THIS is not a car that you’d take your granny to tea in. Almost never before has the CAR test team been so harassed and stared at with such a mixture of envy and aggression. From out of nowhere, drivers of hot-shot Japanese cars appeared to draw battle lines against this French muscle car. Had this been a regular Renault Clio Sport, it would still have shown most of these pretenders a clean pair of heels. But this is the kind of big brother you call upon to settle playground battles.
The Sport V6 is the last of the range to receive the Clio facelift adopted for lesser models a few years ago. But it has certainly been worth the wait, as the outrageous flared wheelarches and body kit match the more modern face perfectly. Having tested the 3,0-litre Clio V6 in its previous guise, and coming away more than impressed, the team eagerly awaited the arrival of the new car. We say “new car” because, in addition to the aggressive facelift, there are enough tweaks under the skin to have substantially altered the nature and driving characteristics of the beast.
As with the original, subtlety was never a consideration in the cosmetics department. From head-on, the stance is puffed up by a massive front bumper with rounded edges that meet up on either side with heavily flared wheelarches. Fortunately, there is no chance of these add-ons looking hollow, as the car is kitted with plenty of alloy and rubber under the fenders. Up front, you get 18-inch alloys with 205/40 Michelin Pilots, working in tandem with 245/40’s at the rear.
To say there is a crease line running the length of the car’s profile is an understatement. In fact, it’s a fold that emanates from just below the side mirror, running back towards a titanium-coloured air intake, positioned at the door shut line. Another deep fold runs lower down, linking the front and rear wheelarches. Together, they carve the door panel into three very distinct contours. The valley that is left in the centre grows deeper as it reaches the rear air intake. Door handles are hidden under the high line. But the view that most pretenders will see is the stubby tail, dominated by twin large exhaust pipes protruding from the centre of the rear bumper.
Just as before, the interior of big brother Clio shares much of its architecture with the rest of the range: the facia could be from a humble 1,2 Va Va Voom… The most striking differences are hugely comfortable and supportive bucket seats, and a tall and purposeful looking gearlever that rises up from a race-style housing, with a seven-gear shiftpattern (six forward and reverse) on the alloy knob.
Positioned directly behind the front seats is the best backseat driver anyone could ask for. Unlike occupants who might sit silentlyas the road markings begin to pass by with increasing rapidity, the mid-mounted V6’s chatter grows gloriously louder as it screams for more.
It is from aft of the two seats that the car has undergone the most significant change. Mods that provide greater control than the previous model offered, along with a more fearsome bite to match the huge bark that the V6 has always possessed.
Power is up to 187 kW from the 166 previously on offer. This increase comes courtesy of an improved intake system, a new throttle body and higher-flowing injectors. Gearing has been reworked, too, allowing the engine to reach maximum power at 7 150 r/min, 50 r/min short of the red line. Not that this means you have to sit in the scream zone in order to get a move on. Torque is an impressive 300 N.m at 4 650 r/min, and there is enough shove low down to allow you to skip the odd gears while pottering around. This makes the Clio surprisingly easy to drive in normal traffic conditions, with second gear strong enough to handle the brunt of rush-hour start/stop conditions.
But sitting in traffic is not where this car wants to be. Its ideal environment is a twisty Broad with straights long enough to stretch the revs. But a note of caution: driving hard in this mid-engined V6 is all about confidence, and there is no traction control as a back-up plan if you do attempt to flout the laws of physics. Finding the limits of this car could end in a bruising of both ego and bank balance. This 1 439 kg rocket demands plenty of respect. And, in the wet , the respect (or fear) level should double…
A wheelbase stretched by 22 mm over that of the first generation, together with a more rigid chassis, has helped improve roadholding. But the biggest advance has come from revised suspension settings. Repositioned, stronger mounting points ensure that the wheels stay more upright under load, while a thicker anti-roll bar up front combines with longer rear trailing arms to give improved grip levels.
Initially, there is a sensation that the nose is too light to be surefooted as it is shoved around corners by the massive power from behind, but once you learn to trust the huge grip levels, you start to realise that the car’s mood swings can easily be read from the cushion of the driver’s seat. The suspension is firm, and bumps on uneven roads can be unsettling to both the front wheels as well as occupant’s kidneys when hit at speed.
The Clio V6 reaches 100 km/h in second gear, which helps it record a time of 6,4 seconds for this benchmark sprint. But the push doesn’t end there – the short, wide machine sprints on through the gears to reach a top speed of 240 km/h. Particularly enjoyable is the third gear acceleration from 40 to 140 km/h, which is dismissed in just 12,1 seconds. And all the while the cabin is filled with one of the most fantastic and infectious engine notes in the business.
Need to rein in all that power? No problem for the huge ventilated discs, which provide impressive stopping ability.
Oh yes, there are a few creature comforts. Up front there is a small boot, which gets very hot, so it’s no place for groceries, or a laptop... and, other than that, a netted shelf behind the seats is the limit to the storage space available. There are seatbelts with pretensioners, and airbags. Some luxury “sell out” items – remote central locking, electric windows, electric exterior mirrors– are also featured as standard. There is a fitted CD front loader/radio unit, but we preferred the built-in soundtrack... Cruise control is also part of the package. And you couldn’t really do without the airconditioning… having an engine to share the cabin with can become a warm experience.
The Renault Clio V6 is a sportscar, and makes no apologies for its in-your-face looks or attitude. It provides huge levels of grip, and the kind of relentless momentum that has always been the reserve of supercars. Yet it’s surprisingly docile in traffic, making it a pleasant commuter – if you can put up with the hostile envy of the less potent hot-hatch brigade. At R360 000 it is not a cheap purchase. But then… this is a car like no other.