Friday, 17 October 2008

Classic - RenaultSport Clio V6

One of the most gratifying sensations in the emotional lexicon is that of surprise. A subverted expectation, a twist on perspective – both the heart and the brain love to be confounded. A builder atop the glinting scaffolding, arse-crack proudly prominent, humming a mezzo-soprano aria from The Marriage of Figaro. A ratty teen in a hoodie and baseball cap helping an old lady from the bus. A badger on a unicycle. Weirdness inspires us.

Renault have always run rather a special line in surprising weirdness. They understand the value of the archetypal hot hatch formula – ballistic, yet understated. Their history is positively bulging at the seams with bonkers little family cars that have been cunningly engineered to be both ridiculously swift and corner-on-rails trustworthy. They’re pretty damn playful too, little Renaults. The original Clio was pimped in Williams form to tear up tarmac with its blingy little gold alloys, but it was the more widely available 16v that brought affordable pocket-sized lunacy to the masses. It echoed the supremely entertaining mkII 5 Turbo and its slightly more deranged mid-engined forefather. The cheeky and enormously underrated 19 16v provided a cunning mix of razor-sharp dynamics, rev-happy four-pot and the luxurious trappings of a large diplomatic saloon. The thing that the saucy Gallic scamps really love to apply to these rockethatches is an external taste of the mundane. These cars deliberately look like your gran’s shopping car. The exemplary race-bred mechanicals speak for themselves.

There’s no more perfect example of the celebrated RenaultSport sub-brand’s ethos than the Clio V6. OK, there’s a very obvious sense of purpose and, hell, menace to it, but if you were to park one outside Starbucks or Ikea you can guarantee that a lot of people would see nothing more than a Clio and not give it a further thought. These people are clearly idiots, but there are a lot of stupid people in the world. This is a good thing. It allows us informed types to enjoy the brilliance of technology without their annoying questions ruining the fun. However, you’d be an idiot yourself to take a V6 Clio to Ikea… there’s nowhere to put anything. But that’s kind of the point.

The basic Clio is, in essence, a hugely sensible car. It’s compact yet spacious, economical and reliable, inexpensive, well-built, cheap to run – it’s everything a hatchback should be. The RenaultSport Clio turns all of that on its head. There is nothing sensible whatsoever about the V6. Nothing. The engine is where the back seats should be (as any F430 or Cayman driver will tell you, this is the best position an engine can physically be in to ensure ideal handling dynamics), the boot is under the bonnet and is just large enough to fit a toothbrush and a pair of pants, it guzzles fuel like Gazza attacks his Oddbins breakfast and it will try to kill you at any given opportunity. These are driven by people with balls the size of cantaloupes.

The engine originated from the Laguna and was tweaked to produce 227bhp. Given that converting a small front-engined front wheel drive car to a mid-engined rear wheel drive one involves rather a lot of extra technological gubbins, the V6 model weighs some 300kg more than the regular sporty Clio, the rather more mainstream 172 Cup. For this reason, it wasn’t significantly faster than its simpler sibling, with a 0-60 time of 6.2 seconds for the former playing 6.7 for the latter. That’s not really the purpose of the exercise though; the V6 was never supposed to be the quickest hot hatch in the world. It’s just a fuck-you car. Renault wanted to build the only mid-engined hatchback in the world, so they did. It really is that simple.

Yeah, it’s unnecessarily obtuse. The slightest mist of moisture on the asphalt and it’ll flip you round and hurl you backwards into a tree, forcing the engine into your spine. The turning circle is akin to that of the Exxon Valdez, and you’ll be doing well to see over 20mpg. It will take every possible opportunity to smash your internal organs to pieces… and you’ll love every second of it.

You see, there’s a marvellous surprise hidden within the V6 Clio. Sitting behind one at the lights, Mrs Average Housewife will perhaps wonder for a moment why that Clio looks a little wider than they normally do. And suddenly it won’t be there any more, replaced by two thick black rubbery lines and a faint whiff of adrenalin. Hatchbacks shouldn’t behave that way. It’s shocking, it’s marvellous and it’s very, very naughty.

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