- Available for £35,000
- 3.0-litre V6 petrol, rear-wheel drive
- Phase 2 slightly less scary than 1 on the limit
- Huge character
- Prices on the up
- Brilliantly mad
Styling that makes onlookers go ‘cor blimey’ and/or whip out their smartphones are surely the dream of every car designer, even the ones who work for Perodua.
Some cars have an initial visual knockout quality that fades over time but a special few retain their ability to turn heads for a freakishly long time. In the world of supercars the Lamborghini Countach springs to mind. In the more common or garden world where most of us live, the number of long-lasting standout cars is smaller, but Renault’s Clio V6 must surely be on that shortlist. Even now, a quarter of a century after it first shocked showgoers at Paris in 1998, it still looks mad – and many shell-shocked drivers thought that it was madder than it looked.
The first Clio V6 to go on sale in 2001 was actually called the Renault Clio V6 Renault Sport, or the Renault Sport Clio V6, or the Renault Clio Renaultsport V6. Nobody was really sure. This was a time when Renault simply couldn’t get enough ‘Renaults’ and ‘Sports’ into their hotter cars’ names. Whatever it was called, it was based on the Clio V6 Trophy, a race car built by Renault’s sporting facility in Dieppe. Essentially it was a Clio shell with a 285hp 3.0 Laguna-based V6 engine and a Sadev sequential 6-speed gearbox mounted behind the driver. It raced in its own single-make series from 1999 to 2001 to help promote the new Clio 2 range.
The roadgoing Clio V6 which sprang from the racer was meant to be a tribute to other mad Renaults of the past like the 5 Turbo and the Spider. In terms of the effort required to execute it, you have to say it was quite a tribute, given that the Clio was a simple front-wheel drive supermini and the V6 version was a mid-engined rear-driver. Imagine any manufacturer even considering that idea in today’s highly prescribed modular platform environment.
In profile, visually connecting the V6 with the ordinary Clio was relatively easy, but that all changed when you got round the back of it and copped an eyeful of its bulbous tushie, massive arches and side scoops and there, under not one but two covers where the back seats should have been, the 60-degree 3.0-litre V6 engine.
All Clio V6s were hand-assembled. TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing) developed both Phase 1 and 2 cars and built the 230hp Phase 1 ‘230’ road cars at the TWR/Volvo plant in Sweden under the guidance of Steve Marvin. It was a rush job. The first demonstrator cars were rolling an unbelievable three months after the green light was lit, and the driving experience of the Phase 1, which cost £25,995 in the UK, reflected that. More on that in a minute.
The Phase 2 ‘255’ came out in 2003 and this time was built by Renaultsport in Dieppe. It adopted the front-end look of the facelifted standard Clio with a new bumper, bonnet and grille, and it added automatic Xenon headlamps. Peak output went up to 255hp via some mods which we’ll describe in the Engine & Gearbox section. The 6-speed transmission was given shorter final drive gearing and a new set of ratios inspired by the gearset of the esteemed Peugeot 306 GTi-6. The UK list price for the Phase 2 was £27,125.
There were other differences between the Phase 1 and 2, most importantly in the chassis. We’ll cover that off in more detail in the well-named Chassis section. All we’ll say for now is that improvements in this department were very much needed. The UK enthusiasts’ motoring market has a reputation for nurturing more than its fair share of ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’ drivers. The fact that the UK was the Clio V6’s biggest market after France (it was never sold outside Europe) tells you something about the Phase 1 Clio V6. It was a challenging drive, to put it mildly.
Grizzled veterans of the road testing fraternity who were asked to whang one around a corner for photographs suddenly remembered important engagements elsewhere. You couldn’t really call the switch from grip to spin a ‘transition’ because that word suggested there might be some time between those two extremes in which to manage the situation. In reality there was little or no time for that thanks to the sudden and sometimes catastrophic intrusion of the bump stops. The press launch in southern France was a tough one for Renaultsport techies who found themselves working through the night repairing crashed cars.
The £10k cheaper Clio 172 was 8mph slower than the V6 at the top end but, without the structural revisions and extra equipment that made the V6 over 350kg heavier than the 172 (front-end crash protection in lieu of the engine, rear subframe and rain-sensing wipers if you were daft enough to drive a V6 in the rain), it was generally quicker around a track and a lot less scary, too. But the 172 wasn’t outrageous. The V6 was. That was what made it an icon, then and now.
Clio V6 production ended in late 2005 when the next Clio facelift came round. You’ll see many different estimates of the total number of cars made. Official data suggests a little over 1,500 Phase 1s, but some say that the actual number exceeds 1,600, with between 250 and 300 coming to the UK. At least 1,300 Phase 2s were made, of which 350-odd right-hand drive cars came to the UK. In 2009 you could pick up a Phase 1 in Britain for around £20k. Now, in early 2023, that cost of admission has more or less doubled – although we can point you in the direction of one that’s under £35k if you don’t mind the odd sticker or two.
