The Clio Campus range is massively simplified from the time when this car filled the role of Renault's supermini standard-bearer. Back then, the need to cater for every conceivable taste in small cars saw a myriad of engines and trim levels sub-divided into collections and forming a line-up with a formidable power to perplex. Nowadays, it's three engines, two trim levels and two bodystyles. Easy.
"If buyers can't stretch to the headline-grabbing III perhaps the tried and tested II will do."
The most popular bodystyle is the three-door one and it's a sensible choice because here the Clio II is at its sassy, sporty best. Roominess never was a particular Clio II strongpoint and the five-door shape always tended to underline this shortcoming but you can still get it if you must have those extra entry options. That said, the Clio III is a significantly larger car and buyers valuing space and practicality would do better to redirect themselves there. When it is finally pensioned off, the Clio II will be remembered for its firebrand 172 and 182 performance incarnations which were always three-door models as well as for the lunatic 255bhp rear-engined Clio V6. An involving driving experience, simple good-looks and a young, fun image were facets shared by all the models in the old range and these Campus derivatives play-up to that.
The pair of trim levels that are being offered are known as Campus and Campus Sport. The more affordable Campus kicks off its equipment list rather disappointingly with an RDS radio cassette player and things don't pick-up much from there. You can safely mark any car that mentions a 60:40 split rear seat, height adjustable headrests and 14" steel wheels amongst its 'highlight' features down as a poorly specified one. Although, the Campus does redeem itself to some extent by featuring ABS with EBD, twin front airbags, height adjustment for its driver's seat and steering column and body-coloured bumpers as standard specification.
The Campus Sport is a bit more like it with a range of largely cosmetic additions that raise the tone and evoke a little of that Clio II hot hatchback heritage. There's a rear spoiler, body-coloured door mirrors, front fog lamps, sports front seats, a multi-function trip computer, leather steering wheel, leather gear knob and chrome surrounds for the instruments. Presumably, many buyers would have quite happily given up some of that body-colouring or chrome detailing for a CD stereo but they won't get the choice. As with the Campus, it's a £100 option but there is a Chill Pack that will install air-conditioning and that upgraded stereo system to your Campus Sport for £500.
By now, you'll be getting the feel for these Renault Clio Campuses as low-cost, budget models and you'd be right. They have obviously been conceived to operate in a lower echelon of the market to the Clio III and to in no way impinge on its territory. The engine options confirm this positioning for the car with Campus buyers able to select only from the lower cost options of the powerplants that were offered with the Clio II in its pomp. Campus buyers are given the choice of either the 60bhp 1.2-litre engine or the 68bhp version of Renault's 1.5-litre diesel while the Campus Sport crowd can have that same oil-burning unit or get to grips with the 75bhp 1.2-litre 16-valve engine. Predictably, all of the power options have excellent economy in common with the petrol choices both recording combined fuel consumption figures in the region of 48mpg and the diesel ensuring you'll always be a stranger on your local filling station forecourt with a 66mpg average. The 1.2-litre 16v engine is quickest with a 13s 0-60mph time and while the other two both offer pedestrian 15s times for the same sprint, the diesel's extra torque ensures it feels usefully muscular around town.
The Clio II definitely has a few more years left in the tank. It was one of the most enjoyable superminis to drive in its heyday and the market hasn't progressed to the extent that its keen dynamics are without charm today. Where things have leapt forward is in terms of practicality and build quality with the Clio III and the leading supermini alternatives looking and feeling much more substantial than the Clio Campus models. Of course, they have substantial prices to match and it's not hard to imagine some buyers attracted by the value propositions of the £7,995 Clio Campus or the £8,925 Campus Sport. Anyone who feels their head being turned, should remember the sparse equipment provision on these cars and factor in cost options like a CD stereo and air-con, if required, but a Campus should still look like a cost-effective choice.
With the Clio having grown-up considerably in its third generation guise and in the absence of a citycar product to prop-up their range, the Clio II still has a key role to play for Renault.
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