REVIEW DATE: 08 Jan 2007
The Clio Campus Van might be due a long service medal but when it comes to cutting costs, it's right on the pace. Steve Walker reports.
With modern superminis growing progressively larger and more complex, is the simple, affordable supermini-derived van a dying breed? If it is, many operators will mourn its passing, these nimble load-luggers having been widely adopted as perfect antidotes to the perpetual gridlock and parking headaches that characterise urban motoring today. Whatever the future holds for the supermini-based commercial vehicle, the present is in safe hands with the likes of Renault's Clio Campus van.
Take a look at Renault's current Clio, the third generation in the marque's small car dynasty, and at this stage in its lifecycle, it's hard to imagine it striped out and converted into a van. The focus of supermini designers over recent years has been firmly fixed on generating that illusive 'big car feel' and to this end, materials and build quality have been ramped-up considerably in the latest models. There's a whole raft of high-tech features integrated into these modern small cars as well, ensuring that products like the Clio III feel far more grown-up propositions than their predecessors. Of course, the game will continue to move on, as is the nature of the automotive industry, and what's fresh and exciting today will quickly lose its lustre. The chances are that we will see a Clio III commercial vehicle in the not too distant future but Renault are quite rightly reluctant to tarnish their successful supermini's image with a downmarket commercial version just yet. Instead, they're persevering with the Clio Campus Van we feature here, a familiar model based on the more utilitarian Clio II.
This Clio might not have the general sophistication of the model that has superseded it but it is economical, reliable, and affordable, three qualities that always maintain a prominent position on the wish lists of van buyers. The van, as we've established, is based on the Clio II supermini which is still available in passenger car form badged as the Clio Campus. As tends to be the case with supermini-derived commercial vehicles, space is limited. You get a load volume of just under 1m3 where the rear seats used to be, with a load height of 63cm and a 1.3m load length. The maximum payload of 535kg is unlikely to be approached by most operators given the modest amount of room available, although a few boxes of gold bullion would do it.
"Equipment levels look very generous, especially once you've reminded yourself that this is a commercial vehicle"
Under the bonnet lies Renault's 1.5dCi common-rail diesel engine, a unit that's particularly well-suited to light commercial vehicle applications. We've seen it crop up in a number of different guises over the years but here it's doing a healthy 68bhp with 160Nm of torque from 1,700rpm and in the lightweight Clio Campus Van, that translates into surprisingly lively acceleration. Indeed, this is a commercial vehicle that really can entertain its driver with that raw-edged, almost go-kart style feel to the handling which has been largely been bred out of modern supermini products. Driving the Clio Campus Van, you can even get a flavour for why the hot hatch Renaultsport versions of this Clio remain such well-respected drivers' cars.
Although undoubtedly a welcome diversion for the employees behind the wheel, a spirited driving experience is hardly the point of this kind of vehicle. The people paying the bills will be far more enamoured by the engine's headline-grabbing 65.7mpg average fuel economy along with emissions measured at a lowly 115g CO2/km. Over longer runs, you can expect fuel economy that's better still and while the firm ride and cabin noise mean the Clio Campus Van isn't the ideal long distance companion, it shouldn't be solely thought of as a city runabout.
In terms of styling, the Clio Campus Van represents what should be the final incarnation of a Clio II design that has been through numerous revisions across its lengthy lifecycle. There's a sporty look to the front end with the low under bumper hosting three yawning air intakes which are mirrored above by the twin dark recesses of the latest Renault family grille. At the back, there's the trademark bulge of the rear windscreen and a restyled bumper while thick side rubbing strips protect against parking mishaps.
Inside, the Clio Campus Van isn't the last word in functional design and although its construction seems tough enough, the cab area does feel dated. The light grey plastics do a good job of masking the grime that can build up over time in a working van but storage space is limited and this tends to cause its own build-up of miscellaneous items on the passenger seat. Equipment levels look very generous, especially once you've reminded yourself that this is a commercial vehicle. As standard, all buyers get a multi-function trip computer that will allow you to keep track of your average fuel economy and the distance left to the next fill-up. There's also remote central locking and the RAID anti intruder device that locks all the doors once a speed of 5mph is reached. ABS with brakeforce distribution and brake assist is also included, as are twin front airbags.
You'll need to pay extra for a CD stereo and air-conditioning - £100 and £500 respectively - while front fog lamps and a metal grille bulkhead are a reasonable £75 each. One interesting option is the Sport pack which, for £1,100, gives the Clio Campus Van a pronounced racy edge. It's all cosmetic but the 14" alloy wheels, full bodykit and body-coloured door mirrors will be seen as a worthwhile investment by many, especially if the van is to double-up as domestic transport on weekends.
At prices starting from £8,485, the well-equipped and economical Clio Campus Van represents strong value for money. Its aging underpinnings are evident at times but the impressive engine and engaging handling go a long way towards making up for this. Enjoy it while it lasts.
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