SPECIFICATION | RENAULT CLIO V6 (2001-on)
Engine: 2,946cc V6 24v
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 230@6,000rpm/255@7,150rpm
Torque (lb ft): 221@3,750rpm/221@4,650rpm
0-62mph (secs): 6.4/5.9
Top speed (mph): 145/152
Weight (kg): 1,350/1,400
MPG (official combined): 25.2/23.7
CO2 (g/km): 267/285
Wheels (in): 17/18
Tyres: 205/50 (f), 235/45 (r)
On sale: 2001 - 2005
Price new: £25,995/£27,125
Price now: from £35,000
(Data for Phase 1/Phase 2)
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The Laguna/Avantime/Vel Satis-derived V6 engine was given a higher compression ratio for the Phase 1 Clio, along with larger inlet ports and a lightened flywheel to raise its rev limit to 7,100rpm. Maximum power didn’t arrive until 6,000rpm but because the car was small you never felt shortchanged on flexibility or progress. Porsche 911-like back-end squat pressed the tyres down hard into the road for strong launches.
There were thoughts about going with a new Lotus-developed V6 for the Phase 2, but in the end they stuck with the same motor, gave it a gas-flowed head, new pistons, stronger valve springs and injectors and a more open air filter, plus a Porsche-calibrated Bosch ECU. All that produced an extra 25hp, showing how hard it was to extract more power from a naturally aspirated engine, and even then only if you were prepared to explore the newly-available region above 7,000rpm with a new rev limit of 7,500. Peak torque was unchanged at 221lb ft, but again you needed to throw 1,000 more revs at it than you did in the Phase 1. Giving the engine its head was never a chore in either model because the sound was mint and there was a lot of it, what with the engine being so close to your head.
Even simple maintenance such as checking the oil was more involved on the V6 because of the location of the engine. As a result of that, some cars might only get their oil checked when it was in the garage for a service, and rarely if ever between those times. Any mechanic looking to access the engine for more comprehensive work would definitely need a strong lower back and long arms. Fortunately the engine does have a good reliability record, as does the gearbox, although its action could feel a little sloppy on the Phase 1 and synchros could wear on both cars if owners were of the lead-footed/lead-fisted variety. Crunchy gearchanges were the danger sign.
There was a recall on the Phase 2 to rectify a glitch in the injection electronics which could introduce a mismatch between expected and actual engine speed. Dying coils would create a misfire and fuel consumption was epic. Who would have thought a Clio would be down in the low 20s or, driven with gusto, in the mid teens?
Returning to maintenance, service intervals for the V6 are on a very reasonable 12,000-mile/2-year basis. Scott Glander, the SG of SG Motorsport in Chippenham, Wilts, knows his Clio V6 onions. In the 1990s he cut his teeth on Metro 6R4s and Subaru WRCs before moving on to the Clios after one of the firms he worked for (Dave Appleby Engineering) bought up all the Clio V6s and stock resulting from TWR’s bankruptcy in 2002. He is very highly rated in the V6 community and a go-to guy for cambelt/dephaser replacement, which should happen every 5 years or 72,000 miles. Back in 2010 Renault dealerships were quoting £1,500 for that job, and that was without removing the engine. The job can be done that way but it’s easier if you drop the engine, assuming you have the facilities and time to drop the engine of course. If you do it’s worth changing the water pump and clutch at the same time. Aux belt kits are around £150. Crank pulleys sometimes need to be replaced. They’re £100. Engine mounts, which also wear out, are about £50 each.
The basic chassis was standard McPherson strut front and multilink rear with gas dampers, plus of course the bespoke rear subframe to support the engine. As hinted earlier, the V6 might have been a Clio in name and general body shape but that was about it as far as the similarities to regular Clios went. The Phase 1 wasn’t just longer overall than a normal Clio, it was longer in the wheelbase. It was obviously lower too and, even more obviously, considerably wider by over 17cm.
The Phase 2 was different again, Renault having realised that work clearly needed to be done to tame the Phase 1’s videogame boss-level handling. An extra 23mm was put into the wheelbase and the front track was widened by 33mm. Front end roll resistance was increased, the bump stops were modified to make them less intrusive, the dampers were given more of a role in controlling body movement, and the relationship between the trailing arms, tie-rods and the more rigid rear subframe was completely reworked.
While these mods had a very positive effect on the Clio’s lairiness and, by extension, on the driver’s sphincter, you still needed to exercise quite a bit of caution on fast bends and/or in wet weather. After all, there was a physical limit on how safe you could make a car that, in Phase 1 guise, was a full foot shorter than a Mini and that had a heavy V6 engine in the middle.
