THE BEAST WITHIN
| Renault Clio V6 255 review |
The Clio V6 is one of the craziest cars ever created by a mainstream manufacturer. But what is the result? The most outlandish hot hatch ever? Or a genuine slice of supercar excess bred from a supermini?
By Kristian Spreckley | Photography by Ben Midlane
ow do you define the Renault Sport Clio V6? A car so unique, the vehicle it was based upon was literally turned inside out. A front-engine, front wheel drive hatchback sacrificed and mutated into a mid-engine, rear-drive, two-seater quasi supercar, complete with wild proportions and a handling reputation that would make the owner of any classic 911 ‘widowmaker’ blush. Only Renault could produce such a machine, and there’s little doubt we'll never see another. This car has all the magnetism of a Lamborghini, yet possesses none of the stigma - everyone who comes into contact with the V6 falls under its spell, its appeal is universal - enthusiast or not.
Yet if you’re sitting behind the wheel as I am now, stationary with everything turned off, it's most definitely a humble Renault hatchback. OK, I’ve negotiated an exceptionally wide sill to get here, but otherwise it's 99% standard issue Clio - there’s a steering wheel with vaguely sporting intentions and supportive seats, plus a gear stick in a slightly unusual position. However, you’ll already know that the V6 is all about what's behind you, than in front. Obviously there are no rear seats, but nothing prepares you for the sheer volume of the three-litre V6 - it eats up all the rear cabin space and a large engine cover dominates the view astern.
Start it up and things go a notch further, there’s that characteristic big engine whir as the starter motor turns and then after a few revolutions the V6 fires into life, making a lovely initial noise before settling down to a very calm, almost sewing machine like noise at tick over. There’s no doubt that although it's a big engine, it sounds pretty mechanically efficient at idle and calm, which is at odds with its proximity - you’d expect it to be pulsating a firing order in your spinal fluid. This car is an enigma, and I can’t wait to dig deeper into the puzzle.
This is my first article for Rush and I honestly couldn’t have hoped for a better way to kick things off. The V6 is a car that I’ve adored from afar, having probably only ever seen a couple on the roads since the Phase 1 variant launched back in 2001. So, the chance to finally get up close and personal with such an icon was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Fortunately, the weather gods are being kind, serving up an ‘Indian summer’ of sunshine and dry roads, ideal for testing a car with a wayward handling bias!
The Renault Sport Clio V6 launched in 2001 as a road car, having been unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 1998 to wild acclaim, following the production of the Clio V6 Trophy which was produced for a one make race series to promote the Clio II, taking over from the Sport Spider to promote Renault through motorsport. These racers inspired the road cars, taking inspiration from the widely famed mid-engined Renault 5 Turbos of the mid 80s. The Trophy cars were full competition cars developed and built using a standard Clio FWD chassis by Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) between 1999 and 2003.
As well as completely reworking the standard Clio shell to take the rear engine and wider tracks, each car was fitted with a sequential Sadev gearbox, full roll cage and magnesium wheels. They looked fantastic and their success paved the way for the production of a road car in limited numbers, although the trophy was a very different car to the road variant, sharing only very minor body parts. 159 Trophy cars were built in total, relatively large numbers for a one make race series.
The engine was derived from the 3.0 litre 60 degree V6 ES9 that was installed in the (probably best whispered!) Laguna, producing 285 PS (281 bhp; 210 kW) in the Trophy cars, 230 PS (169 kW; 227 bhp) in Phase I guise and 255 PS (188 kW; 252 bhp) in Phase II cars. Torque was also marginally higher in the Trophy at 307 N⋅m (226 lb⋅ft) versus 300 N⋅m (221 lb⋅ft) in the road car. A total of 1,555 (256 UK) Phase I cars were built between 2001 and 2003, before the Phase II was introduced with additional power (to offset the increase in weight) alongside thorough chassis tweaks.
All Clio V6s were built by hand at a rate of 12 cars per day - Phase I cars were manufactured by TWR in Uddevalla, Sweden. Renault then moved production to the ex-Alpine Dieppe factory for the Phase II, but TWR remained at the tip of the development spear. Production ended in 2005 with a total of 1,309 (354 UK cars) Phase II cars produced.
So what’s the difference between a Phase I and Phase II car? Phase II cars received a face lift in line with the standard Clio models, an increase in power to 252bhp and significant chassis changes which included longer trailing arms, hence a slightly longer wheelbase, increased front track, revised subframes including cross members to stiffen the structure, stiffer suspension and corresponding changes to the bump stops.
These changes resulted in a car that gained an additional 45kg but importantly, the chassis changes made a big difference to the dynamics of the Phase II car, producing a car that handled much more predictably and that was also able to make use of the additional power. At the time it was said to be night and day better than the Phase I from a pure handling perspective.
As we know, the engine was put in the rear of the car and the combination of the sheer size of the engine and the increased structural work required to house it meant a 334kg (379kg for the Phase 2) increase in weight over the featherweight 172 Cup. Whilst the engine output is a significant hike over the 172’s 2-litre unit, the additional weight means it’s only marginally quicker to 60 mph, posting 6.2 to the 172’s 6.7 seconds. However, the layout and engine produce a completely different driving experience.
What do you notice first? From the look of the car and the wide tracks, you expect it to be physical but it's not, it's rather like all other Renaults, fast or not, they all feel like shopping cars, which is both good and bad. Bad because on initial turn in and at slow speeds it feels overly light to steer but press on a bit, load the steering up and that starts to change but make no mistake, like most cars of this vintage, you need to wind more lock on to turn the car compared to modern machinery like an M2.
Although the lack of any feel and feeling of over assistance is slightly disconcerting at first, you actually become glad of it very quickly and realise just how easy the car is to drive in everyday situations and as soon as you’re dialled into your favourite road and picking up pace, everything weights up nicely. What could be improved in the V6 is the vagueness around the straight ahead, there’s just a bit too much initial ‘slop’ but perhaps this is by design so as not to provoke the short wheelbase chassis during initial turn in.
And how does the chassis react to steering input? In a way you don’t expect based on that initial feel. The car has to take a moment, we’re talking very brief moments in time, to settle after an initial weight transfer but then it takes on an altogether different character, as if it has latched onto tracks in the road, it digs in and genuinely feels like it has endless amounts of grip, which I suspect is a result of that wide, short, almost square, chassis set up.
The gear change is tight, easy to use, relatively precise and feels much stronger than most other Renault gear boxes I've ever used. It really is great to use and only let down by being perhaps set slightly too far forward, in a way that’s hard to believe from an ergonomic design perspective. I suspect it's the result of an engineering requirement where they had to arrive at a best fit scenario. However, the height is nice and helps make up for the forward positioning.
The steering is affected by similar ergonomic misgivings, at least for me, in being set too far forward to allow for a comfortable leg position, forcing my legs to feel slightly cramped without sitting with over extended arms. It’s also slightly original Mini-esque in not being set particularly vertical - we’re not talking London bus flat, but it's certainly noticeable. I do however manage to reach a reasonable compromise that allows for confident driving. Once in a comfortable position, as with many cars from this era, visibility is superb.
How do the pedals fall? Pretty well actually and the brake and accelerator are well positioned with good surface area for easy heel and toe gear changes - a theme that runs through all the manual Renaults I have driven over the last 15 years.
For a car as seemingly ‘exotic’ as this, the interior is a bit of a let down and is very Renault! The seats are standard Renault Sport seats from the Clio 172 but you feel they could have stretched to something more fitting like the seats from the Clio Trophy, Recaros in other words. The interior plastics and switchgear are similarly low rent, the soft touch plastics have become sticky through years of use and seem a little out of place in a car that now commands a price tag of £50k upwards, but having said that, there is a certain ambience and charm about the interior that suits the car.
But this car isn’t about interior build quality and ergonomics, it’s about how the thing looks and drives, that’s where the magic lies. As we head out, the autumn sun frames a fantastic landscape with rolling roads and challenging bends for miles. There’s a fantastic hairpin as we approach the bottom of the moors and the car feels really secure around here, accelerating out it really grips and puts the power down with what feels like traction, firing us down a the next short stretch before a right then left over the bridge at the bottom of the hill where we can carry good speed - these roads are fantastically free flowing and on a dry day like today, perfect for the Clio.
What strikes you when pushing on is that it’s a noisy car, but in a good way - it’s wonderfully raw and exhilarating. It’s all about the engine and mechanical noise, there’s no overly loud exhaust note but you get fairly intimate with the engine and even hear the gear linkage moving around.
Chris tells me that if you remove the first, predominantly sound deadening, engine cover, you get significantly more noise and then if you remove the second cover, all hell breaks loose! I can imagine doing this on an early morning spirited drive but in general, you’d want those engine covers in place as they filter out just enough noise to make the car perfectly hospitable but remain exciting. The engine never sounds gruff but always mechanically smooth and builds to a lovely V6 crescendo as you head towards the redline, a process that you’ll want to repeat over and over again.
After getting a good few miles under the belt an impression of the car starts to form. Family resemblance aside, this is nothing like a Clio 172/182 Cup but surprisingly more of a grand tourer - it would make a great car for a European road trip. Where you bond with it most is at 7-8/10ths, pushing along quickly, allowing the chassis to breath with the road and leaning on it through the apex to exploit the strong grip and with a timely squeeze of the accelerator you can be ‘pinged’ out of a corner in much the same way as you do when driving an older 911 hard, the traction the mid/rear engine position provides helping to fire you out onto the next straight.
I’d be interested to see how it behaves on a sodden day, I do wonder whether it would be keen to fire me into the next dry stone wall, rather than down the next straight! And it’s not just corner exit that’s similar to a 911, you tend to adopt a similar driving style because the nose also feels light in the same way, you don’t get the same characteristic 911 ‘bob’ but you do get the light, slightly eerie feeling when you turn in. It can be disconcerting at first, but once you understand it and know it's not going to understeer into the next hedge, you trust the wide track to bite into the tarmac and transition to a thoroughly locked-in cornering attitude. It’s terrific and thoroughly entertaining when driven like this.
The brakes are strong and pedal feel is great, another Renault feature that you find repeats itself from one Renaultsport product to the next. I find them resistant to fade, strong and progressive, really allowing you to work in harmony with the rest of the chassis when pushing on. Given the mid-engined, short wheelbase nature, having strong dependable brakes is a must and TWR clearly ensured both retardation and balance were developed to inspire confidence around the limit.
From a driving perspective, forgetting how fantastic it is to just take in as a static object, the defining element of the car is the engine. Not because it’s incredibly exotic (it's from a Renault Laguna after all) but because it is what endows the car with its personality. From the mid engined position, to the big engined ability to waft along, to the way it handles and in turn the respect that commands from its pilot, to the intoxicating sound that fills the cabin in a way very few cars can match at any price, the engine plays a huge role in the character and enjoyment of this car.
It provides plenty of torque from relatively low revs, making the car almost effortless to drive from a progress perspective, and if you ring its neck the thrust continues right round the rev range, allowing you to pile on speed - this is a quick car. But I’ll come back to a point made earlier, you never feel you have to pin your foot to the floor everywhere to get your thrills from the V6 and I’d go as far as to say it feels a better car for it when driven like this.
So does it live up to the hype? Absolutely, and then some. It is a genuinely exotic car, the way it looks, the position of the engine and perhaps most of all that it turns heads - people seem to love the thing and it doesn’t divide opinion like a traditional, ostentatious, Instagram pleasing supercar. A humble piece of French exotica if you will. It's a rare car, one that makes you smile from ear to ear whether you’re merely standing admiring it, driving it hard, teetering on the brink of disaster on a damp autumnal night, or cruising through the Alps on a hot summer's day. There’s something for every occasion and it would almost certainly take a place in many dream garages, it’s that special.
| RENAULTSPORT CLIO V6 255 |
2,946cc naturally aspirated V6, DOHC, 32v, max 7,250rpm
252bhp @ 7,150rpm, 221lb-ft @ 4,650rpm
1,400kg, 182bhp/tonne, 158lb-ft/tonne
6sp manual, rwd, open differential
0.60 – 5.8s, 0-100 - 14.6s, max – 153mph
Value - from £50,000 ('Oct 2022)