17 Posted: 17th Dec 2020

Renault is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Clio Renault Sport V6, one of the most iconic and revered models to ever be produced by its specialised Renault Sport division.

  • From the reveal of the original concept at the 1998 Paris Motor Show through to the current day, the Clio V6 has captivated car enthusiasts with its absolute commitment to performance and extreme mid-engine design, the latter ensuring it has more in common with supercars and formidable 1980s Group B rally cars than the compact front-wheel drive hatchback upon which it is based.

    At launch, the Clio V6 was simply unrivalled. It was the world’s only mid-engine hatchback, offering superior performance to more expensive prestige sports cars, and such was its fiery nature 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 enjoy 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 annum and on its announcement in 2000, 500 orders for RHD cars had already been placed. Those who heard the news and were inspired to join the queue had to wait for an expected delivery date of 2002. Each car’s individual build number was shown on a plaque positioned in the centre console.

    From the oft, the race-bred Clio V6 also hit a chord with the motoring press, with Jeremy Clarkson notably commenting at the time: “In my perfect ten car garage I would definitely have one of these – no question”. evo magazine was another fan, Richard Meaden including in his launch review: “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.”

    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.

    A highlight in the history of Renault, the Clio V6 epitomises the company’s passion for innovation and highly focused road cars. Its commitment to an uncompromised performance driving experience continues to have an influence on every performance Renault model.

    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.

    In the UK, the series took in such circuits as Donington Park and Silverstone, while a few cars would also run in the British GT Championship that also included the likes of Snetterton, Knockhill, Brands Hatch and Rockingham.

    With a 3.0-litre V6 engine producing 285 bhp, 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.

    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 230 bhp and maximum torque of 300 Nm at 3,750 rpm. It enabled the Clio V6 to sprint from 0-62mph in only 6.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 147 mph.

    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 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 completely 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.

    While there was no mistaking the performance focus of the Clio V6, it combined its strong driver appeal with a level of equipment that was more akin to that of a large luxury car. Features such as leather/Alcantara trim, air conditioning with heat reflective windscreen and tinted glass and a Radiosat 6000 six-CD changer enhanced refinement, while safety measures included ABS with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and an array of airbags.

    With the V6’s ancillaries filling up what would have been the boot space, practicality wasn’t top of the Clio V6’s priorities, but there was still room for an overnight bag or some shopping in a 67-litre storage compartment under the front bonnet. A further 45 litres of stowage space was behind the rear seats, allowing drivers somewhere to at least stow a set of overalls on a track day outing.

    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. Of those, 256 came to the UK in RHD format.

    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, and as its name suggested, the Clio V6 255 now boasted 255 bhp. Peak power was delivered at a heady 7,150 rpm with the 25 bhp 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 0-62mph sprint in 5.8 seconds and reach a top speed of 153mph.

    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 255 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. A total of 354 RHD examples came to the UK

    Over 15 years since the final example rolled off the Dieppe production line, the Clio V6 is now regarded as a modern-day performance classic, epitomising the innovation and vision of Renault Sport.

    It has paved the way for a whole new generation of sporting R.S. Clios, including the most recent turbocharged R.S 220 Trophy model. Elsewhere in the Renault Sport range, its influence to push boundaries is still evident in the creation of such models as the 163mph Renault Megane R.S. Trophy-R.

    Unsurprisingly, the Clio V6 in either form has gained cult status. Its acceleration and top speed remain impressive, but it is how it was designed without compromise for sheer driving excitement that has resonated with enthusiasts. With its mid-engine layout, 3.0-litre V6 and bulging wheelarches, it is undoubtedly one of the most radical hot hatchbacks ever produced. Its reputation as a race car for the road is intensified by its challenging driving dynamics, with the official brochure for the Clio V6 255 going as far to say “But, overwhelmingly, it is a car made to be driven. Hard. Demandingly. By a knowledgeable and appreciative driver. The more you ask of it, the more amply it rewards you.”

    Of the two versions, the original offers the rawer, more involved driving experience, especially on the limit. However, it is the Phase 2 that many consider to be the most usable and precise. Regardless, both are now highly sought after, with examples now changing hands for significantly more than the £25,995 list price of the original Clio V6. Such is their desirability and exclusivity that a Phase 1 example with only 2,106 miles sold in October 2020 for a record price of £62,540 (including fees) on the Collecting Cars online auction platform.

    Spiralling values prove that the Clio V6 is now recognised as a collector’s car as well as a driver’s car. But no matter if owners use or store their cars, Clio V6 owners can rest assured that they possess one of the most legendary and exclusive vehicles to ever be offered by Renault during its 122 years of automotive manufacturing.