We would like to suggest another: Outrageous. There is simply no other word to describe Renault’s formula one shopping trolley, the Sport V6. But forget about grocery bags, child seats and running gran to the post office to collect her pension. THIS Clio is no mom’s taxi or economical commuter. THIS Clio is an unadulterated road burner, a strict two-seater with a 166 kW V6 sitting sideways where the offspring – or gran – would normally be perched. THIS Clio displays more in-your-face aggression than any other locally available production car, allowing that it is to individual order only. Not something for the faint-hearted, then, you would think…
Transforming a four-cylinder front-wheel drive family hatch into a V6 mid-engined rear-wheel drive two-seater takes courage, but Renault – to its eternal credit – has done this kind of thing before. In 1983, it produced the Turbo 2, a forced-induction 1,3-litre mid-engined derivative of the Renault 5 that went on to achieve success on the world’s rally stages. So when the company displayed a concept Clio V6 road car (based on a racing version) at the Paris motor show in 1998,
pundits declared that limited scale production would be a formality. Their optimism was well founded: a year later and it was a reality.
Simply approaching the car makes hair stand on end. Look closely and there is a
regular Clio shape at the centre of the bodywork, but with a size-or-two bigger skirt containing scoops, grilles and intakes flaring out from the waist down hiding some big feet. How big? Size 17×7 at the front, 17×8,5 at the back, wearing 205/50 and 235/45 rubber shoes, respectively. Length of stride remains short despite the V6’s wheelbase having been increased over the standard Clio’s by 38 mm to 2 510, but when matched with dramatic 110 mm front and 138 mm rear increases in track, a wickedly low polar moment of inertia results. Hanging out the tail should be easy. Bringing it back in line with no fashionable traction control to lend a hand will be a far greater challenge. Shades of early Porsche 911s.
Look in the back before you enter and you will see a window- level cover stretching over what was once a passenger compartment. Feel under the lip of the upper door flare and find the handle. Open up and step down – the chassis has been lowered by 66 mm – into the cabin. The sporty leather-and-suede seats immediately hug the torso, but sort the backrest angle out straight away because the lever is wedged tight between seat and slim floor console. Belt up, get the steering wheel right – there is a bit of rake adjustment – switch on, and fire up.
Those two pieces of sanitary piping poking out the rear valance discharge a sonorous rumble. Blip the accelerator and the whole car rocks fore/aft slightly on its considerable foundations, accompanied by a delicious short inhalation of breath by the nearside intake, just audible from the driver’s seat. A ruler-length away from your spine sits the source of the commotion, a transverse V6, mounted notably high in the chassis, which does nothing for the car’s centre of gravity. It began life as a Laguna spec quad-cam 24-valve three-litre, but RENAULTsport increased the compression ratio to 11,4:1 with the aid of new pistons, reworked the inlet ports, fitted a lightened flywheel, and designed a custom exhaust system (partially visible through the rear valance) to raise the maximum power output by 15 kW to 166 kW at 6 000 r/min. There is a nice round 300 N.m of torque produced at a useful 750 r/min. Nothing too peaky, then, just a promise of a shipload of surge.
Getting all that grunt to the cotton-reel back wheels is a six-speed transmission with a wonderfully mechanical action. Occasionally it will “clunkÓ into its chosen slot with the kind of solidity normally found only on race cars. Ratios are well spaced and include overdriven fifth and sixth gears plus a fairly normal 3,76:1 final drive. The gearing provides a hint to this big-hearted car’s performance potential: it is more the flexible funster than shattering speedster. Come to terms with that prospect from the beginning and the Clio V6 will not
High performance vehicles often tammer and stumble when tasked to
deliver test overtaking acceleration times in top gear from 40 km/h. The Clio did not blink a headlight, despite having to pick up from little more than tickover for the runs. With standard 95 octane unleaded and that high compression ratio, a little pinking was evident, but the V6 bore on resolutely. Impressive. But lugging the car is a) not good for it, and b) missing the point. Work the drilled aluminium accelerator and clutch pedals, shunt the long-throw gearshift through its gate (watch the 2-3 change, though, as it requires more lateral movement than you expect) and this Clio delivers a stimulating bass soundtrack. It is bluesy rather than metallic rock, a blare not quite having the mechanical edge that a BMW straight six delivers, but just as lusty.
Our performance runs on the test strip became a concert. Glass fibre covers do a remarkable job of sound-deadening, but fortunately without party-pooping. Aurally, this road rocket is spot on. And the Clio feels so strong that only time and a rapidly dipping fuel gauge deterred us from spending more time blasting down the kilometre straight just for the unadulterated pleasure of it all.
There is no traction control to switch out, but after laying a couple of metres of broad black rubber stripes on the tarmac, the still tight (little more than
1 000 km on the odo) V6 managed to rush the relatively hefty 1 375 kg Clio to 100 km/h in 6,7 seconds, the kilometre marker in 27,37 seconds at 187,9 km/h, and on to an two-way averaged top speed of 220 km/h. Second gear is good – just – for 100 km/h. The standard engine’s rev limit was increased by 500 to 7 100 as part of the upgrade, but we found that taking the revs into the tacho’s red sector, which graphically begins at 6 700 r/min, had academic rather than real-world impact. Power delivery tapers off in the scarlet zone, especially noticeable in the higher gears. But if you can briefly avert your focus from the road ahead to the tacho, there is a little green gearshift symbol to the left of the dial that lights up when it is time to change up. Bit gimmicky, perhaps, but scores highly in bragging rights…
However, it is all too easy to be lured into a world of motoring debauchery while luxuriating in the surge and sounds of the V6. Driving the Clio like it was designed to be driven demands active participation, and plenty of commitment. On the straight it mostly wriggles and bobbles and tramlines as the tyres
transmit every contour of the road through the smooth suede rim of the steering wheel, and is best left to its own devices. It is not notably uncomfortable, but very involving, and as speed increases it settles down.
Cornering ups the involvement factor. The sporting ride does not alter, of course, but taking bends flat out leaves little margin for error or correction. With so much weight and all the power biased to the rear (around 60:40), lifting off part way round is a no-no if uninterrupted progress in the chosen direction is to be safely maintained. You can get the tail out, you can catch it with the quick steering, and you can hold a power slide – if you are experienced, brave, and have sufficient run-off area. But, as we suggested earlier, the V6 is about flexibility rather than raw power. Concentrate, but do not fight the feedback, input your commands s-m-o-o-t-h-l-y, and the Clio rewards with an immensely satisfying roller-coaster ride over any kind of terrain that you care to show it. Keep just to the sane side of your limits and the adrenalin rush will be in full flow.
Tom Walkinshaw Racing was responsible for the success of the transplant. Structural changes, carried out at a dedicated facility in TWR’s Uddevalla factory in Sweden, include a custom spaceframe to carry the powertrain, plus the adoption of the Clio race car’s stout front cross member, which lies beneath the V6’s luggage box in what is the cooking Clio’s engine bay.
Front suspension remains MacPherson strut/lower wishbone but with obvious revisions to layout and settings, and there is a multi-link/coil spring set-up at the rear. Brakes are massive ventilated discs all round, with ABS, providing tremendous stopping ability. A bit sharp in operation until warm, our ten-stop from 100 km/h test average of 2,86 seconds is as impressive as it sounds. And, as an aside, how unusual to have a test car with more brake dust caking the rear wheels than the fronts… Standard tyre pressures are
160 kPa front, 210 kPa rear, again emphasising the layout of this Hot Wheels hatch.