There’s no getting round it: I want to wag my finger at the little yellow Clio V6 in front of me as you might scold a small dragon for coughing in the kitchen and burning all your ironing. It’s a silly, silly car and it should know better. In fact, the fizzy, daft, showy, cute, crazy and just oh-so-charming, mid-engined, 252bhp little critter can still turn heads today, over a decade after it turned up and left us all wondering what the hell it was actually for.
Let’s clarify any confusion here, this is far from being a Lotus-esque guided missile with track-honed precision and rifle-bolt menace. It’s a bloody silly thing, really. The 3.0-litre V6 Renault engine has popped up in various guises in cars of a mostly sensible persuasion, from the suavely practical Espace to the majestically well-cushioned Vel Satis. But, in this outing, it was set to shifting something pretty daft about the place. The first versions, the 230bhp, arrived in 2001 with later 252bhp models like this one arriving in 2003.
My understanding has always been that the point of a hot hatch is you get all the runabout practicality of a four-seater hatchback blended with the fizz and pop of a fiery little engine, a bit of handling tweakery and maybe a spotlight and a sticker or two. Renault took a rather more thorough approach to creating the Clio V6. In order to mount the engine in the middle, the back seats were thrown out, so stuff practicality, then. And stuff dreary things like bulletproof durability and toughness too.
I’ve knackered driveshafts on two of these things over the years, although it was, admittedly, in the process of trying to do doughnuts having been ordered specifically not to by the car’s guardian on both occasions. That V6 puts out 252bhp, which is enough to shove the Clio to 60mph in 5.8 seconds. Top speed is 153mph. These figures alone are certainly not enough to justify the expense, either when new at £27,000 or today anywhere between £5,000 and £20,000. So why is it in this list, then? To understand that, you’ve just gotta have a go in one.
It feels far more special than most hatchbacks. Not many were made anyway - just a few hundred - and it feels every inch the custom little sports car. In fact, it was built by hand in a dedicated RenaultSport factory in Dieppe, and that, somehow, seeps through, with touches of Alcantara and limited-run sports-car stuff to remind you that you’re sitting in a pretty rare beast.
The V6 actually makes a fine passenger, chattering and burbling away in its little hutch where the back seat used to be during the slow bits and getting satisfyingly shouty if you decide to test out those claimed figures. Sure, it’s really not a razor-sharp track tool, but it is bloody funny: people will always look at it, teenagers will go all cross-eyed and weak at the knees over it and, just as long as you’re in a good mood when you get in it, you’ll have a ball too. Oddly enough, the UK was the biggest market for the Clio V6, which says a lot about our sense of humour, if nothing else.
This feature first appeared in the September 2012 issue of Top Gear magazine
Words: Richard Hammond
Photos: Justin Leighton