Uncompromising & French
With each passing year, we are gifted with a number of international motoring shows that showcase the new free-thinking of motoring design. However every year it's a new 56,768hp steroid abused hyperbeast with 85inch wheels and power drawn from the rage of greenpeace protestors. It gives the media an erection and lines customers outside the showroom doors, only to see the actual production car is a 1.4L sponge made from the same plastics they use to make school furniture. None of these cars ever get made and if they do see production, the vehicle is a watered down blur after a vigorous spray from the health and safety hose.
Concept cars these days are sort of like Super Bowl ads in the NFL. It's about whoever has the most money to spend to get the most marketing attention. Occasionally we see some great one-off racers like the Aston Martin Vulcan, or Ferrari releases another hardcore Scuderia version of its already galloping horse, but even these are unicorns and don’t really give us a realistic glimpse into the future of the oil crisis. However there is always one country that doesn't necessarily cause a big scene on the show floor compared to the new 1,000hp hypercar out of Dubai. They are known for their trademark science fiction designs and unique engineering touch. They are today's home to the hot hatch and ambassadors for the world's greatest suspension systems. They are the world leaders in making a concept dream a production reality. France!
Back before the advent of 80s AWD technology and the 90s Japanese invasion, it was the French who were responsible for some of the best ever rally vehicles ever to compete; the Alpine A110 had six WRC victories in the early 70s alone! And let’s not forget, the Frenchies are no strangers to getting a hot hatch around the Nurburgring faster than any other front wheel drive vehicle in the world. They will pillage the power out of four cylinders and will charm anyone with their style and mad engineering tactics. With the global brands Citroen, Peugeot, Renault and Bugatti all hailing from the capital of baguettes and berets, the French are the kings when it comes to making a crazy concept car into a production showroom vehicle. And this flared out blue bullet is no exception. The Renault Clio V6 Phase II.
To summarize the lunacy of design and concept, is to understand the process of creation. Renault spends millions investing into a new hatchback platform with every new generation. After many meetings and much patience of the public, the hardcore road hugging RS (Renault Sport) Clio 172 was born in 1998 with a high revving, flawlessly engineered, naturally aspirated two-litre. With loads of torque, perfect balance and control of chassis you’d think it'd be enough.
But then the quiet engineer in the corner coughs and clears his throat and says, “Why don’t we take the engine from our people mover and put it in the Clio, behind the driver's ear drum..” Somehow this is considered as a realistic and logical offering and gains enough traction to take it to corporate. With company executives, accountants, marketing and motorsport department all squashed into a room, the pitch of the ‘mid engined hatchback’ begins. I don't know what was in the water for this car to be approved. Mum has always said don’t drink from the tap in Paris, but that is how Renault do business. And business is good. Renault for years have developed some of the best handling hatches from the usually mundane Clio and Megane platforms. After years of tinkering and refining, for some reason they then think, “what if we put the engine in the middle.” A fairly bold statement that even if joked about at the Audi or BMW headquarters, would see the sinner shot at dawn for their irrational thinking.
It makes me so happy that the French can still build cars with a sense of madness and fun. It's the reason why The Garage Journal salivates over this pristine V6 owned by Renault enthusiast Paul Evans. This 2003 Clio V6 Phase II is one of a handful imported into Australia and has been kept in immaculate condition. It may be over 10 years old, but it is no slouch. When designing the mid-engined runt of the Renault litter, certain chassis and structural components were tickled. Firstly the wheelbase was lengthened ever so slightly to ensure that big bulking hunk of 255hp could fit where your children used to sit.
The track had been widened to keep the car flat and grounded. The suspension was completely overhauled which really says something about the amazing attention to detail the engineers had indulged in. The Clio RS Trophy was hailed as the best handling hot hatches with its incredible Sachs damper system. It held the road with limitless grip and had the cornering ability of a flea. The Renault engineers had to completely overhaul the suspension for the V6 in order to keep the now bloated body stable and controlled.
The drivetrain though is the real treasure. It may be an engine borrowed from a Renault Espace, however has been tuned and modified from the smooth family van to a gear munching race engine. This whole car screams lunacy and turning the key to hear that ear perforating six crank over is truly something special.
The engine is as smooth as a steam roller’s driveway and willingly revs out to 7000 rpm without a millisecond of lag or hesitation like other hot hatches. When the others wake up to go sit on the toilet, waiting for the turbo produce some air, the aspirated V6 is a sprinter straight from the pillow. Beautifully made and the sound behind the driver’s seat is colossal. Even with the heat shielding, noiseproofing and two staged covers for the engine bay, it is biblically loud. And when you're driving a car this exciting, with this much personality in its styling and ever so lovable revving engine you want the gearbox to resonate this visceral experience. Like pairing the perfect wine to a good steak, this gearbox couldn’t have been a better fit.
With so many cars heading to paddle shift, to have a real and precise mechanical change is something of a scarce result. The clutch is light and easy and means almost any pleb with a clutch foot as rigid as a wet sponge, can get in and drive it. But when you rev out the three litre, push the clutch in, the car quietens as you lift off the throttle, the only thing you hear is the satisfying click of a gear selected entering the gate. Wow it is intoxicating. Not one part of this vehicle leaves an impression of disappointment.
The fact that Renault have taken their cheap economical hatchback and turned it into a baby mid engined supercar is like selling a GI Joe figurine with an actual switch blade. The original Clio V6 Phase I was just as bonkers behind the wheel. It was an overall rawer driving experience and had a fine line to dance finding the sweet spot which was right on the limit of grip. However when it did go tits up and you put too much effort into a corner, you were surely going to land in a ditch. The Phase II is a more sedate car. It has more power, but has a better clutch, slightly slower steering, air conditioning and boot in the front where you can fit a single wheel of cheese. It is overall an easier car to live with than its predecessor but has not lost the incredible edge of your seat atmosphere. This particular Renault is without a doubt Paul’s favorite Renault. Owning the most iconic super hatches to come from the Renault Sport marque, Paul states that he simply cannot part ways with the intoxicating character.
While Renault is now forced by the industry to replicate the generic formula of decrease size and add a turbocharger, we hope they will once again build cars like the Clio V6. It is completely pointless in terms of practicality. It has terrible fuel efficiency. You can only take a single terrified passenger and you sit on the floor low enough for your hind quarters could kiss the cats eyes. But it is simple, mad, uncompromising and brilliant.