Renault clio > La Ferrari
WHY A FRENCH HATCHBACK IS MORE OF A CAR THAN A SEVEN MILLION DOLLAR LA FERRARI
In case you missed, it Ferrari recently auctioned off the 500th (last) La Ferrari in support of the victims of one of the earthquakes that destroyed a portion of the country. The car sold for seven million dollars which is a new record for a car made in the 21st century. SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS! While it is admirable that this money will go to charity I can't help but be slightly skeptical of the buyer's intentions as the very last La Ferrari will clearly have a significant investment potential. Regardless of why the buyer purchased the car it is an absolutely insane amount of money for a car with no racing history, very little long life potential and guaranteed obsolescence. I could (and I may at a future date) write a scathing review of the La Ferrari but rather than that, let's talk about a car that is far more accessible to the vast majority of people.
It hails from France and is the superb and quirky Renault Clio V6 Renault Sport. On the outside it looks simply like a really butch hatchback--oh how wrong you'd be to assume that! The concept of the hatchback has been around for a very long time and for good reason. The hatchback form maximizes passenger and cargo space while at the same time minimizing the overall size of the vehicle. Hatchbacks are normally very easy to drive and quite fuel efficient. The Clio V6 is NONE of these things. It has almost no cargo space, seats only two passengers, has a horrible turning radius, has fuel economy that is mediocre at best, requires a fairly skilled driver, is rather expensive compared to other hatchbacks, and is actually a very rare low production car--in other words it's a supercar!
The Clio V6 was made from 2001-2005 and there were two generations within that period. I will be focusing on the far better "phase 2" version that was made between 2003-2005.
I love French car companies! They have the guts to try ideas on production cars that would get you fired on the spot from most other car companies. Sometimes (ok..most of the time) they are complete failures but the artist in me loves that they try.
At some point there was a design meeting at Renault and a guy (I try very hard not to stereotype but, honestly, does anyone want to bet against me that it was in fact a GUY?) said, "Hey I have an idea; let's take our budget hatchback, take out the backseat and put a huge V6 engine inside the car! Then we can make a custom, ridiculously expensive body to make it look cool. Of course we want it to handle well so we will put huge tires up front so it does not understeer. I don't think anyone will care that it will then have the turning radius of a bus!" *Re-read that quote while imagining a very French man smoking a Gauloises cigarette and munching a croissant made of at least 50% butter and it will make far more sense.
If you are wondering why on earth someone would even hallucinate about moving the engine INSIDE the car, the answer is quite simple--handling. Mid-engine layouts have the majority of the engine between the two axles. The location of the engine and which axle the power from the engine is being sent to (the drive wheels) are some of the most important determinants of the handling of a car. A mid-engine rear wheel drive layout such as the Clio V6 provides the most neutral and dynamic handling; unfortunately this comes at the cost of passenger/cargo space.
I do not mean to give a negative impression of this little car. I think it is BRILLIANT! Today when all our cars are made by focus groups, we end up with shapeless cars that have as much style and personality as a McDonald's vanilla ice cream. In the end they made a little over one thousand of the cars (that is less than the number of Ferrari F40s!) and sold them for about $38,000. They were all completely hand built in a separate factory. This week's fun factoid has to do with the front boot ("trunk") where the engine normally is in a Clio. Renault decided that it would be rather difficult to actually make a proper trunk so they made a rubber bin that fit where the engine normally is. However, as engine compartments are not weather sealed they advise that the trunk is "water resistant" but not "weather tight." The car had a 3 liter V6 mounted transversely and feeding through a six speed manual. It produced 255 HP and 220 lb-ft of torque. I admit that those numbers are not particularly amazing. There are very boring basic sedans that can go from 0-60 faster than the Clio V6.
The Clio V6 is not about numbers. It embodies everything that is great about the car. It is not about getting from point A to B as efficiently as possible or even as quickly as possible; it is about making that journey as glorious and wonderful as possible. If you are a true car guy/girl, you have probably at some point wished you could hear the mechanics of your car better--to really hear the symphony that is an internal combustion engine. I can't think of a better way then to stick a naturally aspirated V6 less than a foot from your head!