Draw up a list of modern classics and the Renault Clio V6 is very likely to appear on it. The iconic mid-engined hatchback recently turned 20 years old.
First introduced as a concept at the 1998 Paris Motor Show, the Clio V6 was hand-built from 2000 to 2005. With race-bred specification based on the Clio V6 Trophy cars, it actually had more in common with Group B rally cars or supercars than the humble hatchback it was based upon.
At launch, the Clio V6 was the world’s only mid-engined hatchback, offering sportscar performance and a fiery nature. In fact, it was such a handful that customers were invited to take part in the ‘V6 Experience’ where they could test drive the car in a controlled proving ground environment and receive training from qualified instructors.
The exclusivity of the Clio V6 was further heightened through its limited production run. Manufacturing of right-hand drive versions was restricted to 400 cars per year and on its announcement in 2000, 500 orders for right-hand drive cars had already been placed. Each car’s individual build number was shown on a plaque positioned in the centre console.
Twenty years after its official announcement and the Clio V6 is more sought-after than ever, with surviving examples now selling for more than double the original cost, its specialised design and rarity ensuring it’s recognised as a highly collectable modern classic.
From competition car to Paris Motor Show star
In true Renault Sport tradition, the Clio V6’s origins are planted firmly in motorsport. Its existence was a direct result of the Clio V6 Trophy series, which was introduced to promote the newly launched second generation Renault Clio. Replacing the Renault Sport Spider Trophy, the series toured some of Europe’s most famous circuits with the performance of the heavily reworked Clios and the premise of closely matched racing attracting several top drivers.
With a 3.0-litre V6 engine producing 213kW, rear-wheel drive and a short wheelbase, the specialised race Clios were thrilling to both drive and watch. The competition models had relatively little in common with roadgoing versions of the best-selling front-wheel drive hatchback, but all that changed with the 1998 Paris Motor Show.
Already a highlight in Renault’s calendar, the Paris Motor Show was even more significant for the manufacturer in 1998, the year marking its 100th anniversary and providing an unrepeatable opportunity to showcase the brand’s innovation and passion. It didn’t disappoint, marking the occasion with the unveiling of the Twingo II, the Vel Satis concept and, most notably, the Clio Renault Sport V6 24V.
The influence of the Clio V6 Trophy competition cars was obvious, but the special project also paid homage to the iconic Renault 5 Turbo, sharing the same mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout and aggressive styling, which encompassed enlarged wheelarches and huge air intakes to cool and feed the V6 engine.
As the earlier car had added something special to the Renault 5 range, the Clio V6 project brought unprecedented excitement to the Clio line-up. The Mk1 Clio was no slouch with its sought-after Williams variants and the new Mk2 Clio already available as the acclaimed performance-orientated 172, but the Clio V6 added a potential halo model that had more in common with a supercar than a compact family hatchback.
Such was the response to the project that Renault swiftly ordered a preliminary development and production study from British-based specialist TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing). The report confirmed the project’s feasibility and that the production car could reach the Renault required high levels of quality, safety and road performance.
Based on the findings, Renault took the decision to produce a limited run of the radical Clio.
Phase 1: A race car for the road
To the delight of motoring enthusiasts, the original ‘Phase 1’ Clio V6 was reported to be 98 per cent faithful to the Paris Motor Show concept.
At the heart of its mid-engine architecture and sitting where you would find the rear seats of a normal front-wheel drive Clio, was the same naturally aspirated 3.0-litre V6 engine that was derived from that used in the Renault Laguna. For its application in the Clio, the V6 was modified with the likes of new pistons, an increased compression ratio, enlarged inlet ports and a higher rev limit of 7 100rpm. Slightly detuned from that of the Trophy competition cars, the V6 developed 166kW and maximum torque of 300 Nm at 3,750 rpm. It enabled the Clio V6 to sprint from 0-100kph in only 6.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 237kph.
The V6’s power was channelled through the PK6 six-speed manual gearbox, which was developed from an existing five-speed unit but equipped with a completely new internal control mechanism. A limited slip differential helped to effectively put the power down and while there was no sudden turbocharger rush to catch out the unwary, but the short wheelbase and a lack of traction control ensured that the Clio V6 delivered an incredibly exciting and highly involved drive.
There was certainly no mistaking its performance potential. Although the body shell, bonnet, roof and rear tailgate were all borrowed from the Clio Renault Sport 172, the bumpers as well as the front and rear wings, sill panels and body sides were specific to the Clio V6.
Compared to a normal Clio, the Clio V6 was 171mm wider, 66mm lower, 38mm longer in the wheelbase and its tracks were increased by 110mm at the front and 138mm at the back. In true supercar fashion, it ran a staggered wheel and tyre combination, with 205/50/ZR17 front tyres and 235/45/ZR17 tyres at the rear. The large diameter 17-inch OZ ‘Superturismo’ alloys also allowed the fitment of 330mm vented front disc brakes, matched to AP Racing 4-pot callipers (the first time they had featured on a production road car), with 300 mm items on the back.
Unsurprisingly, the rear structure was entirely specific to the V6, but the original front subframe was based on that of the Clio Renault Sport 172 with a strengthening cross-member. The suspension was exclusive to the V6, the front being MacPherson-type and the rear utilising a multi-link set-up. Notably, the front anti-roll bar was taken from the Clio Trophy car.
Adding to the exclusivity of the Clio V6 was that it was entirely hand-assembled. Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) built all ‘Phase 1’ cars at its workshops in Uddevalla in Sweden, constructing circa 12-a-day and completing 1,631 examples by the time the ‘Phase 2’ model went on sale in August 2003.
Phase 2: More power, more "sport"
The popularity of the original paved the way for the ‘Phase 2’ model, which was introduced at the same time as the facelifted second-generation Clio.
As with the rest of the range, the newly named Clio V6 255 received updated front and rear styling, plus it also benefitted from revised air intakes and larger 18-inch alloy wheels. If the revised flagship Clio wasn’t individual enough for some owners, then they could also take advantage of the new optional Renault i.d personalisation scheme, which included the availability of the now iconic Liquid Yellow (J37) paint that is synonymous with high-performance Renault Sport models. Just 18 RHD models would be specified with the eye-popping shade, ensuring that these distinctively finished examples would become some of the most highly sought-after versions of the Clio V6.
However, the changes were far from skin deep and Renault Sport took the opportunity to complement the Clio V6’s revised appearance with significant alterations to its running gear.
Notably, the Clio V6 now boasted 187kW. Peak power was delivered at a heady 7 150 rpm with the power increase courtesy of reworked cylinder heads and a more efficient, freer-flowing induction system. The extra power, plus a shorter final drive and closer ratio gears, saw the Clio cover the 0-100kph sprint in 5.8 seconds and reach a top speed of 246kph.
Better still, changes to the suspension meant it was now easier to explore the enhanced performance potential. To add extra control and make the Clio V6 more predictable under hard driving, the chassis was extensively revised. Modifications included a 33mm longer wheelbase, 23mm wider front track, firmer suspension and the addition of stiffer subframes, new bump stops and longer trailing arms.
The result ensured that the Clio V6 255 was not only faster than its predecessor, but better handling too. It was considerably more civilised than the earlier version, yet even more focused and entertaining.
Renault Sport also evolved production, bringing it in-house and building the Phase 2 at its ex-Alpine Dieppe factory. As with the original, each car was hand-built and 1 309 were constructed before production ceased in 2005.