This is what happened when Renault was going through one of its off-the-wall phases and decided to stick a V6 engine into the Clio supermini. It wouldn’t fit in the front, so the rear seats had to come out, and a 3.0-litre motor slotted in above the rear wheels.
It’s a hot hatch that was described as a ‘classic’ even when it was new – with many astonished that it even made production. The first-generation model developed a reputation for being particularly lairy, while the phase-two cars (like the one tested here) had some input from Porsche and are more desirable.
What are its rivals?
The Clio V6 was the fastest hot hatch money could buy when it was new. Potential buyers might also consider the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA or SEAT Leon Cupra R, but neither were anywhere near as bonkers as the Renault. In reality, it was closer to being a Porsche 911 in a supermini body than a hot hatch.
What engine does it use?
The Clio V6 was launched at a time when mainstream French cars were available with a 3.0-litre petrol V6. It was already used in models such as the Laguna, Vel Satis and even Espace people carrier, not to mention the Peugeot 406 and Citroen Xantia.
By the second generation model, power had been boosted to 255hp, thanks to a revised cylinder head and induction system.
What’s it like to drive?
First impressions: this feels like a 12-year-old Renault Clio. The interior is drab, while you sit far too high up – but that’s all par for the course when it comes to hot hatches. Start it up and the sound isn’t exactly thunderous, either.
It only starts to feel a little special when you put your foot on the clutch and select first gear. The clutch is Land Rover Defender-heavy, while the gearbox feels snickety in a way you don’t expect from a Clio.
Pull away and – huge turning circle aside – it all feels a bit, well, ordinary. There are creaks and rattles (and bear in mind this is a cared-for 20,000-mile example), the steering seems surprisingly light and uncommunicative, while you keep telling yourself that it’ll make up for it as soon as you hit a stretch of national speed limit road and open it up.
Does is get better? Well, sort of. It sounds good as you (slowly) rev towards its 7,500rpm redline, but the performance isn’t up to the standard of modern hot hatches. It’ll hit 62mph in 6.0 seconds – an astonishing figure back in the early noughties, but something we’re all too used to now. The V6 feels lazy by today’s standards, too. It’s just not as frantic as you might expect from its appearance.
At least, being mid-engined, there’s none of that torque steer we associate with hot hatches of this era. It feels like it has an abundance of traction, and the later models don’t have the same reputation for being a handful that the early ones did.
Unfortunately, the manic excitement promised by its looks doesn’t really come. Period reviews of the car suggest it takes a little time to get into the rhythm of the Clio V6. And being spoilt by the instant gratification of modern hot hatches probably doesn’t help its case in 2016. It didn’t leave us buzzing with exhilaration, though.
Reliability and running costs
The Clio V6 isn’t as unreliable as you might think, although finding a good specialist willing to work on it might be tricky. The position of the engine makes DIY maintenance difficult, and insurance companies are likely to be a little wary if you’re young or have a number of crashed hot hatches to your name.
You’d be lucky to achieve 20mpg and a tank will be emptied in less than 300 miles, meaning it’s more of a B-road blaster than a continent crosser.
Could I drive it every day?
With prices as strong as they are (and rising), and numbers of the later 255 model hovering at around 150 on UK roads, it’d be a shame to drive one of these every day. And why would you want to, frankly? The interior is pretty grim for spending a large chunk of your life in, and the novelty factor of driving a two-seat mid-engined Clio every day would soon get boring. If you want a sports car as a daily, buy a Porsche Cayman. A Clio V6 is best kept for occasional use. Or just to admire in the garage.
How much should I pay?
If you’re after one, this example we’ve driven is currently on sale at 4 Star Classics for £34,995. For that money, you expect the very best – and, to be fair, this is probably it. With just 20,000 miles and not a mark on its bodywork, it could be a safe investment, even at nearly £8,000 more than its retail price when new.
A budget of slightly more than £20,000 will pick you up an early phase-one model (these have a reputation for being even friskier, so be careful), while a useable phase-two can be bought for around £28,000.
What should I look out for?
Obvious ones are signs of abuse and crash damage. Even the latest V6 Clios are more than 10 years old now, and in Renault hot hatch years that’s a long time if it’s been ragged from cold, missed services and chucked into the odd hedge sideways.
With the engine where it is, even checking the oil isn’t particularly easy, so some owners just don’t bother. Take it for a good test drive. Do all the gears select easily (if not, there might be synchromesh issues), and do the brakes stop the car in a straight line without any untoward noises?
Inspect the bodywork – damage can be pricey to fix – and check the wheels for signs of kerbing. The slightest nudge can knock out the tracking.
Should I buy one?
A budget of £35,000 buys you a lot of car. You could treat yourself to the brilliant Ford Focus RS, fresh out of the factory, and have a couple of grand left over. Or, on the secondhand market, how about a mint Lotus Exige, a more useable Porsche Cayman, or even a three-year-old BMW M3?
None of these have the novelty factor of being an ageing French supermini from a time when Renault was bonkers enough to use a mid-engined V6. Do you want to be different that much? Only you can make that call.
Rumour has it, when the Clio V6 was being developed, Volkswagen heard that a 3.0-litre Clio was being produced. Not to be outdone on the efficiency stakes, the Lupo 3L was rushed into development – with the goal of consuming just three litres of fuel per 100km. The result was a very different car to the Clio V6…
Thanks to 4 Star Classics for the loan of the Renault Clio V6