Most of us North Americans probably only witnessed this car in video games. For many, the Renault Sport Clio V6 never actually existed outside of Gran Turismo. I mean, why would a dorky little compact car shaped like a cartoon with a V6 engine where the back seats should be even be a thing?
Yet, it is. A very capable one too.
Even by France’s strict standards of making things weird and different, the Clio V6 was an outrageous car. Hell, I’m French myself and I find this thing a bit much. The simple fact that this contraption even made it in a showroom at all feels like some sort of glitch in the automotive Matrix.
I’ve personally always been very intrigued by this voiture (and I’m sure you are too), so I took one out for a drive to witness the anomaly in the flesh. Turns out it was exactly how I pictured it: unusual, cool, a bit scary, and very French, all at once.
(Full Disclosure: the opportunity to drive a Renault Sport Clio V6 came from a Canadian Jalopnik reader who reached out to me after I reviewed the Mazda RX-7 FD. Because Jalopnik boss Patrick George loves French cars so much, he agreed to cover my expenses so I could drive all the way to Toronto to take this baby for a spin.)
Yet the French putting engines into the backs of hatchbacks is not a new concept.
The Clio V6 paid homage to another mid-engine hot hatchback Renault built for rallying in the early 1980s, the R5 Turbo. That car was a super-focused, high performance machine based on a shitbox of a car—the Renault 5, or the Le Car as you Americans know it—but had been heavily modified to participate in the incredibly awesome and very insane Group B class of rally cars, arguably the most extreme form of racing ever created. (By the way, Peugeot did something similar with the wild 205 T16, but examples of this type of car are extremely rare.)
Introduced in 2001 for the European market only, and sold in very limited production, the new car was a tad more “civilized” than its ancestor, but the basic ingredients of madness were kept intact.
This time around, the car wasn’t assembled by Renault in France, but by Tom Walkinshaw Racing in Sweden (though the phase 2 cars released in 2003 were built by Renault again). By the time our buddy Tom was done with the little Clio, it returned to France looking… a little different.
The car was now rear-wheel drive, with a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter V6 sitting where the rear seats once were. Its gearbox had been swapped for a performance-oriented six-speed manual. The entire chassis had been reinforced, the brakes beefed up, the wheels enlarged, and the suspension had been stiffened, and then lowered.
Finally, the Clio’s cute little hatchback body had been chopped, stretched, and fitted with one of the meanest factory widebody kits humanity has ever seen.
The result was a strange-in-a-cool-kind-of-way, two-seater, rear-mid-engine, rear-wheel drive hatchback that had absolutely nothing in common with its humble city car origins.
In V6 form, the Clio pumped out a claimed 227 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, generated as much grip as some supercars, and sprinted from 0 to 60 mph, according to Renault, in 6.2 seconds.
Because forbidden fruit, my dude! We never had the Clio V6 here in North America, and for the next nine years or so, neither will you Americans. That’s because there’s a 25-year import rule in the US. Unless you know the right people, and have a hell of lot of money, good luck bringing one this side of the pond.
You could go live in Canada and then import one from there. That would make your life a little easier, and you’d get free health care out of it too. Up there, the rule for importing old foreign cars is 15 years which would allow you to drive your beloved French sports hatch as you please.
That’s what happened to the car you see here. Rob, the hero who saved this prime example, had it shipped through a Japanese importer in Toronto. The car was actually purchased by a Renault dealer in Japan, and then imported from France, so that’s why it’s still left-hand drive.
But beyond the importation headaches, the Clio V6 is a unicorn even for Europeans. Renault only sold 1,513 Phase 1 cars during the two years they were available. Phase 2 Clio’s are even rarer with 1,309 examples produced between 2003 and 2005.
Also, it’s a fuckin’ mid-engine hot hatchback. This car matters a lot.
That’s how my shooter Caleb and I identified the Clio V6 as we were searching for Rob’s address, by pointing and shouting at it. You spot these things from far away, and trust me when I say this, when my eyes targeted the little bugger, it looked like nothing else I had seen before.
Parked between a Ford Flex and a BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, the Clio’s small, early 2000’s proportions were dwarfed even more. This car sits low and wide, it’s filled with air intakes and outlets, and there are two enormous exhaust pipes that protrude from the rear bumper. The end result is a bizarre cross-bred between a supercar and a Ford Aspire. Come to think of it, that’s essentially what this thing is.
As I walked up to the beast, Rob threw me the keys. I opened the driver’s door by way of a hidden handle lodged next to the enormous intake that feeds air to the mid-mounted V6, kind of like on a Lamborghini.
I crawled over the extremely wide door sill, and slipped my body inside the surprisingly comfortable Renault Sport bucket seat. The interior of this French artifact is still late ’90s compact car, meaning flimsy plastics dominate the dashboard and there’s no sense of styling whatsoever.
But this Clio V6 did have a nice blue hue to its interior, with suede door inserts, white gauges, and a tiny little metal plaque sitting between the seats with the car’s serial number inscribed onto it. So this car is flimsy inside, but at least it feels special.
