French Insanity: The Clio V6

Photo by Mikey Snelgar, @mikeysnelgar on Instagram

As the new millennium was approaching, Renault had managed to keep track of their marbles for almost 13 years. The bonkers, mid-engined, homologation special known as the Turbo 2 had ended production in 1986 and les boffins at Renault began misplacing their marbles and were itching to produce a spiritual successor, which would emerge in the form of the Clio V6.

1999 saw the debut of the Clio V6 Trophy, a single-make series competition car, which would preview the Clio V6 Phase I that would arrive in 2001 featuring a mid-engined layout, much like its boxy hot hatch forebear, the Turbo 2, only this time with two extra cylinders. It was about as wide as it was long and featured bulging race car-derived bodywork. The little hatchback was based on the Clio Mk2, but very loosely, like a nun after a bottle of tequila loose, as the car shared basically zero mechanical parts with the economy car it was based on. Clearly, insanity was strong in the Renault V6 mid-engined hatchback lineage, because the 227 bhp Clio V6 Phase I could rocket to 60mph in just 6.2 and reach a top speed of 142mph, blowing pretty much every other hot hatch of the day out of the water. However, only 1513 of these little rocket ships would be produced, and all of them would develop a reputation for being a tad snappy in anything but the most arid conditions.

2003 marked the unveiling of the Clio V6 Phase 2, which was based on the newer Mk3 Clio, but once more, the name of the game here was bevved-nun levels of looseness. Compared to the Phase I, the Phase 2 gained more power taking the peak figure up to 252 bhp and giving it the title of hot-hatch horsepower heavyweight of the world at the time. This extra power allowed the rear-drive hatch to demolish 60 mph in 5.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 153 mph, still faster than the majority of today’s hot hatches and absolutely ballistic by the standards of the time. However, this power was more exploitable, as wider axels front and rear, and a longer wheelbase gave the car far more stability. Like the Phase 1, it featured swollen arches and two massive air ducts either side to cool that mid-mounted 3.0 litre V6. Unfortunately, even fewer Phase 2s would be produced, with only 1309 of these white-hot hatches ever leaving the factory in Dieppe.

As the proud and arguably daft owner of a Phase 2, I can tell you that these cars are not entirely deserving of their predecessor’s unapproachable reputation. While it is definitely still possible, and easy, to get the car to step out when you wish, it’s not exactly biting at the bit to throw you into the nearest hedgerow; with 205 section front tyres, and 245 section rears on such a short wheelbase, the thing just has enormous amounts of grip. However, it is by no means tame. Compared to a modern hot hatch, such as a Mk7 Golf GTI, it’s like having brain surgery without any anaesthetic: the whole thing is tingling with sensation. The numbness of throttle response and steering that plagues today’s crop of performance hatches is certainly not present here. A stab of the throttle sparks the naturally aspirated V6 into life, kicking you in the back and launching you forward with an immediacy that a Golf GTI’s turbocharged 4-banger simply can’t match. Noise is inarguably an area where the Clio V6 wins over any modern hatch, with the note bellowing from the engine behind you building from a growl to a thunderous roar as it climbs past 7000rpm. Even today, this thing feels every bit as fast and lively as the factory spec sheet would lead you to believe.

However, the Clio V6 Phase 2 certainly isn’t without its flaws. The most immediately noticeable of which is that infamous turning circle, which should be measured in parsecs rather than metres. Seriously, planets have orbits with a smaller circumference than a Phase 2, but this does result in some valuable lessons in patience and humility as any attempt to perform a U-turn on a narrow road will take about 12 times longer than a normal car, and leave you looking like a disproportionate tit. The seating position is typical of its contemporaries, in that it’s very upright and elevated, with little to no support from the side bolsters. With a V6 where the boot and rear seats should be, it would be reasonable to assume that this little Renault is devoid of luggage space. However, it is more than capable of accommodating enough luggage for two people going on a road trip for a long weekend or a hefty load from the supermarket, and if you get creative, trips to IKEA are definitely a possibility. Just take care not to put anything perishable in the front boot, as the heat from the brakes has the potential to leave any eggs soft-boiled; another fun quirk of the Clio V6 lifestyle.

The Clio V6 is by no means a perfect car, but in today’s hot hatch climate of lobotomised 4 cylinders that lack in character and overcompensate with comfort suspension and isolation from the road, it is these imperfections that lend the Clio V6 it’s charming personality and have ultimately cemented it as a bulging, vented icon of French automotive ludicrousness.