In-depth reviews

Renault Sport Clio V6 – review, history, prices and specs

Two decades on, the Clio V6 still seems gloriously bonkers. We discover the truth about its troubled birth – and remind ourselves what it was like to drive

It’s now 22 years since the Renault Sport Clio V6 street car entered production. Two decades in which nothing has come close to matching its audacity. Created in the spirit of its illustrious rallying ancestor the Renault 5 Turbo, the Clio was created not for the purebred purpose of competition, but as a halo project to draw attention to the then all-new Clio range. 

A lesser effort would have been dismissed as a cynical marketing exercise, but the exuberance and style of Renault Sport’s execution ensured we were hooked from the moment it was announced. Ever the outlier, Renault’s bonsai supercar remains a source of joy and fascination, its notoriety made spicier by a reputation for rather dicey handling. Few cars carry such a cloak of myths and legends. 

> Renault 5 Turbo: review, history and specs of an icon

One man who knows the inside story is Steve Marvin. Currently R&D director for French auto industry body PFA, Marvin is a former director of Renault Sport. He was also pivotal in the development of both the Phase 1 and Phase 2 Clio V6 while working at British engineering firm TWR, to whom Renault entrusted the project.

Chatting via Zoom from his home in France, it’s clear that his enthusiasm for the Clio V6 remains undimmed. The glint in his eye is emblematic of a project that typified Renault’s maverick attitude towards making fast, fun cars. For Marvin it assumed greater significance, for the V6 would play a pivotal part in his future career. As to how it came about, well, it was far from conventional.

Birth of the Renault Clio V6

In the mid-late 1990s, Renault Sport was all about one-marque racing, at that time with the Renault Sport Spider Trophy. For its replacement a number of ideas were mooted. Meanwhile a member of the Renault design team by the name of Axel Breun had been exploring a radical project purely for his own amusement.

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The specifics of Breun’s idea make the Clio V6 seem tame. Realising that Renault’s Twingo and Ferrari’s 308/328 shared the same wheelbase, his idea was to buy a damaged Ferrari as the basis for a one-off mid-engined Twingo. While Breun’s passion project never came to pass, by ’95 the idea had evolved into an official project, with the notion of using the then-new Spider Trophy chassis to underpin a wild Twingo powered by a V10 F1 engine, creating a smaller sibling for the mind-blowing one-off Espace F1 that had been demonstrated the previous year. 

Sadly the Twingo never got the green light, but by late ’97 Renault was poised to unveil the second-generation Clio, at which point Breun’s idea took another turn, this time with a car that took direct inspiration from the R5 Turbo. Originally referred to internally as the Clio Maxi, it would once again feature the Spider chassis, this time fitted with a 3-litre V6 and dressed with wild composite Clio II bodywork incorporating butterfly doors. This project was also shelved, though not before a full-scale clay was made. 

Thankfully the seed of this design would soon bear fruit in the slightly toned-down shape of the Clio V6 Concept and the Trophy one-make race car, both of which were based on a heavily reworked Clio II bodyshell and broke cover in 1998. The project was overseen by Jean Coquery, who was in charge of engineering at Renault Sport, which was a tiny operation at that time.

‘The V6 was first revealed at the Paris motor show in October ’98,’ explains Marvin. ‘There was a big reaction. Everyone went crazy and said Renault had to do it. Amazingly, before the year was out Renault had contacted Tom Walkinshaw Racing through a past connection between Tom and Christian Contzen, who was the boss of Renault Sport. This led to TWR being awarded a three-month pre-study phase to build some demonstrators and prove we could have a road car that was convincing enough to get the project decided.’

Three months to take an idea to a working demonstrator is no time at all, as Marvin confirms: ‘The project went unbelievably quickly. We were working all hours seven days a week to get two demonstrators built. They were based on the Trophy bodyshell and panels [which had been handled by MOC, a French engineering and composites company], but initially just using the standard soft-tune 190bhp V6. It was a difficult car to benchmark for obvious reasons, but by the end of March we had two development cars ready for Renault VIPs to try back-to-back against a Boxster, Z3 M Coupé and, believe it or not, a Honda Accord Type R.’

Though rudimentary, these two mule cars got the nod from Renault Sport, and TWR was tasked with delivering the entire Phase 1 project. It was an enormous challenge and, by all accounts, a logistical nightmare.

‘The project was a complete handover to TWR,’ says Marvin, who was working for the British concern at that time. ‘Development, supplier selection, cost management… everything. We then sold the car at a fixed price to Renault. The operational challenges were huge. For example, Renault didn’t have production capacity for it anywhere, so the decision was made to built the car at a plant that was jointly owned by TWR and Volvo in Uddevalla, Sweden. The Clio monocoque would be delivered unpainted from France, then cut apart to have the spaceframe welded in. Then it would be e-coated at a Volvo facility in Gothenburg before being painted back at Uddevalla. Just to make things more complicated, Uddevalla’s paint ovens were too hot to bake composite parts, so the Clio V6 body panels had to be sent already painted from the supplier, who was located in the middle of France. It was crazy.’

