While it isn’t Brave Pill’s fourth birthday until next week – appropriately juvenile celebrations are being planned - the column has already passed the milestone of featuring more than 200 of our automotive honeytraps. So why are we only getting around to the Clio V6 with a double century on the scoreboard? This is a car that, in terms of the courage required for ownership, wins at the most visceral level - the fact it frequently seems to be trying to kill you.
The main reason illustrates the dangers of holding back. The Clio V6 was identified as a priority target early on, but the fact that prices were steadily rising meant it was hard to find any enticingly priced bargains to maximise the necessary risk: reward ratio. We’re raising the white flag on that one - in 2019 they started at around £25,000. Four years later our £39,995 Pill is the cheapest in the classifieds with the exception of a Trophy racer replica. Given this one also boasts a service history listing plenty of expensive work, it looks as close to a bargain as we’re going to find.
Renault was a very different company at the turn of the century, one where no idea seemed too mad to make production. This was the era that gave us the gloriously unlikely Avantime, a cross between an MPV and a coupe, plus the fugly Vel Satis and the bubble-butt Megane. The company had also commissioned a one-make racing series for heavily modified Clios using mid-mounted V6 engines, these taking obvious inspiration from the similar ‘cart before horse’ layout of the original 5 Turbo and providing some spectacular and frequently crashy competition.
The Renault Sport division had also been busy, creating a class-leading hot hatch in the form of the Clio 172, spiritual successor to the earlier Clio Williams. But then it decided to go several better by also creating a road-legal version of the Clio V6 Trophy, enlisting the expertise of TWR to help it do so (the British motorsport outfit knowing a fair bit about producing mid-engined monsters.) Power would come from a milder version of the 24-valve 3.0-litre V6 from the racer, making 227hp and driving the rear wheels.
It would also look brilliant. The V6’s bodywork had to be stretched and squeezed to fit around the radically altered mechanical bits; for a good indication of how much wider than the regular Clio it is, check out the size of the XXL sill. Practicality took a ding, of course - with no rear seats and only a tiny luggage compartment under the bonnet. The V6 was also substantially pudgier, too - being 300kg heavier than the Clio 172.
None of this stopped salivating queues from forming. No sooner had Renault confirmed the production version than would-be customers were clamouring to put deposits down - a first for the company - with all the UK’s first year allocation sold out well before deliveries began. Some canny flippers even managed to sell their places in the queue for substantial profits. Now all the finished car had to do was to drive as well as it looked.
It didn’t. I was too junior a journalist to be sent on the original press launch, but when I eagerly quizzed the colleague who had attended his verdict on the V6 was delivered in two words, with the printable one being “undriveable”. Several cars had been dinged on the event, and many of even the handiest hacks had suffered the indignity of spinning them. The combination of a short wheelbase, rearward weight distribution and a barstool centre of gravity created what was widely acknowledged to be a serious dynamic imbalance.
Duly warned, I never suffered any serious incidents in the early Clio V6. But nor did I drive one on track. Even on road the combination of the chassis’s thrown hammer weight distribution and low-geared steering made it feel about as friendly as a snappy dog; at anything more than about seven-tenths and there was the strong sense that an accident was about to happen, or a widow was about to be made.
From a marketing point of view, there was a bigger problem - it just wasn’t that fast. The extra pudge, and the lack of scintillating performance from the Laguna-spec V6, meant it was barely quicker than the Clio 172 in a straight line - Renault claimed a 6.2-second 0-62mph time, half a second quicker than its cheaper front-drive cousin. But in corners or rain the V6 was slower. It looked hugely fast, but it really wasn’t.
The Clio V6’s knife-juggling handling and limited urge didn’t actually hold it back. TWR built more than 1500 of the Phase 1 car in Sweden during the first two years. But the company wasn’t deaf to criticism, with a mid-life facelift giving the chance for a substantial bit of reengineering for the so-called Phase 2 cars. These got more power, revised suspension, and a lengthened wheelbase to improve stability - with production switched to Renault Sport’s factory in Dieppe. The Phase 2 did feel less snappy on road, but it was still a handful on track. I know because that’s where I managed to spin one on the press launch, immediately after the presentation where we’d been assured how much more stable it now was.
The lack of critical love didn’t stop the Clio V6 from becoming a cult classic. Like the BMW Z3M Coupe the savage reputation probably helped to develop the legend, making the V6 seem edgy and exciting as well as being cuter than a bucket full of puppies. Values fell slowly - never dipping below the mid-teens - and they also started to rise impressively early; better cars have been worth more than they were new for over a decade. Like many automotive collectables, low mileage examples seem to command particular premiums: there’s a 5,700-mile Phase II in the Classifieds wearing a POA pricetag suggesting it will cost more than the £62,495 14,000-miler at the same dealer.
Our Pill is a 2002 Phase I car - so more original, but more crashable - and has covered a more serious 55,000 miles. The dealer selling it says that it was originally a dealer demonstrator but has had just one owner since, somebody who has clearly lavished plenty of love and attention over the years. The MOT history behind the obscured plates shows that it was suffering from various middle-aged issues in 2015 and 2016 - with back-to-back failures for ineffective brakes and reports of rusty pipes. This seems to have inspired a comprehensive refettling - after three years off the road this V6 was apparently treated to an engine removal and timing belt change, new subframes and what looks to have been a complete suspension rebuild - the bill apparently coming to more than £7,000 in parts alone.
That was three years ago, but only 2000 miles, and the last three MOTs have been advisory-free passes. While silver isn’t the most exciting of the available colours, the only non-standard thing about our Pill is the strange decision to apply heavy tint to the rear windows; surely you’d want people to be able to see the lack of rear seats? The exhaust tailpipes are also off-centre in the rear bumper apertures for them, but both things would be easily fixed.
Regardless of its dynamic faults and foibles, the Clio V6 deserves to be celebrated - a reminder of a time not so long ago when the car industry’s madder ideas were sometimes allowed to happen. Yes, it’s flawed - but it is also a gem.
1 / 8
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