Drawing inspiration from the past to invoke a 21st century vision of Renault’s iconic R5 Turbo rally hero, the outrageous Clio V6 was a hot hatch of jaw-dropping drama and excitement. Originally built as a concept car for the 1998 Paris Motor Show before appearing the following year as a full-blown racer for Renault’s spectacular Clio V6 Trophy one-make series, such was the feverish buzz surrounding this magnificent Clio mutant that Renaultsport was honour-bound to put a road version into production.
That car was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 2001 and immediately caused a sensation. Staying as close to the original concept as possible, and retaining the same mid-mounted 3.0 V6 engine as the race car (albeit in slightly detuned specification) where a regular Clio accommodated rear passengers and luggage, it was a true pocket-sized supercar in all its unapologetic and impractical glory.
In 2003, this ‘Phase I’ model - officially known as the Clio V6 230 on account of its power output - was followed by the ‘Phase II’ V6 255 - a comprehensively improved evolution that mated increased power to a slightly longer wheelbase chassis for sweeter handling. These Clios were rare cars indeed, with a total of 1513 Phase I and 1309 Phase IIs built, 256 of the former and 354 of the latter in right-hand drive for the UK market. Despite sales being restricted to Europe, these bellowing, broad-shouldered monsters captured the collective imagination of car enthusiasts around the world, grabbing headlines and heartstrings with equal success.
Production of the V6 255 ceased in 2006, yet a decade later this outlandish Clio remains utterly compelling. Sitting almost as wide as it is long and blessed with the bulging, gym-honed physique of a body builder; the familiar Clio features transplanted onto an altogether more exotic form. Swollen front and rear wheel arches stretch to cover the wide-track suspension and fat Michelin tyres, these huge shoulders and haunches, not to mention hungry air intakes and a pair of sawn-off exhaust pipes combining to create bodywork that all-but swallows the standard Clio, transforming Renault’s chic shopping car into a Marvel comic-book superhero.
The visual tricks continue as you fumble for the deeply recessed door handle, negotiate the insanely wide sill and climb inside, for there before you is the familiar steering wheel, dashboard and interior trim as that from Renault Sport’s more conventional front-engined Clio 182. Then you start the engine and your whole world is turned on its head once more. Instead of a familiar four-cylinder zing emanating from the front of the car, you’re treated to the gruff pulse of an altogether more formidable six-cylinder engine sat just behind your shoulders. If it skews your sense at a standstill, what on Earth is it like to drive?
Unsurprisingly, in feel as in soundtrack, the rear-wheel drive V6 is quite unlike any other Clio. The steering is lighter and slightly calmer, the shift of the six-speed gearbox freer and pleasingly snickety. The ride is smooth and supple, the brakes emphatically firm and strong. In short it feels like a bigger, more serious car, which of course it is in so many ways. Consequently you approach driving the V6 in a totally different style, not least because you’re left in no doubt about the concentration of weight at the rear of the car, but also because the generous character and muscular delivery of the V6 is such that you don’t need to adopt the frenzied approach so typical of the V6’s boisterous four-cylinder cousins.
The result is a car that makes deceptively swift progress, ample traction combining with equally generous torque to punch you cleanly out of corners. The engine never sounds less than fabulous, at once sweet, serrated and exotic. No wonder the size of your smile seems directly connected to the movement of your right foot. A small hatchback endowed with a big six-cylinder engine is a novelty that never wears-off.
Straights are fun and so too are the corners, though with most of the Clio V6‘s mass behind you, they demand some respect. The trick is getting the lightly loaded front-end pointing into the apex, which requires a considered blend of determination and delicate throttle play. It’s a totally different technique to other Clios, but it’s also a challenge that sits at the core of Clio V6 folklore and why the thrill it delivers is something to savour. Harness that pendulum effect, trust in the tremendous grip and enjoy the purity of rear-wheel drive and the V6 will cut through corners like no other Renault hot hatch. Indeed like no other hot hatch full-stop. The inimitable product of Renault Sport’s fearless creativity, ten years since production ceased this wonderful car is living testament to a brand that dares to do while others only dream.