With TWR keen to get the car into production as quickly as possible, and Renault under pressure to follow up the Trophy race car with a road car, time was at a premium. So it was perhaps little wonder the Phase 1 car was still in a somewhat raw state when it went into production. ‘The timeframe was not much more than 18 months between proof of concept and the press launch,’ says Marvin. ‘I think we paid for this because at the same time we were doing the press drives we were getting results from the durability tests.’ 

The dynamic development was similarly truncated. ‘The very first car suffered from some fairly dreadful roll oversteer,’ admits Marvin. ‘We quickly corrected this with a modified subframe, but it still suffered from a lot of lateral force-induced toe change at the rear. Basically as you went around a bend the rear suspension bushes loaded up and the outer wheel would start to toe-out. That’s why the Phase 1 was a little bit, er, “non-linear”, shall we say…’

I can distinctly remember attending the international press launch. It was a slick affair held in Cap Ferrat, just along the Côte D’Azur from Monte Carlo. We (that’s to say evo) had negotiated a spot on the weekend rotation, so we had an extra day with the car, which we spent charging through the Alps Maritime. It was a bit of a handful through faster corners, but safe enough through tighter hairpins (largely due to a lack of poke). It clearly had the potential to be spiteful but was still far friendlier than the wayward Trophy race car, which span like Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil. 

The extra 375kg the V6 weighed over the Renault Sport Clio 172, not to mention the lazy 227bhp state of tune, meant it didn’t have the straight-line punch or appetite for revs I’d expected, but we had a lot of fun and – despite best efforts – brought it back in one piece. Which is more than can be said for some other members of the media, as Marvin luridly recalls…

‘The press launch was unbelievable. We got it done with really, really early pre-series cars, so not true production versions. We didn’t have a workshop so we had to use a local dealership after hours. We had gearboxes breaking, and we had accidents almost every day. We’d be taking engines out and fixing cars overnight just to make sure we had enough cars for the next day.’ 

It was at this press launch for the Phase 1 that discussions began for the Phase 2. Steve Marvin’s experience on the early cars meant he knew exactly what was required for the Phase 2, so although TWR’s financial collapse and ultimate demise in 2002 meant strained relations between Renault and TWR as the Phase 2 project neared completion, the success of the rework meant he was perfectly placed to assume a new role at Renault Sport in 2003. 

It’s fair to say that if you don’t smile when you see a Liquid Yellow Phase 2 Clio V6 then there’s probably something wrong with you. No, 251bhp isn’t all that in the context of hatchbacks like the 400bhp AMG A45 S, but nothing holds a candle to the Clio for visual drama and gleeful excess. If anything, the shape has got better with age. Bold and uncorrupted, it has the same impact the concept car did back in 1998, with a sharpness and purity that’s testament to Renault’s design team, then led by the legendary Patrick Le Quément.

It still comes as quite a shock when you open the door (via the handle hidden deep in the recess) and see the almost bog-standard Clio interior. It’s comfortable enough – better with the seat lowering kit fitted to this example – but it always seemed a shame that the V6 didn’t feature a wild interior like that of the R5 Turbo 1. 

The Phase 2 driving experience was much improved. It’s a tamer and more predictable machine, with plenty of grip to lean on, a more responsive engine to work with and a far better sense of connection. The harmonious rate of response front-to-rear means you really can commit it to corners without fear of anything untoward. 

It sits well on the road, the sense of stability mirroring its squat, four-square stance. The steering has reasonable feel but is somewhat slow-witted, so you do have to make more steering input for any given direction change than in, say, the front-wheel-drive 172 or 182 Clios, which were sharper and more aggressive in the way they turned in. And while there’s much to admire in how the Phase 2’s handing was tamed, it’s so benign you sometimes wish it were a bit more agile. As it is, the front end pushes wide first, though playing with the balance on corner entry does bring it to life with very little sense of jeopardy.

The Phase 2 transformation effectively took the Clio V6 from productionised development prototype to finished article. For Marvin it went a long way to righting the wrongs of the original time-compromised project: ‘Where the Phase 1 was basically a copy of the Trophy car, faults and all, the Phase 2 chassis was completely reworked. We did a lot of calculation using Adams [chassis kinematics modelling software]. We decided to change the set-up philosophy, so where the Phase 1 ran fairly soft springs with intrusive bump-stops, we supported the Phase 2 more on its springs, allowed the dampers to control the movement more freely and brought bump-stops into play right at the end of the travel.