The 2’s steering was weightier and more feelsome than the 1’s but not as sharp as the 172/182’s. Grip in the dry was always plentiful in either car but the drive experience would deteriorate if the hard-pressed rear suspension bushes wore out, which they regularly did in 15,000 miles or less. KW V3 coilover kits are just over £2,000 but they make a big difference to the way a Clio V6 goes down the road. Quaife diffs are another popular mod.
Wheels on the Phase 1 were 17in OZ alloys with Michelin Pilot Sports as the default tyre. Braking by 330mm/300mm vented discs and AP four-piston calipers was powerful with a good feel at the pedal. ABS rings don’t last for ever.
The bodykit that gave the V6 such a distinctive look was just that – a kit. Underneath the various glassfibre-reinforced plastic panels lurked a standard Clio body. At least the rear side intakes were functional.
The front end was vulnerable to stone attack and the fibreglass front spoiler was often trashed. Water could creep into the front boot and the catches holding the bonnet in place were on the fragile side. Bodywork repairs weren’t cheap, although one good thing about the V6’s humble lineage was that some panels like the bonnet could be sourced from the standard Clio parts shelf. On the other hand, OE bumpers were £1,700 (rear) and £900 (front) back in 2015, and they were in short supply back then too, so heaven knows what the situation is like now.
Paint colours for UK Phase 1s in ascending order of rarity (i.e., most popular first) were Iceberg Silver, Mars Red, and Illiad Blue. Iceberg cars outnumbered the red and blue ones combined by a factor of seven to one. The colour range was considerably extended for UK Phase 2s, with Illiad Blue jumping in popularity from last place to first and accounting for more than 50 per cent of cars. That was followed by Black Gold, Titanium and (tied for fourth) Mars Red and Liquid Yellow. The other five colours – Acid Yellow, Lunar Grey, Inferno, Deep Bronze and Moonlight – were applied to fewer than ten cars each, the last two of them appearing on just one car each.
There was very little that was special about the interior of a Clio V6, apart of course from the presence of an engine in the rear passenger compartment. The materials and design were boggo Clio, i.e., utilitarian rather than stylish, but at least they stood up to abuse pretty well. The Phase 1 seats were oddly plush and, although a seat lowering kit was available, the driving position took some getting used to, partly because there was no reach adjustment for the steering wheel and partly because the gearlever was quite a long way away. Phase 2s were slightly improved interior-wise and (we think) had nice Recaro seats as standard, but from the driver’s seat looking forward you could still easily believe you were in an ordinary Clio.
In all honesty, it wasn’t a great car for tooling around town in because lack of space in the wheelarches made the turning circle awful at over 40 feet. Weekly food shop, ye say? Fine, just bosh your comestibles into the tiny spaces under the bonnet, in what might be called the boot, and between the seats and the engine. In fact, why not slap your meat directly on the engine and cook it on the drive home?
Comparing the Clio V6 to a Land Rover Defender might seem strange, but think about it. You want a Defender, you manage to buy one, and then you wonder why you bothered because by any objective standards it’s, well, rubbish.
Same goes for the Clio V6. Alright, maybe rubbish is the wrong word for the Clio. Dangerous would be a better one when applied to the Phase 1. Thing is though, many of us enjoy an element of uncertainty in our lives. In both these vehicles the uncertainty revolved around whether or not you would reach your destination. In the Defender you wouldn’t be going fast if something bad happened. In the Clio V6 you might well be. It was all part of the scary appeal.
Then there were the wild looks which, in the Clio’s case, tied in so accurately with the actual driving experience. You needed commitment to enter the Clio V6 fraternity, not just to buy one but, having bought it, to then drive it like you meant it. That took a degree of skill and courage, qualities that nowadays have been made largely redundant by electronic safety systems. One respected motoring writer at the time said that the V6 was the best long-term car he’d ever had. ‘Best’ in this case would very likely have been more to do with the mental challenges it set than with its ability to accommodate a random number of suitcases. The Phase 2 had less of a widowmakery whiff about it than the 1 but it could still deliver a trouser-fluttering moment if you took liberties.
The cheapest ‘straight’ V6s will be Phase 1s with 35-55,000 miles on them. Even they will have £40k price tags, like this 2001 44,000-mile example on PH Classifieds or this one at the same price – newer by a year but wearing 11,000 more miles. If you don’t mind looking a bit racetrack refugee-ish this was the cheapest V6 on sale in the UK at the time of writing. The mileage was high at 54,000 but with a sticker-removal kit you could have it looking more street-acceptable, if that is your wont.
Only two years ago you could get a Phase 2 for £35k but now you’ll be very lucky to find one for under £50k. The cheapest Phase 2 on PH Classifieds was this late ’04 24,000-mile one-owner car in Illiad Blue at £54,995
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