The Clio V6 is the scariest car I've ever driven | Thank Frankel it's Friday

13th January 2023
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

A little over 20 years ago I got quite annoyed. Shortly thereafter I got quite scared as a result of which a day or two later I became quite vindictive. That’s the process a few of us went through when we first drove the original Renault Clio V6. Because before all that I’d been really rather excited. For here was a mid-engined hatchback, developed by Tom Walkinshaw Racing with a 3.0-litre V6 engine driving the rear wheels alone. And it looked amazing. What could possibly be wrong with that?


Almost everything, as it turns out. At first I thought its biggest problem was that it was so heavy it was scarcely any quicker than the standard, 300kg lighter Clio 172. That did 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds compared to the V6’s 6.2 seconds. Now bear in mind the enormous traction advantage conferred upon the latter by having an engine designed for a luxury Laguna over the rear wheels and you can see that without that there’d be nothing between them.

Turns out that was just where its problems started. The real issue was that it was a menace to drive. People always bang on about early Porsche 911s as being the trickiest road cars to drive on the limit, but in my experience they’re not even close. A Ferrari 348 is worse than that and worse than the 348 was that Clio. These are the only two cars I have taken somewhere private with the sole and simple intention of seeing if I could drift them without spinning them. And in both cases I failed. But the Renault was worse than the Ferrari, because the 348 did at least steer nicely as it mugged you.

Something had to be done, and the ‘Phase 2’ Clio V6 was it. Still developed by TWR but now built by RenaultSport in Dieppe everything about it was different: its look, its engine, its gearbox even – and get this – its wheelbase. That had been extended just to try to establish some sense of stability.


And it did. Sort of. Actually the Phase 2 cars were transformed for the better, but anyone who thought the car had given up its evil ways entirely never drove one hard enough. The other half of its split personality had not been killed, just locked in the attic from whence it could all too easily escape.

So let me spirit you away to what was once the Rockingham Motor Speedway in 2004. Autocar is there gathered to find the identity of Britain’s best handling car and, I’m glad I was no longer the bloke in charge of doing the bookings, otherwise I might have had to account for what the hell the car was even doing there.

My notes make hilarious reading. One tester called it ‘the only dangerous car here’. We had a few of the world’s most skilled car chassis engineers on site and even they were often unable to contain it. It spun the very first time it went out onto the track and by the time the day was over, it had spun more times than every other car we’d invited. Put together. Most amusingly, the then Road Test Editor, who is first port of all when you need some oversteer shots for the camera, point blank refused to get in the car for that purpose. And that was a first. It was, I concluded, ‘the disappointment of the test, and by an unassailable margin’. How Renault even got the car back in the right number of pieces I can put down only to providence.

And yet. A while back, I drove one again. Renault’s own liquid yellow, Phase 2 machine, in perfect condition with fewer than 15,000 miles on the clock. And I have two observations to make: first, time has not improved it and, second, I absolutely loved the thing.


Strange, isn’t it? It is not as if, thank goodness, I have lost my critical faculties when it comes to assessing cars and in this regard it’s actually worse now than it was then. Back in 2004, cars with terrible driving positions and steering with no reach adjustment would have been far more commonplace. The plain and dull interior would have stood out less, we’d probably have been less critical of its lack of luggage space and I don’t remember the lock being as bad as it is. If you want a vehicle with a worse turning circle, you’ll need to find yourself a bendy bus.

But so too are your expectations lower. You know from the start it’s not going to be very quick or beautifully balanced, so you’re not disappointed when that turns out to be the case. And you’re not going to go hoofing it around on the limit but because you’ve been loaned this thing on the tacit understanding you treat it respectfully given its age, value (over £60k now) and scarcity – just 354 were built in right-hand-drive space, of which just 85 are currently licenced for use on the public road.

So you mooch about instead. You put it through its paces, for sure, use all the revs and corner as hard as you can without taking the smallest risk and because you’re no longer assessing it as modern road car against a competitor set (such as it had) to reach a gimlet-eyed, wholly objective verdict, the terms of reference change.


You enjoy it for what it is, not what you thought it should have been. You look at it, those swollen flanks, bulging intakes and deep chin spoiler and celebrate that a car that looked so mad and cool at the same time ever went on sale. You luxuriate in the torque and sound of the V6 engine, and particularly the fact it’s coming from behind you. Sadly big, naturally aspirated engines in tiny little cars were rare even then, and are basically extinct today, but they do provide a quality of progress you’d need to be a cyborg not to appreciate. And it does ride uncommonly well (which is in fact probably one of the reasons it handles so poorly on the limit).

Most of all however you just rejoice that the thing exists, and lament the fact that harsh financial facts of life and our increasingly electrified future means that it seems less likely than ever that such a car could ever be created again.

Ultimately I think it comes down to character. The Clio V6 may not be fast, or capable but when we drive what is now an historic car, such considerations matter less than whether the car has character. And it does, character of a kind we very rarely see today, and it’s bursting out every single inch of it. I hope one day to drive it again.

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