‘The rear suspension geometry was completely reworked to remove all of the nasty effects. The subframe was completely different, angles of the trailing arms and position of the tie-rods completely changed. One thing we would have liked to change was the steering ratio, but we’d had to cobble together a Clio rack and Laguna hubs, so the ratio was something like 20 or 21:1. We were also limited on lock by space in the wheelhouses. The turning circle was ridiculous!’  

It might be modestly powerful by today’s standards, but the 251bhp engine has lusty oomph and a seductive soundtrack lost to the ravages of downsizing. It flows really nicely on challenging roads, its muscular performance freely given and readily exploited. According to Marvin, there was talk of replacing the Phase 1’s warmed-over Avantime motor with a Lotus-developed version of the V6 destined for the stillborn M250, but when that project came to nothing TWR proposed its own rework with new heads, pistons, injectors and intake. Even Porsche was involved, but only in the calibration of the Bosch ECU. 

‘TWR wasn’t deigned worthy to have access to the Bosch tools, so we went to Porsche. They had no other involvement,’ explains Marvin. ‘We also changed the gear ratios. For Phase 1 the gearbox was from the Avantime, but for Phase 2 one of our guys chose bespoke ratios by analysing the relationship between ratios in the Peugeot 306 GTi 6 gearbox and transposing them onto the Clio V6 ’box. We also shortened the shift a little and lowered the final drive.’

One thing that couldn’t be changed was the additional weight that came with the V6 package and structural changes, and despite the extra poke this extra mass is still felt when hauling through the gears. Crack open the throttle and the Phase 2 builds speed rather than punches forward with urgency, but thanks to the much-improved chassis you can carry far more of that speed. For some the lack of fireworks means the V6 falls short, but if you like a slightly more cerebral steer it’s richly immersive and truly memorable. 

How does history judge the Clio V6? As a fantastical, characterful and increasingly collectible freak. One that was flawed, at least in its Phase 1 iteration, but equal parts fabulous and frivolous. Those wild looks wrote a cheque even a 3-litre V6 stuffed behind the seats struggled to cash, but in truth it mattered little then and it matters less now, that passage of time making us more appreciative of the magical, maverick philosophy and seductive driving experience that springs from this enduring and uniquely unhinged hatchback. 

As a totem for what a volume manufacturer can do when it sets its heart and mind on something, the Clio V6 stands alone. Its appeal will always remain rooted in its unlikeliness, but its wider legacy can be found in the string of exceptional Renault Sport hatchbacks that followed in its wake as the in-house department blossomed under Marvin’s control. That many of those talented individuals who worked on the V6 subsequently had a hand in the sublime Alpine A110 brings satisfying symmetry to Renault’s mid-engined adventure.

This story was first featured in evo issue 294

What we said

Renault Sport Clio V6 driven, evo 026 (Dec 00), Richard Meaden

'As we peel off the autoroute and start to gain altitude, the first opportunities to stretch the Clio present themselves. Flooring the throttle unleashes a memorable soundtrack that builds from a low-rev rumble, through rich, resonant waves of mid-range muscularity to a bellowing, almost operatic crescendo at peak revs. It's a combination quite unlike anything I've heard before.

'Above 60mph or so, if your commitment starts to waver mid-corner you become instantly aware there's a sting in that absurdly broad tail. When momentum starts to overtake you, things happen pretty sharply. In the split-second it takes to register with your brain, your palms already need a wipe on your thigh and you know you've only got one chance to gather things up. This isn't a car to take liberties with through high-speed corners.'

Renault Sport Clio V6 255 driven, evo 056 (Jun 03), John Simister

'Its steering feels keen, the understeer has vanished and the Clio Renault Sport V6 255 is spearing though bends as though sucked to the road. I can feel the ebb and flow of grip that the old car glossed over, I can discover the Michelins' massive adhesion that even a full-bore second-gear bend exit won't breach. I can trust the mad mutant Clio at last.

'And I can revel in an engine whose broadband energy eradicates the awareness of mass that dulled the previous Clio V6, even though the new one weighs slightly more. The throttle response is just right, and the sound is a treat all the eway from the low-revs, Jaguar D-type-like bass-spatter, past a 4000rpm larynx-opening to a 7000rpm howl. Lovely, and not too loud to live with.'

Renault Clio V6 specs

 Clio V6 Mk1Clio V6 Mk2
Engine2946cc V62946cc V6
Max power230bhp @ 6000rpm255bhp @ 7150rpm
Max torque221lb ft @ 3750rpm221lb ft @ 4650rpm
0-62mph6.4sec (claimed)5.8sec (claimed)
Top speed147mph (claimed)153mph (claimed)

What to pay

ConditionClio V6 (phase 1)Clio V6 255 (phase 2)

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