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2003 Renault Clio V6 255 - Driving Impression

May Be The French Aren't So Bad After All

Oct 1, 2003
0310_sccp_01_z+2003_renault_clio_v6_255+side_view Photo 1/1   |   2003 Renault Clio V6 255 - Driving Impression

Renault suffers from something of a jinx when it comes to introducing Clio V6s. On the first occasion, back in 2000, the launch of the one-make race version was tarnished when the expert racing driver who'd been brought in to demonstrate "how it should be done" left the first corner backwards and parked his Clio neatly in a gravel trap.

Then, a few months later, the launch of the road car suffered from several screech-crunch moments as the Clio's near-instant transition from strong understeer to terminal oversteer caught a few drivers off guard.

And now, as we arrive at the damp test track in Toulouse to drive the new, more powerful Clio V6 255, we learn a journalist in an earlier group has already seriously crashed one of the cars.

Like we said, jinxed.

All that is forgotten, however, the moment we turn the key and fire the 255's big-hearted V6 to life. It's hard to believe this car started out as a Renault Clio, a compact shopping hatchback sold by the millions to European housewives, but it is.

Renault then mounts a highly tuned 3.0-liter version of its Douvain V6 in the space where the back seats used to go, hooks it up to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission, wraps it in some tasty, wide bodywork, adds 18-inch wheels and backs the whole thing by the same warranties as the rest of its range.

The 255 version you see here is significantly new for 2003, incorporating a package of modifications intended to address criticism the original car received for being underpowered and hard to hold onto. Thanks to a reworked ECU and revisions to the cylinder head and intake piping, the V6 is up 25 hp from its original 230 hp, and the rear suspension's geometry and mountings have been revised to tame the back end.

The conversion work, performed at RenaultSport's Dieppe factory (former home of Alpine sports cars), has been carried out to a very high standard. The flared wheel arches and door extensions are made from fiberglass, but there are no obvious joins, the high standard of paint and assembly making it hard to tell where the stock Clio ends and V6 begins.

That said, the cabin is slightly too standard. The dashboard, instruments and switch gear are all identical with the normal car. From the driver's seat, which is nicely bolstered and wears the RenaultSport logo, only the fattened front wings tell you you're driving the Clio from Hell. Well, that and the constant and close rumble of the V6.

With no bulkhead other than the hermetically sealed engine cover between you and the rear-mounted engine, the relationship between the driver and the engine is close. You're basically sharing the cabin. Fortunately, the V6 sounds great. Throbby at idle, with a rich, fat bass as you hit the mid-range, and a high alto between 6000 rpm and the 7200-rpm redline.

Bottom-end torque is acceptable, and the Clio's mid-range power can no longer be called weak. But we'd still like a stronger kick in the upper revs. Running the Clio up through its six tightly spaced gears is entertaining, but a VTEC-like surge on the top end would really liven things up.

Regardless, there's no arguing with the Clio's thrust. Renault claims a 5.8-second dash from rest to 62 mph, which is as quick as the new Neon SRT-4 or a Subaru WRX. The stock clutch, however, starts to slip after a few hard launches.

Out on the wet test track, the Clio demands full concentration. With its short wheelbase, tall center of gravity and 60 percent of its weight resting over the rear wheels, the Clio is always going to be strongly affected by weight transfer under acceleration or braking. That said, the revised, more rigid rear suspension has greatly improved matters compared to the original car, which offered a similar wet-weather driving experience as an early Porsche 911-big understeer, followed by a hedge...backwards.

The 255 still carries plenty of push through faster corners, but it doesn't want to swap ends if you breathe out of the gas to adjust your line like it used to. The optimal technique is to get it all but pointing straight past the apex before rolling the throttle on and sailing down the next straight on the fat wave of thrust.

It's fun, just nowhere near as instinctive as a Mitsubishi Lancer or Subaru Impreza. And the Clio's huge four-wheel discs never seem to fade, despite endless lapping and the car's chunky 3,087-pound curb weight.

Off the track and onto the public highway and the Clio's case improves dramatically. The chassis reveals a delicate compliance it doesn't show under high track loadings, with surprisingly comfortable spring and damper settings. The talkative steering offers pleasantly meaty resistance to work against, the clutch takes up smoothly and the six-speed gearbox offers perfectly weighted quick-throw shifts.

This is one of the happy group of performance cars that feels rewarding to drive even at mostly responsible everyday speeds. The professionally indifferent French, most of whom drive turbo-diesel superminis, seem prepared to abandon their traditional Gallic reserve. We get grins, thumbs-up and even "put-your-foot-down" gestures.

Problems? Two stand out. First, at current exchange rates, the V6 225 will cost European buyers between $42,500 and $49,000, depending on how much optional leather trim buyers go for. Secondly, and more seriously, the V6 255 isn't type-approved for North America, meaning that if you want to own one, you'll have to move to Europe.

2003 RENAULT CLIO V6 255
Estimated Price : $42,500 - $49,000
ENGINE
Engine Code : L7X
Type : Inline six, aluminum block
and heads
Valvetrain : quad cam, four valves
per cylinder
Displacement : 2946cc
Bore x Stroke : 87.0mmx82.6mm
Compression Ratio : 11.4:1
Claimed Crank Hp : 255 hp @ 7150 rpm
Claimed Crank Torque : 221.4 lb-ft @ 4650 rpm
Redline : 7200 rpm
DRIVETRAIN
Layout : Transverse mid-mounted
engine, rear wheel drive
Transmission   Six-speed manual
Gear Ratios
1 : 01:06.0
2 : 02:09.3
3 : 03:12.8
4 : 04:16.1
5 : 05:19.7
6 : 06:23.5
Final drive :  
Differential : Open
CHASSIS
Exterior dimensions
Curb Weight : 3,087 lbs
Weight Distribution F/R : 41/59
Overall Length : 149.8 in.
Wheelbase : 98.7 in.
Overall Width : 71.4 in.
Track F/R : 59.2 in./{{{57}}}.6 in.
Height : 52.9 in.
SUSPENSION
Front : MacPherson Strut,
28mm diameter anti-roll bar
Rear : Longitudinal and transverse
arms
BRAKES
Front : 12.9-inch vented discs,
four-piston calipers
Rear : 11.7-inch vented discs,
single-piston sliding calipers.
Electronic driving
aids/inhibitors
: Bosch 5.3 ABS anti-lock
braking featuring electronic
brake force distribution
WHEELS AND TIRES
Wheels : 18x7-inch aluminum (front)
18x8.5-inch aluminum (rear)
Tires : Michelin {{{Pilot}}} Sport,
205/40 R-18 (front)
245/40 R-18 (rear)

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