I fired up the engine which sat behind me inside what is basically a large box. It instantly roared to life in a smooth, modern and refined manner. I eyed it out through the rear-view mirror, worried that I was sharing cabin space with an internal combustion engine.
I grabbed the long, sloppy, cable-actuated shifter, jammed it in reverse, released the ultra light clutch, and attempted to pull out of Rob’s driveway using one of the worst turning radiuses ever on any production automobile.
That. The turning radius. It’s really bad! Turning a Clio V6 around requires two, three, and in some cases, even four-point turns, so if you end up lost in a large city with narrow streets, like Old Town in Montréal, for example, good luck doing a U-turn or even parking the damn thing.
But apart from its inability to turn, I don’t see many disappointments with the Clio V6. That’s probably because it ended up being exactly how I had pictured it: very awesome.
I will, however, mention the extremely loud cabin because of the—ahem—3.0-liter V6 yelping behind your head. Sure, there’s some form of insulation thanks to that box and engine cover it’s sitting in, but cabin noise is loud by any standard. Prepare to yell all the time when riding in a Clio V6.
Those air intakes also fan out hot air on each side of the car when on idle, so good luck communicating with the clerk during your next drive-through order.
In many ways, the Clio’s cabin is like sharing a very small apartment with a loud, smelly and obese human being who won’t hesitate to burp and fart in your face every time they have an opportunity to do so.
But except for that minor caveat, to my surprise, this car is very easy to cruise in. The ride is compliant and smooth. Sure, it’s a stiff ride, because it’s a sports car, but not so much so to kill your spine. It’s more GT car than track beast. The seats are comfortable in an unquestionably French nonchalant way, there’s fantastic visibility all around, and the driving position isn’t all that bad thanks to an adjustable steering column. I could live with this!
Of course, the Clio V6 isn’t practical. For starters, it only seats two, and in this form the trunk is gone. There is a frunk—I guess you could fit half a grocery bag in there? So the Renault Sport Clio V6 will make a good daily driver as long as you’re alone and pack light.
Ah yes, the thing the Clio V6 was built for. If you imagine this car has tons of grip while you’re on the throttle but tries to kill you the moment you lift off, you’d be right. That’s exactly how this car drives.
You essentially drive a Clio V6 with the gas pedal. The front end feels super light; you instantly realize there’s nothing between you and the front bumper. Hence, the steering responds very quickly to your commands and you feel exactly where the front wheels are, there’s tremendous feedback in the wheel.
But once you commit, it hugs the tarmac and under hard acceleration, you really get a sense that something big, loud and powerful is pushing you in the back. That V6 sounds glorious, there’s a nice, beefy note to it, kind of like a Volkswagen VR6, yet it remains smooth and linear the entire way. It also loves to rev, emitting a satisfying bark right before hitting the 7,500 rpm redline.
Is the Clio V6 fast? Sort of. I was expecting more to be honest. It feels a little lazy at times. That’s because the engine makes most of its power up high in the rev range. We’re spoiled by turbo cars everywhere these days.
Also, the car’s not an ultra-lightweight. Because of all the chassis reinforcements TWR had to do to the Clio’s structure in order to take in its newfound power, it weighs in close to 3,000 pounds. Believe it or not that’s almost 1,000 pounds more than a normal Clio hatch from that era.
But hey, the Renault Sport Clio V6 is immensely fun to drive. You’ll want to thrash this thing all the time simply to hear that engine scream and feel that rear end wiggle, giving you the creeps each time you enter a corner.
What you’ve got here is a toy designed to put a smile on your face while giving you a bit of scare, and in that respect, it’s accomplished.
To nobody’s surprise, this isn’t a cheap car. One, because it’s so rare, two, because the ones you’ll find will probably be sold in the Euro currency.
At the moment, clean examples will hang around the $25,000 to $35,000 Euro range. According to our man Rob, left-hand drive cars tend to be worth more. Also, Clio V6s sold in the UK seem to have duplicate serial numbers, so it would make sense to assume that the cars sold in France with real numbers retain more market value.
If you’re interested in this one, it’s for sale as I’m writing this. The odometer currently reads 64,500 km (about 40,000 miles).
Except for an aftermarket hood and exhaust that were already there when the car was imported from Japan, this is a relatively unmolested, clean title machine that runs and pulls great.
It’s hard to find cars that live up to their hype as much as the Clio V6. I came in expecting a caricature version of a sports car, and that’s exactly what I got.
That’s because machines like this one were thought up by a small bunch of infinitely passionate dreamers. All they wanted to do was to prove to themselves that they could pull it off. And somehow, they did.
I have trouble imagining any modern boardroom approving something so unhinged. In today’s industry, cars built out of emotion alone quickly get hammered down in favor of sensible profit-making mall-finders.
But the truth is, in the long run, we won’t really remember the rational cars. We’ll remember the rebels, the crazies, the oddballs. We will long for the coolest, most unusual, batshit awesome weirdo cars ever produced. The Renault Sport Clio V6 is such a car.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist in Montreal, Canada who works for Le Guide de l’auto / The Car Guide and contributes to Jalopnik. He used to run claveyscorner.com, and he’ll be happy to drive and review your cool old car if you let him.