Renault Clio Sport V6 2001 

French car manufacturers are strongly associated with something extravagant, sometimes even futuristic and according to popular belief, unreliable. However, Peugeot, Citroen and Renault have a rich motorsport history, which means they are perfectly capable of building a fast road car.

By the end of the 90s, Renault was focused on strengthening its position in the market for affordable, predominantly compact cars. While BMW and Mercedes were competing in horsepower with their insane business sedans, the manufacturer from a city called Boulogne-Billancourt had to make cars for scenes of total crashes, like the famous taxi chases in the movie “Taxi”. But in 2000, Renault, having established itself as an engine specialist, acquired the Benetton Formula 1 team and prepared to stun the market with something unusual and fast. For example, a mid-engine hatchback.

Why not build an all-wheel-drive monster with traditional layout and compete with Subaru and Mitsubishi? The fact is that Renault had already created a similar car for participation in the infamous Group B in world rallying. Since then, almost 20 years had passed and small mid-engine cars had not become popular on the production lines of global manufacturers, except for some sports cars and certain models by Toyota. But it would be a very good marketing move.

The Clio was chosen as the base platform, which received a new body in 1998. Renault, soberly assessing its own resources, understood that it simply couldn’t create such a project solely using its own production capabilities. They had to reach an agreement with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) to handle the project development and mass production. There was a lot of work to be done, but the TWR workshop was no stranger to such tasks. They had previously worked privately on Mazda and Rover touring cars, later establishing a joint venture with Jaguar – JaguarSport, and even worked with Volvo on the creation of the C70 platform derived from the 850. Additionally, since 1996, TWR owned the Arrows Formula 1 team, which, although not a top-tier team, still made a mark in the history of Grand Prix racing.

One of the first questions on the agenda was the choice of engine. They settled on the ES9 – an aluminum V6 with a classic 60-degree block angle and a DOHC 24-valve timing system. This engine was first used in the Peugeot 406 coupe and later installed in many PSA Group and Renault cars. For the new Clio RS, the power was increased to 230 horsepower. As for the transmission, a 6-speed manual gearbox was used – everything sporty, everything serious.

To install such an engine in the hatchback’s center, they had to sacrifice the rear seating row – now the V6 resided there, making the car strictly a 2-seater. But that wasn’t enough – a significant expansion of the body was necessary, resulting in one of the best factory body kits of that time. Simply expanding the body wasn’t enough; the rigidity also had to be increased, which added an extra 300kg to the car’s weight.

The Clio RS V6 went into production in Sweden in 2001. The first customers, they say, were amazed at the car’s road grip but somewhat surprised by its dynamic characteristics: a 0-100km/h acceleration in 6.2 seconds. The thing is, two years prior, the market saw the Clio 172 RS – a car that resembled a standard Clio much more, with the same drivetrain and engine layout, and an acceleration to 100km/h only 0.5 seconds slower. The budget sports car also didn’t gain much in terms of top speed: 235km/h compared to the 222km/h of its front-wheel-drive counterpart. The extra weight made a difference, but there was nothing more that could be done about it – otherwise, the car wouldn’t have had a chance to handle turns so perfectly and accommodate the engine in an unconventional location. A year later, the engine was further upgraded, adding 25 more horsepower. However, the mid-engine rear-wheel-drive car required significantly more skill and expertise from the driver than its front-wheel-drive counterpart. Oversteer, for example, occurred and developed much more abruptly than on cars with a classical layout – engine in the front, drive on the rear axle. However, becoming a mass-produced sports car was never its destiny, so potential customers definitely had to understand what kind of car they were buying.

Despite appearances, many parts were borrowed from the regular Clio. Of course, the lowered suspension, brakes, and engine remained unique, but even the interior resembled the classic Clio. It was a specimen from the early 2000s when biodesign had already gained its momentum and forced designers to use a compass in addition to the ruler when drawing and increasingly more. Modest and minimalist, the interior retained all the characteristics of the Clio aesthetic, yet it was a clear indicator of the car’s sporty nature In terms of appearance, it didn’t show any intention of distracting the driver from the road. There were no references to sports cars, except for a small badge between the seats with the car’s name.

Externally, everything was significantly more appealing. The widebody was truly outstanding: even after years, the body still looked fresh and striking. The engine layout almost guaranteed certain cooling-related features for the car. They had to invent air ducts that were placed near the rear fenders and seamlessly blended into the overall look. By the way, the door handles were also located there – this is where the car truly showed its sports car appeal. The rear part can be considered exemplary: it had just the right amount of aggression and the right number of exhaust pipes for the car. If I had such a beauty, I would always approach it from behind. The front and other parts were also good, but that’s a matter of personal preference.

Behind the wheel, the car reminded more of a Gran Turismo than a sports car. Due to the fact that the body was designed for a city hatchback, even with the engine behind the driver, the visibility turned out to be excellent. The steering reactions were light and quick – the front axle was less loaded compared to front-wheel-drive hatchbacks. The engine had smooth power delivery and an incredibly pleasant sound, without being too intrusive for the driver. The only problem that arose was the turning radius due to the increased wheel diameter. After all, the chassis was designed for different tire sizes. But its element was not narrow streets in the center of Moscow or Italian suburbs – its element was rural highways. Ideally, there should be as many turns as possible.

Before the restyling in 2002, which we may encounter in future materials, 1513 units were produced. We often hear that “they don’t make such cars anymore,” but this applies to the Clio RS V6 in an even greater sense. It was quite an expensive toy, created based on a not particularly remarkable car, whose sole purpose was to make you smile. Perhaps, also to frighten you a little, but still remain friendly. Will mass car manufacturers return to the mid-engine concept? Time will tell, and we’ll be waiting for them.

The material was worked on by: