There have been some amazing hot hatchbacks since Volkswagen introduced the automotive phenomena and its iconic Golf GTi in 1976, but Renault can certainly lay claim to offering one of the wildest with its Clio V6.
Like some of the most memorable performance cars, the Clio V6 didn’t really make any sense from a sales point of view, but it was an amazing illustration of what the French manufacturer’s engineers could do if they were given a little more freedom than normal.
Of course, if you’re given an inch, then you’re going to take a mile, right? Consequently, Renault’s engineers didn’t only shoehorn a 3-litre V6 into the mild-mannered hatchback, they also put the oversized engine where the rear seats would normally be and made it the first ever rear-wheel drive Clio. In terms of its make-up and presence, there was certainly more than a little influence from the equally outrageous Renault 5 Turbo.
The radical model first saw the light of day in the Clio V6 Trophy series, which was designed to raise the profile of the recently launched second generation Renault Clio, with a roadgoing concept then wowing visitors to the 1998 Paris Motor Show.
Such was the reaction to the project that Renault quickly commissioned a development and production study from British-based specialist TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing). On the back of TWR’s findings, Renault gave the green light for a limited production run.
Even better news was that when Renault did announce the forthcoming launch of the Clio V6 in 2000, the new arrival was said to be 98 per cent unchanged from the Paris Motor Show concept.
Most importantly, it had the same Renault Laguna-sourced V6 motor, rear-wheel drive, mid-engine layout and huge blistered arches that covered the staggered set of 17-inch OZ Superturismo alloy wheels.
Although slightly detuned from its race counterparts, the Clio V6 still packed 230 bhp. The naturally aspirated V6 also produced 300 Nm of torque, enabling the Clio V6 to accelerate from 0-62 mph in 6.4 seconds and hit a top speed of 147 mph.
A limited slip differential helped put the power to the ground and there were also huge all-round disc brakes, but with its short wheelbase and lack of traction control the Clio V6 was quite a handful. There was no denying it was something special though, and its exclusivity was assured with TWR completing every Clio V6 by hand.
A total of 1,631 examples were sold before the arrival of the ‘Phase 2’ version, plus the rest of the facelifted Clio range, in 2003. Now built in house by Renault, the newly titled Clio V6 255 sought to answer some of the criticisms of the original.
There was revised styling and new 18-inch alloy wheels, but the real story was beneath the skin. The chassis was extensively reworked with such additions as a longer wheelbase and wider front track, while, as its new name hinted, power was increased to 255 bhp. Tweaks to the cylinder heads and induction system helped produce the extra 25 bhp, with the Clio V6 255 now able to accelerate from 0-62 mph in 5.8 second and reach 153 mph flat out.
The Phase 2 was faster, safer and more drivable than its predecessor. As before, it was entirely hand-built and 1,309 were constructed before production ended in 2005.
The first cars might be approaching 20 years old, but in the two decades since it’s arguable whether there’s been a hot hatch as focused or as far removed from its base car as the Clio V6. Later cars are easier to live with, but both versions are now in high demand with excellent examples changing hands for more than double the original’s list price of £25,995.
With the amount of UK survivors measured in hundreds rather than thousands, the Clio V6 is a rare treat for performance car fans. Are you one of the lucky few to have got behind the wheel or maybe it’s a car you’ve always dreamed of? Be sure to let us know in the comments.