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Man Maths: Renault Clio V6

3 weeks ago

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James Mills | Managing editor


6 July 2024

We climbed the steps into the waiting coach, hurried to our seats by PR chaperones anxious about making the return flight home on time. Once seated, all you could hear was low-level, conspiratorial chatter about how the Clio V6 Trophy race car had tried to fling every single one of us off the race circuit.

Except, it wasn’t a proper race circuit. It was a karting track, somewhere in northern France, and had unquestionably been chosen as a way of restricting the speeds journalists could reach (no corner was above second gear) because TWR and Renault knew that their new, mid-engined, V6-powered, rear-wheel drive Frankenhatch was a temper-tantruming tearaway that, with one wrong move, would throw its driver off the road faster than they could utter merde!

Yet just two years later, in 2001, the Trophy racing version was joined by a road-going Clio V6 that anyone could buy and drive on the public road. Apparently 256 were sold in the UK, but now just 37 remain on the road with a further 127 declared SORN. Anyone care to guess what fate befell the missing 92 cars?

Driving a Phase 1 a couple of years ago reminded me of how softly sprung they are, the car rolling to such an extent it would scrape its front splitter on the road without much provocation. That’s all well and good in tight corners, but in the high-speed stuff you did not want to make sudden direction changes as the weight transfer, oddly-behaved rear suspension and slow-witted steering with comically poor turning circle meant the Clio V6 was waiting to punish the unwary.

But it’s that very compromise that makes a Clio V6 so immersive to drive. You have to engage your brain as much as your instincts to hustle one at any pace, because if you don’t, you really, truly, won’t get away with it. Think about it, follow the slow-in, fast-out mantra, be smooth with the braking and steering inputs, and most of all, be ab-so-lute-ly sure you’re ready to open that throttle because backing out of it suddenly would be a very bad thing indeed.

All this and more I learned when taking an original, first-generation test car to Skye, together with an E46 BMW M3 coupe and a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII. Halfway through our road trip, for Top Gear magazine, it snowed, and I discovered that the shonkily built, feisty French machine made a fantastic snowplough, its back tyres finding plenty of traction and the deep front air dam pushing the fast-falling flakes aside. It’s those sort of memories that endear you to cars as technically flawed but outrageously characterful as the Clio V6.

The Phase 1 Clio V6 could bite at any time

Happily, the Phase 2 version had a better, shorter gearshift and improved ratios that no longer left the V6 (now with 255bhp) in no-man’s land after upshifts. It also had a longer wheelbase and redesigned suspension set-up that was dramatically improved, so you could carry far more speed and better-manage the behaviour of a mid-engined, short wheelbase, rear-wheel drive hatchback.

While the outside looked better, the interior remained something of an anti-climax. But it was churlish to grumble about that or indeed the patchy build quality, because it was a miracle that something like the Clio V6 had made it to showrooms at all.

But that’s enough reminiscing – it’s time to talk Man Maths. Will a car like this become a prized collector’s item that will soar in value for generations to come? Even if it doesn’t, could you drive it, enjoy it, and sell it on for a bit more than you paid for it, covering your running costs?

The Phase 2 was better in every regard

I remember when an immaculate Clio V6 Phase 2 could be snapped up for £15,000. But one look at auction results will show you how the UK market has hotted up for these cars over the past three years. Today you can find someone trying their luck with a £100,000 asking price for a sub-10,000 mile example. PistonHeads has a selection of Phase 1 models for around £45,000, and a Phase 2 for £60,000. That’s as much a crystal ball gazing as I can offer you, I’m afraid. (You didn’t come here for Mystic Meg, surely?)

If, like me, you’re kicking yourself for missing that boat, knowing full well that we’ll never see a new combustion-powered Frankenhatch like this again, then you know what to do – put on your big boy or girl pants, get out the Man Maths calculator and find a way to make the sums work. Just like Renault did.

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